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Engineer green solutions ; environmental engineering

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The Hindu | Shiba Kurian |

With climate change initiatives and Smart City projects on the rise, environmental engineering is gaining ground as a promising option.

The education spectrum has been witnessing a rise in the demand for new-age courses such as fashion designing, media studies and environmental studies. Though these courses have been available for decades, they are increasingly finding practical application in today’s evolving scenario. Case in point, environmental engineering. It is a specialisation that combines the principles of science and engineering to examine and address environmental issues through wastewater management, air pollution control, industrial hygiene, environmental impact assessment and improving public health. With climate change, depleting natural resources and waste management being the hot topics of discussion across the globe, youngsters and government bodies are contributing to revolutionise these areas and widen their scope.

Multidisciplinary course
Though environmental studies has been a crucial part of the Indian school curriculum for over a decade, Megha Aggarwal, an education expert and the author of The Green Guide to Environmental Courses and Careers, feels youngsters today want to have a meaningful career that addresses the problems or issues they see around them. “Environmental engineering has evolved to become a holistic course for students keen on pursuing a career related to environment. It’s multidisciplinary, and apart from engineering basics, it draws from science and humanities, as environmental issues cannot be seen in isolation. In addition to the technical aspects of the problem, one needs to plumb the human angle, the economical aspect and the legal aspect to arrive at and chalk out an effective solution,” she says. Today, people from different disciplines are looking at environmental engineering as an option because of regulatory changes in various countries. “It is a sunrise industry,” vouches Nitin Verma, partner and managing director of SustainAsia, a company that focuses on clean energy, clean technologies and environmental infrastructure. “There is a sudden, renewed focus on this field. All initiatives to conserve, preserve and safely upgrade the environment have made the industry more mainstream. This, in turn, has encouraged many students to get into the academic area of environment.”

Opportunities galore
Some of the lucrative opportunities include impact assessment, green building certification assessment, pollution assessment, designing water and wastewater treatment, solid waste management, environmental consulting and auditing for private consultancies, audit firms, public and private companies and institutional bodies. As the environmental engineering industry is significantly driven by regulation/legislation of a country, a lot of universities offer courses on environmental law. Besides, telecommunication and computer science experts are branching out to launch startups, says Nitin. “People with a background in technology or related fields are linking information technology and environmental engineering to open up new fields to solve problems and introduce changes,” he says. “Even cab services such as Ola would have environmental engineers to help reduce their petrol consumption and make them more efficient.” According to Mukund Ramesh, an assistant environmental engineering at a consultancy firm in Chennai, with the government announcing the smart cities project, there will be an increase in demand for sustainable-environmental planning for water sources, solid waste management and wastewater treatment, thus adding to the scope for environmental consultants/engineers. “At present, in Tamil Nadu, there is an increasing need for water management and water reuse planning by industries, including adopting the Zero Liquid Discharge process,” he adds.

Courses
Environmental engineering is offered at undergraduate and postgraduate level. Being a niche area, experts suggest pursuing the subject after an undergraduate degree in related disciplines such as Civil Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Biotechnology.  In addition to possessing a sense of scientific inquiry, lateral thinking and a genuine interest in environment safety, a student needs to prepare for entrance examinations such as JEE (for undergraduate courses) and GATE (for postgraduate courses); albeit, some colleges have their own admission tests. Projects, internships and a brief stint at an organisation is a prerequisite to finding one’s area of interest — wastewater management, air pollution control, solid waste management, e-waste management and material sciences, among others. Soon after his B.Tech, Mukund was exposed to different features of the programme when he joined a firm as an environmental impact assessment professional. “From water treatment to air pollution control to ground water remediation, there is a scientific way to go about with this. Environmental engineering has desk work as well as site work. I strongly recommend doing a lab test — air, water or soil testing — to get a hands-on experience of the challenges and the factors responsible for pollution,” he elucidates. –  Courtesy


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