Environmental Engineer

Environmental engineers are concerned with assessing and managing the effects of human and other activity on the natural and built environment. They apply their engineering knowledge and skills to such things as environmental impact assessment, natural resources management and pollution control.

Environmental engineering is the field of engineering linked with civil engineering and infrastructure development, and concerned with local and worldwide environmental issues. Environmental engineers use the principles of civil engineering design and construction blended with a knowledge of Biology and Chemistry to provide practical solutions to problems arising from the impact of development on the environment.

Problems relating to the availability of water, air and other natural resources, as well as the management of pollution through pollution control, recycling, waste disposal, which may impact on public health issues and environmental degradation, are increasingly becoming high on the agendas of government and businesses around the world. As pressure continues to mount over environmental issues, so the need for expertise in this area will continue to grow.

Environmental engineers provide practical solutions to some of these problems, most significantly in the planning, design, repair and construction of public infrastructure systems such as water and sewage treatment plants, landfills, storm water and river control works.

Environmental engineers conduct hazardous-waste management studies, evaluate the significance of the hazard concerned, make recommendations on treatment and containment, and develop regulations to prevent mishaps. They design and operate processes to treat waste to a standard acceptable for discharge into rivers and dams or recycling, for example, wastewater treatment and waste solidification. They are also involved in the protection of wildlife. They may work with occupational health experts to ensure a hazard-free working environment.

Their work includes analysing scientific data, assessing the impacts of controversial projects and performing environmental management quality control checks on project development and operations. Also, they study and attempt to minimise the effects of acid rain, global warming, vehicle emissions and ozone depletion. Environmental engineers may be called upon to research and develop new technologies and techniques to improve the environmental acceptability of infrastructure and built environment projects. They evaluate the environmental impact and the social impact of projects in association with the public, scientists, environmental specialists and other engineers.

They prepare reports and studies on the best approach to environmental management for both new and existing engineering projects, taking into account environmentally sustainable economic activity and legal, environmental and industrial factors. They communicate relevant issues to other technical staff, managers, regulatory authorities, public interest groups and the public. They frequently work closely with other professionals, at times pooling their expertise on specific projects.

Many environmental engineers work as consultants, helping their clients to comply with regulations and clean up hazardous sites. In South Africa environmental engineers are key players in the rehabilitation of mine dumps and open-cast mining sites and abandoned urban or industrial sites that may pose a threat to the environment. Environmental impact studies are required before any development can take place in environmentally sensitive areas.

Engineers typically work outdoors some of the time, but also spend time indoors developing their strategies and communicating their plans.

Personal Requirements

  • able to work both independently and in teams
  • good mathematical and technical skills
  • good verbal and written communication skills
  • good judgement
  • interest in conservation and environmental issues
  • able to identify, analyse and solve problems
  • interested in computing and technical design
  • practical and creative
  • sustainable development ‘green’ engineering
  • able to accept responsibility
  • physically fit

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Engineering and Graphic Design 

What to Study

Compulsory Higher Education

Degree: Study BEng or BSc Eng e.g. Civil Engineering, with Environmental Engineering.
These courses are offered at all universities.

Diploma: BTech Civil Engineering and Environmental courses are offered at all universities of technology.

Postgraduate: BEng(Hons) Environmental Engineering can follow BEng, or BSc(Hons) can be taken with an acceptable Bdegree. e.g. UP

Possible Career Paths

Start out as a civil engineer, then add a specialisation in environmental studies, or combine these fields from the start. Engineers often find their logical thinking and planning skills in high demand in strategic planning, systems, programme and business planning and development as well as implementation

Engineering graduates usually begin work under the supervision of experienced engineers and are gradually given more responsibilities as they gain experience. Some engineers with experience and additional education move into administration or management. Many high-level executives in industry began their careers in engineering.


• large construction and mining organisations
• large forestry organisations
• regulatory authorities and some government departments
• waste management companies
• provincial administrations and municipalities
• consulting engineering and architectural firms
• organisations such as Mittal Steel, Eskom
• chemical and petrochemical industries, e.g. Sasol
• academic and research institutes e.g. CSIR
• self-employment, with enough experience, initiative and capital, can work as consultant

Further Information

South African Institution of Civil Engineering
SAICE House, Block 19
Thornhill Office Park
94 Bekker Road
Vorna Valley
Midrand, 1686
Tel: (011) 805-5947/48/53

Society of South African Geographers
PO Box 339
Tel: (051) 401-2184 

The South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNSP)
Management Enterprise Building
Mark Shuttleworth Street
Innovation Hub
Pretoria, 0087
Tel: (012) 748-6500

Council for Geoscience
Suite B313
280 Pretoria Road
Silverton, 0127
Tel: (012) 841-1911

Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Private Bag X447
Pretoria, 0001

Programmes by Study Institutions

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