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Environmental Engineer

What does an Environmental Engineer do?

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. 

It's the field of engineering linked with civil engineering and infrastructure development, which uses 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. In addition, as pressure continues to mount over environmental issues, so the need for expertise in this area will continue to grow.


What qualifications do I need?

Environmental engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering or a related field, such as civil, chemical or general engineering. Bachelors in Environmental Engineering are interdisciplinary degrees, which integrate principles from disciplines like environmental sciences, engineering, physics, chemistry and ecology. For postgraduate studies you could enroll for a BEng(Hons) Environmental Engineering. Another pathway is to study towards a BTech Civil Engineering and Environmental diploma at a university of technology. 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. 

What subjects do I need?

Physical Science
Graphic Design 


Where can I study?

University of the Western Cape
BSc Biodiversity and Conservation Biology

University of the Witwatersrand
BSc Eng Civil Engineering

University of Cape Town
BSc Ocean and Atmosphere Science

Tshwane University of Technology
B Engineering Technology in Civil Engineering

Where can I get more info?

South African Institution of Civil Engineering - www.saice.org.za
Society of South African Geographers - www.ssag.co.za
The South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNSP) - www.sacnasp.org.za/
Council for Geoscience - www.geoscience.org.za/


Interview with an Environmental Engineer

Juarez Amaral Filho | ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER | Department of Chemical Engineering, UCT

Juarez Amaral Filho | ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEER | Department of Chemical Engineering, UCT


Why did you choose this profession?
Actually, I am still building my professional career as a researcher. After I got my Environmental Engineering degree back in Brazil, I worked for a couple of years in the metalwork industry. However, I had much more rewarding experiences as a laboratory assistant during my undergraduate years, which drew me back into the research field. And I’m still going strong.

What training did you undergo and where?
I spent 17 months studying an MSc degree and then four years as a PhD candidate to become a Doctor of Mineral and Environmental Technology. Both my MSc and PhD certificates are from the Postgraduate Programme in Mining, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

Describe a typical day on the job
I don’t have a daily routine in my job; it unfolds according to demand. I check my agenda and emails to plan my week – I often meet up with supervisors and students and conduct laboratory work through planned experiments. I also do literature research/surveying and experimental planning, and spend a considerable amount of my time writing projects for funding as well as papers for conferences and peer-review journals.

What do you enjoy most about your work?
Most of the aspects of researching in academia are great. The opportunity to learn new things every day with a diverse group of students, colleagues and high-level professors is priceless. 

What don’t you like?
Not having a set daily routine can be tricky sometimes… and you probably have to give up a couple of weekends over the year to be able to meet some last-minute deadline.

What hurdles have you had to overcome?
Giving up my career in the industry to become a researcher was pretty difficult – there is less money in academia, which makes it hard to get your family to support your decision. Also, leaving my home country to try working on my career abroad has been emotionally challenging. And adapting to a new language and culture requires a lot of extra effort.

What are your future goals?
To keep on researching for innovative solutions to assist the mining sector in addressing the environmental and social issues related to their operations; to help the next generation of engineers see the big picture in terms of sustainable development. They can then help their future companies/industries conduct their activities according to circular economy and resources conservation principles.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your career?
Be patient, persistent and resilient!

Describe your job in three words
Research, Technology and Innovation

Interview date: May 2018