What is environmental engineering?
Environmental engineering is a branch of applied science that contributes to the health of ecosystems and the provisioning of ecosystem services to people, by addressing problems associated with the quality of air, land, water and living systems. Its scope includes: the provision of a safe and potable water supply and adequate sanitation, waste water management, air pollution abatement, noise reduction, contaminated soil remediation, contaminant transport, material recycling, and environmental assessment and law. It involves soil, water and air pollution control within urban, agricultural, and industrial settings, and ensures effective recycling, waste disposal, and remediation of polluted sites. Environmental engineering’s primary focus is to support the environment at every scale: from site-specific concerns, to the management of drainage basins, and from the design of treatment facilities, to modelling future impacts, to informing the development of environmental policies.
Find additional information in our program brochure.
Why is it important?
In today’s fast-changing world, governments, policy makers, citizens’ groups and industries have a heightened awareness and concern for how decisions and actions affect the environment. Therefore, the field is growing in size and influence. Environmental engineers work closely with corporations, law-makers and others, employing sound principles and sustainable processes at a variety of scales, in order to protect the future of our air, land, water, and ecosystem resources. Environmental engineers are needed now and into the future to help address these growing concerns.
What are examples of typical types of works or tasks for someone in environmental engineering?
Specific tasks include:
- The design of facilities, management systems, and information systems
- The performance of impact assessments (including regulatory, sustainability, environmental, social, and risk)
- Sustainability planning and design
- Environmental policy formulation
Within these general tasks, there are many avenues an environmental engineer may pursue that are both exciting and rewarding.
What distinguishes environmental engineering from other engineering programs at UBC?
Unlike any other type of engineering, the primary focus of environmental engineering work is protecting and regenerating ecosystem health.
The ENVL program offered at UBC’s Vancouver campus also differs from the UBC/UNBC joint environmental engineering program in that:
- ENVL requires the students to remain on the Vancouver campus for all 4 years of study
- It is offered jointly by the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Department of Civil Engineering, both top tier departments
- ENVL requires students to be mentored by professional environmental engineers throughout their last 3 years of study
- It includes high-impact, hands-on and project-based learning opportunities
As one of the best environmental engineering programs in Canada, the UBC environmental engineering degree program enables students to get a truly hands-on experience to prepare them well for a successful career upon graduation.
What are the specific courses that someone in the UBC environmental engineering program takes?
Environmental Engineering courses include:
- Environmental Engineering Science
- Air pollution prevention and control
- Water pollution prevention and treatment
- Waste Management for Resource Recovery
- Technical Communications for Environmental Engineers
- Environmental Engineering and Sustainable Development
- Fundamentals of Sustainable Engineering
- Municipal Engineering
- Energy Engineering
- Environmental Engineering Design Courses in each year of study
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What is a typical course load in UBC environmental engineering?
The typical course load in the ENVL program is six courses per term.
What types of industries or jobs does someone in environmental engineering work in?
Graduates of the ENVL program are likely to find employment in one of four sectors:
1. Environmental consulting firms
British Columbia is the base for many renowned environmental consulting firms that work throughout the World. 129 members of the British Columbia Environment Industry Association (BCEIA). These include major international Companies such as Stantec Consulting Ltd., SNC Lavalin Inc., WSP, AECOM, Jacobs, Pottinger Gaherty Environmental Consultants Ltd., Hemmera (Ausenco), Klohn Crippen Berger Ltd., and Golder Associates Ltd., to mention just a few. These industries are involved in industrial waste management, remediation, environmental services, consulting, environmental risk analysis, water management and all aspects of environmental management and planning. Also, environmental engineers are key members of multidisciplinary teams working on sustainable development.
2. Urban Municipalities
Environmental engineers are key to providing critical municipal services to large cities, including water supply, waste management, energy conservation and recovery, pollution reduction and remediation of contaminated sites for construction. This is especially critical as urban areas prepare for the impacts of climate change, and the mitigation of biodiversity loss.
3. Extractive industries and Agriculture
Extractive industries, such as mining and oil and gas, employ environmental engineers to design systems and new technologies to mitigate the effect of these activities on the environment. These include new ways to reduce footprint, water and reagent use and energy consumption, and alternative processes to recover values from residues and wastes for reuse in order to contribute to a circular economy. Within the pulp and paper sector, there are opportunities for environmental engineers in reducing and managing energy and residuals at pulp & paper mills, creating innovative solutions for residual reuse, development of new biomass derived products, and reducing the environmental impact of forestry.
4. Rural communities
British Columbia is home to 198 First Nations, about one third of all First Nations in Canada. Many Indigenous people live in remote communities that do not receive services. Some of them experience drinking water advisories and do not always have access to safe drinking water. The Canadian government has committed to supplying all of these communities with clean water by 2021. Furthermore, out of nearly 4800 water systems in the province of British Columbia, nearly 4500 serve small and rural communities of less than 300 connections, and at any given time there are between 500 and 700 boil water advisories in those communities. Environmental Engineers are responsible for designing appropriate technologies for remote communities to supply them with safe drinking water and to treat their wastes to improve overall health and protect the environment.
Learn more about how Environmental Engineers are helping to bring better water treatment to Indigenous Communities:
What is the job market like for environmental engineering?
The outlook is very good. Because ENVL graduates are qualified to work in a variety of sectors, the job market for environmental engineers is usually strong. This is expected to continue into the foreseeable future due to continued growth of cities and the need to retrofit current practices in order to both reduce carbon emissions across sectors and improve ecosystem health.
What makes the ENVL program an outstanding education?
We have dedicated and experienced instructors and professors who have been in the field. Our curriculum is structured in a way that promotes the success of each and every one of our students.
Mentorship by Professionals: 2nd year ENVL students in small groups meet with a senior professional environmental engineer to discuss career goals, professionalism, and to work on integrating their knowledge by discussing case studies.
Optional Co-op Terms: ENVL students may choose to take work terms throughout their undergraduate studies.
High-Impact Learning Opportunities: High-impact learning is hands-on and engaging while building knowledge to address current issues important to everyone. Students in the ENVL program can expect the following:
- Flipped classrooms in which students prepare for their classroom learning by participating in on-line learning
- Classroom learning via mini-lectures and small-group discussions
- Learning activities that are problem-driven and project-based
- Community engagement
- In-the-field learning
- Interdisciplinary learning
- A post-colonial curriculum
- A 4th year capstone design project