Aleksander Booker

Student, Athens Latino Center for Education and Services

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Environmental engineers: do they do more for the environment than help solve our waste/water problems?

I'm an aspiring environmental engineer, in that I hope to use engineering skills to address environmental problems while performing a social good (think building wells in Africa).

The environment is a huge field, but it seems that environmental engineers *only* work on water projects and waste management. When you look at the TED talks above, and the profiles of people working on what you might consider environmental projects (windmills, dams, green building, etc), those people tend to be architects and mechanical, agricultural, chemical and electrical engineers.

So my question is: is this all that environmental engineers can do? Is the profession misnamed, or are there environmental engineers who are working on more varied projects than waste management and water issues?

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    Mar 12 2013: At many universities, Environmental Engineering programs follow either the Department of Civil Engineering or The Department of Chemical Engineering at Engineering faculties. Environmental "civil" engineers focus on hydrology, water resources management, bioremediation, and water treatment plant design. Environmental "chemical" engineers, on the other hand, focus on environmental chemistry, advanced air and water treatment technologies and separation processes.

    I am a Civil Engineer who specialized in river hydraulics and training. My 30 years of work in the largest river delta system in the world exposed me to be witness of systematic destruction of rivers through monoculture of big projects like dams and other traditional engineering interventions.

    I think Environmental Engineers should act as buffers between mainstream engineers and environments by providing insights and techniques to lessen or eliminate the harmful effects of engineering monoculture. It may not be waste management and water issues only. For example environmental engineers can be crucial in mining and manufacturing industries.
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    Mar 12 2013: This is a great response posted by Nick Jeffries to a similar post on Quora:

    "I started working as an environmental engineer in the winter of 1999 walking down a river in the south of England, recording and commenting on structures and characteristics that related to and might affect flooding.

    There followed an approximate 4 year, mainly office based, period of design, detailing, specifying, impact assessments and other, what seemed at the time, quite dull activities. In retrospect one can appreciate, that necessary period was to allow the language, attitude and processes of engineering to be absorbed and become second nature. This successful completion of this training period was formalized through the award of a professional Chartership with an engineering Institution .

    Since then my craft has allowed me to:

    - Manage a village and infrastructure reconstruction program in Northern Afghanistan
    - Set up an engineering department for an NGO in tsunami-affected Indonesia
    - Design Uganda's National Aquaculture research and development centre
    - Construction manage a 5-island infrastructure improvement works in the Maldives
    - Design a fish landing site in Yemen
    - Set up and manage an Indian Ocean regional engineering office in Sri Lanka
    - Travel extensively around East Africa conducting needs assessments for new rural water supplies
    - Provide technical oversight for schools and infrastructure rehabilitation in the Middle East
    - Assist in the development of new low cost solar irrigation pumps in Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya.

    In summary, environmental engineering requires structured thinking, a cautious professional attitude and an inquisitiveness for and knowledge of different techniques and technical solutions. All of this is in the context of the environment i.e. the world we live in. The only real limit to how you can apply the craft of environmental engineering, is your imagination. What do you want to do?"
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    Mar 7 2013: It is a very important issue and wonderful.Because a lot of people do not give sufficient weight to the environment.

    The environment is the main source of life.
    For this there must be large-scale projects for the environment.
  • Mar 8 2013: No. They are involved in pollution control, green energy, carbon footprint, life-cycle management of projects, enviromental impact of technological options, and many other things. Check out these sites:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_engineering

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Academy_of_Environmental_Engineers
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      Mar 12 2013: Robert, thanks for your response. I have seen those websites, but they offer mostly vague generalizations. I was hoping for more specific, real-life responses.

      For example, I have no doubt that environmental engineers are 'involved' in green energy but, from what I've seen, they are involved only tangentially (measuring the environmental impact of hydroelectric dams, which goes back to water issues), while the actual development of green energy resources is done by chemical engineers.