Environmental Technology: Academic Requirements, Professional Outlook

Environmental Technology: Academic Requirements, Professional Outlook

Environmental Technology

Environmental technology encompasses any application of technology to environmental problems, so it includes hazardous waste clean-up, monitoring and treating pollution, and many other fields. Generally, these applications of technology strive to improve environmental quality by increasing efficiency and performance while reducing waste. There is a heavy emphasis on capturing pollutants, recycling and sustainable resource use.

Why do we need environmentally sustainable technology? "In the complex relationship between development and the environment, technology provides a link between human action and the natural resource base. Faced with limited global natural resources, the people of the world must seek to achieve more sustainable forms of development," states the U.N. Environmental Programme website. In other words, developing efficient ways of dealing with resource use and waste is a crucial step in protecting the environment and human health. People working in the environmental technology field are making important contributions to the future of our planet.

The Academic Requirements

Students will take courses in federal and state environmental regulations, health and safety issues, environmental chemistry and biology, and geology and hydrology. Specifically, students may take classes in soil, air and water sampling and the remediation technologies used to clean up damaged sites. Many programs include classes in remote sensing and geographic information systems, since these modern technologies are used extensively.

Most environmental technology programs are two-year associate's degree programs, so the focus is less academic and more skills-oriented. Two-year colleges focus on putting students out into the workforce, so students gain the skills to be able to work right away. Other ET programs are offered to graduate or post-graduate students to help supplement scientific, environmental or engineering knowledge to focus on environmental issues. These can be certificate programs or full master's programs.

There are many different avenues for obtaining education in environmental technology. The Bureau of Labor reminds us that, "most employers prefer to hire someone with at least a 2-year associate degree in engineering technology. Training is available at technical institutes, community colleges, extension divisions of colleges and universities, public and private vocational-technical schools, and the Armed Forces." There are also a number of distance-learning programs available.

Here are some courses that we've seen:

  • Environmental Law and Regulations
  • Microbiology
  • Scientific Computer Applications
  • Remediation Case Histories
  • Geologic Sampling Protocols, Techniques and Methods
  • Health and Safety Strategies and Requirements
  • Project Management
  • Intermediate Sanitary Chemistry
  • Hazardous Materials Management
  • Wastewater Treatment
  • Small Utility Management and Supervision
  • Geotechnical Sampling & Instrumentation
  • Maps, Surveys & GIS
  • Water Rules and Regulations
  • Applied Analytical Chemistry

Professional Outlook

The type of job a graduate can get varies widely, based on what their program's focus was and whether they obtained a certificate, associate's degree, or a bachelor's degree. Graduates with a two-year degree will get an entry-level job in industry. Those with more advanced degrees can conduct research and field testing, or they can manage a company or teach.

The Bureau of Labor website says, "Environmental engineering technicians work closely with environmental engineers and scientists in developing methods and devices used in the prevention, control, or correction of environmental hazards. They inspect and maintain equipment affecting air pollution and recycling. Some inspect water and wastewater treatment systems to ensure that pollution control requirements are met." Most environmental technicians work 40 hours or more per week, in laboratories or offices of manufacturing or industrial plants. Some technicians may be exposed to hazards from equipment, chemicals or toxic materials.

Here are some job titles that we've seen, including some of the organizations that offer them, all of which included a requirement for experience in Environmental Technology:


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