Undergraduate Environmental Engineering

Environmental Engineering Profession

Is the water safe to drink? Is the air dangerous to breathe? Should we eat the fish we catch or the crops we grow? Do our living and work spaces pose special threats to our health?  Environmental Engineers are the technical professionals who identify and design solutions for environmental problems. They provide answers to the above and other questions about the potentially harmful interrelationships between human civilization and the environment. Environmental engineers apply scientific and technological knowledge to eliminate or reduce environmental problems. They seek to shield the environment from the harmful effects of human activity, protect human populations from adverse environmental events such as floods and disease, and restore environmental quality for ecological and human well-being. 

Traditionally, environmental engineering includes:

  1. The identification and measurement of potentially harmful physical, chemical, and biological agents in the environment,
  2. The transport and fate of these agents,
  3. The effects of these agents on people and the environment, and
  4. The design and operation of engineered systems for the maintenance and improvement of the quality of our environment.

Historically, it was the sanitary and civil engineers who made cities livable for large populations.  However, the role of environmental engineering has been expanding in the past few decades.  Increasingly, environmental engineers are being called upon to expand the focus of their efforts to address the challenges associated with alternative energy, sustainability, climate change, ecological restoration and emerging public health threats.

Northwestern has developed an interdisciplinary approach to the education of environmental engineers.  The four-year curriculum provides the students with a sound fundamental knowledge of environmental engineering principals and an opportunity to integrate other aspects such as basic science, social science, humanities, and public policy to their knowledge.

Environmental Engineers stand at the threshold between natural environmental systems and human societies!


Graduates in environmental engineering will have many career opportunities in a spectrum of business sectors and government agencies.  These include engineering consulting firms that offer challenging employment in environmental planning, design, and management.  The manufacturing and chemical industries, utilities, the pollution control industry, and others need engineers for the development and management of research and environmental control programs.  Engineers in governmental agencies are responsible for planning and assessment of control strategies and measures to assure a clean and healthful environment. Universities and research organizations afford additional avenues of career development. 

            Our recent graduates hold positions as engineering designers, business analytics, and staff engineers of regulatory agency such as EPA.  Many of our graduates continued their education in schools of engineering, law, medicine, public health, and management.

            Environmental engineers held about 50,850 jobs in 2012.  About half were employed by firms providing management, scientific, and technical consulting services and other engineering consulting services.  About one-quarter of the jobs were in federal, state, and local government agencies.

Job Outlook

According to the 2012-13 Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of environmental engineers was projected to grow 22%, faster than the average for all occupations and twice as fast as the average for all engineers through 2020.  The largest increase was projected in professional, scientific, and technical consulting services (41%). State and local government’s concerns about water are leading to efforts to increase the efficiency of water use.  This focus differs from that of wastewater treatment, for which this occupation is traditionally known.  The requirement by the federal government to clean up contaminated sites is expected to help sustain demand for these engineers’ services.  Additionally, the demand of wastewater treatments will increase where new methods of drilling for shale gas require the use and disposal of massive volumes of water.  Environmental engineers will continue to be needed to help utilities and water treatment plants comply with any new federal or state environmental regulations.


According to the 2013 salary survey conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the total compensation for environmental engineers with different levels of experience are summarized below.

Experience Average 10th
Median 75th


0+ years $50,999 $43,000 $47,250 $50,000 $56,000 $60,000
1+ years $49,270 $39,000 $42,000 $47,410 $58,000 $64,000
3+ years $57,854 $47,000 $52,000 $55,144 $64,000 $76,000
4+ years $68,216 $53,040 $61,000 $68,250 $75,000 $84,000
8+ years $90,417 $64,000 $73,320 $89,980 $102,000 $126,110
10+ years $107,615 $80,000 $89,925 $106,626 $123,000 $144,000
15+ years $128,429 $85,800 $107,000 $126,256 $150,000 $187,000
25+ years $145,236 $93,852 $105,000 $140,000 $176,800 $203,000

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Civil and Environmental Engineering Home | Contact Us | Maps
Northwestern Home | Northwestern Calendar | Emergency Plan | Legal and Policy Statements
© 2015 Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern University