Why your career should be rubbish (or hot air or pond life�)

Green collar careers: not just for the placard wavers. They’re the growth areas of the engineering world, and the savviest young engineers are looking at where they’d fit in.

A recent report by Royal Haskoning engineering consultants found that “green collar workers” (those whose roles are related to saving the planet in some capacity) are in high demand, with 30% of senior managers expecting problems recruiting enough staff into these positions in the coming years.

So if you want to secure your employment future and potentially save the world while you’re at it, perhaps you should consider one of the following green careers?

Waste Management Engineer

If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Where there’s muck, there’s brass” then you’ll have a headstart in understanding the current situation for waste management engineers. The simple fact is that the rubbish we throw away and recycle creates a massive headache for councils and organisations responsible for making sure the detritus doesn’t, ultimately, bury us. 

Discovering new ways of recycling and disposing of materials is an essential function of this role. The career could lead you into waste-to-energy systems; electronic monitoring during collection to make the whole thing more efficient; or even waste mining – there’s a possibility that we could be diving back into landfill to extract the plastics and metals simply thrown away.

Current salaries: Senior roles with a background in civil engineering can expect anything up to £65k.

Air Quality Engineer

You might think that the world’s air is getting cleaner than it was in the 19th century, when industrial fumes made it hard to see the hand in front of your face. This might be true in developed nations but developing countries are still reliant on heavily polluting technology, so global air quality continues to decline and the demand for air quality engineers – who monitor air quality and advise on how to clean it up – is growing too. 

If your ideal job would involve overseas travel and cleaning up the air we breathe then this could be for you.  

Current salaries: experienced air quality engineers can earn around £50k.

Engineering Hydrologists

When you turn on your tap at home the fact that any water comes out is thanks in large part to the work of engineering hydrologists. Their work involves the sustainable use of water supplies and ensuring the most efficient capture and retention of rainfall, but also monitoring and improving the flow of water through the network. 

Although there has been flooding in parts of the UK recent years, it’s predicted that, regardless of rainfall, the future holds a series of droughts, so hydrologists’ work will be even more important, and therefore valuable, in years to come.

Current salaries: Jobs currently advertising for hydrologists are paying between £25k and £35k although starting salaries will be in the region of £20k.

Environmental Engineer

This is more of a catch-all job title but it includes elements of waste management as well as reclaiming land which has possibly been contaminated. The role obviously has a background of civil engineering but as the demand for these skills increases, the number of courses (both first degree and post-grad) that are aimed specifically at training environmental engineers increases too.

Current salaries: starting salaries of over £20k aren’t uncommon.

Geoenvironmental Engineers

When humans come into contact with their surroundings they have an impact on it and it’s not always a positive one. Geoenvironmental engineers look at a range of impacts that mankind has on its environment, from messing with the water resources, to the way our transport infrastructure can have an impact upon the countryside. 

The sort of role that geoenvironmental engineers might find themselves working in could be as a contaminated land consultant – giving advice and information to organisations who need to sort out an oil spill or nuclear contamination. It’s hard work and occasionally risky but you’d have a practical and direct impact on cleaning up humanity’s messes.  

Current salaries: Recent jobs have been advertised at around £35k and industry insiders say that demand is growing fast.

Smart Grid Engineer

The idea behind smart grids is that dynamic demand is the future – this is a process which means that by carefully monitoring demand for power across a network and subsequently reducing spikes in the energy grid, it can improve the overall efficiency of the system. A recent trial by UK companies was hoping to prove that this so-called Smart Grid technology could take out 2 million tonnes of CO2 every year. 

As dynamic demand becomes more commonplace smart grid engineers will be the ones in charge of seeing to it that this saving actually happens. Electrical engineers who want to make a difference, as well as some money, might be advised to investigate further.

Current salaries: the UK’s first smart grid system has recently been installed in Orkney and demand is expected to increase from now.

Refrigeration Engineer

Not just someone who fixes the fridge when the light goes out, but an engineer responsible for the design and implementation of HVAC (Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning) systems. These systems are not just employed in domestic settings, but in a range of industrial places too, which requires a specialist knowledge and therefore attracts higher salaries.

Current Salaries: refrigeration engineers may be working on the maintenance of AC systems and attract salaries of £22k and the position would be ideal for those with a background in maintenance engineering.

Thermal Engineer

One of the key areas of energy conservation is looking at new potential energy sources and thermal engineers are innately linked to this fascinating and vital field. One of their job functions is to look at the field of thermodynamics and heat transfer to assess how useful different fuels might be and assess whether a new energy source might be the answer to the globe’s oil dependence, or just a load of old animal dung.
Current Salaries: because of the potential rewards for new and more environmentally-sound fuel sources, salaries are high, with mid-level workers attracting £30k-45k.

Engineering Geologist

Also known as geotechnical engineers, these workers (who are closely allied to the civil engineering discipline) are responsible for surveying the ground below proposed projects and advising on any potential drawbacks. It’s not just ground work that they get involved with, though; on ocean projects they help to establish the safety of projects (such as oil rigs or jetties), given different hydrological conditions. 

Current salaries: starting salaries from January 2009 are in the region of £17-25k


You couldn’t get a career that more directly impacted on the earth’s climate. Geoengineering is essentially employing techniques that manipulate the climate of our planet to try and offset the damage of global warming. Some of the techniques sound a little wacky (fancy planting a forest of artificial trees to soak up carbon? How about increasing cloud reflectivity to “bounce back” more solar radiation?) but your job is to find the ideas that work best and get them operational, up for the challenge?

Current salaries: this is a massive growth area with predictions suggesting that there could be demand for 500,000 more Geoengineers by 2020.

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