Environmental engineers assess the impact of engineering projects on water, soil, air and noise levels, and advise and design ways to minimise this impact. They also plan and design systems to treat and remove waste, such as waste water systems.
Graduate environmental engineers usually earn
$45K-$75K per year
Senior environmental engineers who work as team leaders or managers usually earn
$100K-$120K per year
Source: Robert Walters Global Salary Survey, 2015.
Pay for environmental engineers varies depending on skills and experience.
- Graduates usually start on about $45,000 to $75,000 a year.
- Mid-level environmental engineers usually earn between $75,000 and $95,000.
- Senior environmental engineers who work as team leaders or managers usually earn between $100,000 and $120,000.
- Principal environmental engineers responsible for overseeing engineering projects earn between $130,000 and $160,000.
Source: Robert Walters Global Salary Survey, 2015.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Environmental engineers may do some or all of the following:
- report on the environmental impact of proposed engineering and construction projects, and advise how to minimise this impact
- prepare reports, sketches, working drawings and specifications based on the sites and the clients' needs
- manage projects from start to finish, including visiting sites to check construction is going to plan
- design waste-management systems such as waste water treatment plants, stormwater and river-control works, and landfills
- take air, water and land samples, and send them away to be tested for pollution
- prepare assessments of environmental effects to accompany resource consent applications
- advise on treatment methods if any pollution is found
- supervise contractors carrying out work.
Skills and knowledge
Environmental engineers need to have:
- knowledge of civil engineering
- knowledge of air, water and land pollution control methods
- knowledge of public health issues
- knowledge of relevant legislation such as the Resource Management Act, the New Zealand Building Code, local by-laws and town planning regulations
- the ability to analyse and interpret information such as client requirements, plans and designs
- the ability to use geographic information system (GIS) computer modelling software.
- usually work regular office hours, but may have to work weekends and evenings to meet deadlines. Some environmental engineers may also work on call
- work in offices and at worksites
- may travel locally and overseas to work and to attend conferences and seminars.
What's the job really like?
Kimberly De Vries (nee Jupp)
With a Bachelor of Arts in geography and environmental science, Kimberly Jupp didn't take the normal route into engineering. But her background in environmental studies was just what civil engineering firm McConnell Dowell needed on its construction projects.
What does your job involve?
"I put together the Environmental Management Plan for the entire project, which looks at how we'll control things like noise, vibration, dust and erosion. Once the project begins, we'll carry out environmental checks each week on each of our site areas to ensure we're complying with our environmental controls and work with people in the community to reduce any effects of the work on them."
What have been some of the highlights so far?
"The first project I worked on. We were building a tunnel and we had to put down shafts (big holes in the ground) – one in a park, one in some sand dunes. Once we'd done all the work and constructed what we needed to construct, I managed the restoration of the park and the dunes sites.
"That was a highlight for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we got really good feedback from the public saying they were happy with how we'd done it. But it was also a great challenge – I was managing and overseeing the work, from managing the subcontractors to working out a planting plan."
Kimberley has successfully completed her part time studies towards the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) and is now aiming to work as an engineering project manager.
There are two pathways to becoming an environmental engineer. The most common way is to complete a four-year Bachelor of Engineering or Bachelor of Engineering with Honours degree specialising in civil, environmental and natural resources engineering.
You can also complete a three-year Bachelor of Engineering Technology degree specialising in civil, natural and resources engineering.
The Bachelor of Engineering with Honours focuses on the calculations and theoretical work involved in engineering projects, while the Bachelor of Engineering Technology focuses more on practical, hands-on technical knowledge.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further study. Useful subjects include English, maths with calculus, physics and chemistry.
Environmental engineers need to be:
- practical and logical, with good problem-solving skills
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- organised, with good planning skills
- good communicators
- able to work well as part of a team
- able to work well under pressure and meet deadlines.
There’s a very precise way of doing things, like taking samples for example – it's got to be done a certain way. If you don’t do it that way, it costs a lot of money because you’ll have to redo it. At the same time you have to have a big-picture, holistic view of the environment and how things interact.
Useful experience for environmental engineers includes:
- draughting experience
- surveying work
- engineering experience
- agriculture work
- work for district or regional councils.
Experience and interest in the outdoors and environment may also be useful.
BE (Hons) graduates who meet set requirements (usually around five or six years work experience) may apply to Engineering New Zealand to gain registration as a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng).
Engineering technologists who meet set requirements may apply to Engineering New Zealand to be registered as an engineering technology practitioner (ETPract).
Find out more about training
- Engineering New Zealand
- (04) 473 9444 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.engineeringnz.org
What are the chances of getting a job?
Skill shortage provides opportunities
Job opportunities are particularly good for experienced environmental engineers.
Environmental engineer appears on Immigration New Zealand's long-term skill shortage list. This means the Government is actively encouraging skilled environmental engineers from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Spending on infrastructure creates steady demand
New environmental standards mean that many local authorities are upgrading their water infrastructure. Between 2010 and 2020, $11.46 billion will be spent nationally on maintaining and upgrading water collection, treatment and waste water facilities. Environmental engineers are needed to help design and supervise this work.
Demand for environmental engineers to work on storm water systems is likely to grow in response to climate change and more frequent, severe weather events causing flooding.
Government spending on infrastructure is also contributing to demand for environmental engineers. The Government's National Infrastructure Plan outlines plans to spend about $12.2 billion on upgrading New Zealand's state highway network by 2021. It has also allocated $7.6 billion for new public buildings such as schools, hospitals and prisons over the next 20 years.
Environmental engineers will be needed to help monitor and offset the environmental impact of these works.
Types of employers varied
Environmental engineers work for a variety of employers, including:
- private engineering consultancies
- regional and local government authorities
- infrastructure and utility companies, such as roading and electricity companies
- government agencies, such as the Ministry for the Environment.
- Hays Recruitment, 'Hays Quarterly Report: Engineering: April–June 2016', June 2016, (www.hays.net.nz).
- Immigration New Zealand, 'Long Term Skill Shortage List', 19 February 2018, (www.immigration.govt.nz).
- Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) website, accessed June 2016, (www.ipenz.org.nz).
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006–2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Engineering Professionals Occupation Outlook', 2016, (www.mbie.govt.nz).
- National Infrastructure Unit, '2013 National State of Infrustructure Report', accessed June 2016, (www.infrastructure.govt.nz).
- Rashbrooke, M, writer/researcher, futureintech, Careers New Zealand interview, June 2016.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Environmental engineers may progress into managerial roles or become partners in an engineering firm. They may also set up their own business and work as self-employed contractors.
Environmental engineers can also specialise in areas such as:
- project management
- construction management
- health and safety
- environmental science.
Last updated 2 October 2019