What environmental engineers do

environmental engineersEnvironmental engineers:

  • devise and promote concepts of eco-design and resource efficiency,
  • deliver solutions for corporate and regional sustainability and a low-carbon economy,
  • improve ways of assessing and treating contamination at polluted sites,
  • develop improved treatment methods for water, wastewater and polluted air,
  • devise recycling systems and develop uses for recycled materials,
  • reduce the volumes of solid and hazardous waste through conservation and reuse.

The women and men who become environmental engineers will have a central role in most engineering projects in the provision of sustainable infrastructure. They will also coordinate the activities of specialist groups such as biologists, ecologists and geologists within major projects.

If you want to be an environmental engineer you will need to have an aptitude for maths and science, but you also need to be creative and interested in solving problems. And because many environmental engineers become managers during their careers, working successfully in teams and understanding what people need to work effectively are also important attributes.

There are many specialisations within environmental engineering, some listed below:

What environmental engineers specialising in sustainability do

As an environmental engineer specialised in sustainability, you

  • apply your expert knowledge in sustainability assessment methods and tools to undertake life cycle assessments, material flow analyses or environmental footprint studies of projects, processes or products,
  • work in a team to develop environmental policies or management plans for a company or a government authority,
  • find solutions for problems that matter, such as climate change, water availability, energy futures, waste management or low-carbon living,
  • advise on and contribute to environmental and sustainability frameworks for corporate and regional sustainable development.

Environmental engineers specialising in sustainability might work directly for multinational organisations, such as the United Nations, in government departments or in large companies. They might also work part of a private consulting company providing services to the water, infrastructure, manufacturing, natural resources and environment sectors.  

These environmental engineers develop projects that monitor the impacts of climate change on infrastructure and look at ways to reduce those impacts, or they might take a national approach to implementing recycled water schemes, or an international approach to better environmental management.

What transport engineers do

Transport engineers apply their maths skills and interests in strategic planning and decision making to provide innovate engineering solutions for problems that affect people in their daily lives.

Transport engineers work in government departments and organisations, planning agencies, private firms and financial institutes – providing technical and managerial support to a wide diversity of transport projects.

What water engineers do

To safeguard Australia’s water future, water engineers need a long-term and holistic perspective of water from catchment to ocean and innovative approaches to all aspects of the water cycle.

Water levels

Water engineers design and operate dams to ensure that we have enough water during dry times and that water is allocated fairly and efficiently to all users. This includes designing efficient irrigation schemes to try to minimise the loss of water through evaporation, which is a big problem in a dry continent like Australia.

Flood prediction

Water engineers model the rainfall and flow in catchments. They work with local communities, governments and emergency services to predict flooding and ensure that development in floodplains is safe and appropriate. Water engineers also design stormwater systems that can prevent flooding. Exciting developments in this area include Water Sensitive Urban Design which complements traditional stormwater pipes with natural water features, such as wetlands.


Groundwater is an important resource for much of Australia, but its location makes it difficult to study. Water engineers must come up with innovative ways to track and quantify the water in this precious resource.

Coastal engineering

This type of water engineering studies the behaviour of the ocean and how it interacts with the coastal land, including understanding coastal erosion and designing ways to protect beaches and properties. Coastal engineering includes designing beach nourishment programs and breakwalls that ensure safe navigation of boats into harbours and estuaries. Estuaries, where rivers meet the ocean, are a fascinating area to study as the mixing of saltwater and freshwater leads to unique habitats for vegetation and wildlife. Water engineers try to understand how estuaries behave and can help to restore them when development has caused them to become out of balance.

Water quality

Water quality requirements depend on the intended use of the water and water engineers design and operate water treatment plants, waste water treatment and water recycling schemes. Water quality of natural systems is also a key concern and water engineers can consider the impact of human activities and natural events, such as bushfires, on aquatic ecosystems.