Environmental Sciences and Engineering

When it comes to the environment, our planet is facing major challenges: climate changes, scarcity of resources like drinking water, increasing human population, or loss of biodiversity; environmental problems are not only varied but they are also more complex. While coming up with appropriate solutions to these issues involves human, economic, and social dimensions, they cannot be considered without taking scientific and technological progress into account.

Gaining expertise in and understanding technology are crucial for environmental action. Biotechnologies also play a major role in the treatment of waste water, re-using solid waste, or remediating polluted soil. Often treated with suspicion, bacteria and fungi can also prove to be invaluable allies if they can be channeled for a specific purpose. As an environmental engineer, your role consists of analyzing the nature of the pollution, to set out the appropriate treatment, then to ensure the follow-up and effectiveness of its implementation.

Environmental engineering must also participate in responsibly using the natural resources of water, soil, and air. You will have to assess these resources and manage them within the framework of fragile ecosystems which have complex and unpredictable behavior. You will succeed in this particularly through rigorously using data from onsite measurements or from models.
You will also be involved in natural risk assessment. Here, as well, your approach will involve an increasing use of environmental monitoring, a discipline that is experiencing a boom allowing an ever-more exhaustive collection of the primary parameters necessary for following and modeling environmental phenomena.

Program presentation

You will acquire the fundamental scientific basics in mathematics and physics during your 1st year of study. The following two years include general training in environmental science (environmental chemistry, microbiology, soil science, atmospheric physicochemistry etc.) on the one hand, and classes devoted to engineering techniques (hydrology for engineers, sanitary engineering, water and waste management, quantitative methods, etc.) on the other. This joint program is complemented by a choice of optional classes.

Simplified study plan

BSc (180 ECTS credits)

Prospects: MSc Program

The MSc offers a wide range of classes grouped around three specializations:

  • Environmental Chemistry and Bioprocesses
  • Water, Soil, and Ecosystems Engineering
  • Environmental Monitoring and Modeling

You also have the opportunity to take specializations which involve environmental sciences such as, for example, classes in spatial and urban environment or energy. You will, moreover, have an internship to gain some experience in the field.

Other programs will be open to you after graduating with the BSc degree, in particular some interdisciplinary MSc programs.
More information on master’s study programs.

Please note that the information regarding the programs’ structure as well as the simplified study plan may be subject to change and that these are no legally binding. Only the official regulations and study plans are binding.

Career Prospects

After successfully gaining your BSc then MSc, as an environmental engineer, you must first and foremost come up with technical solutions for the many problems related to the environment and land. Whatever the professional organization in which you end up, you will regularly work in a multidisciplinary context which will involve the ability to listen and to negotiate. Your approach must consistently be a comprehensive one, which means that before suggesting a solution, you have to analyze the space-temporal context of the problem to be solved.

By way of example, the pollution removal of an industrial site involves, in addition to the work of analyzing the pollutants to be eliminated, real investigative work attempting to reconstruct the circumstances (history of the site and its operations) which caused the contamination. You would act the same way if you worked in the field of resource management, because you have to also carry out space-temporal assessments, notably for making forecasts. In the two cases, the tools of geographical representation provide you with invaluable assistance for superimposing the solutions which you recommend on the basis of the past, present, or future situation.

Your potential employers are first of all engineering consulting firms or environmental consulting firms. You will also have the opportunity to work for public administration (sanitation, waste management, land management, etc.), environmental-protection agencies, or in distribution companies (water, electricity, gas), or laboratories specializing in environmental technology. Finally, you can also deepen your knowledge by doing a PhD or considering working in technical cooperation.

Alumni testimonies

Julien Omlin

Bringing practical solutions to our daily environmental problems–the melting of glaciers, disorganized spatial planning, CO2 levels increasing, waste management—was the main reason I studied environmental engineering.

Julien Omlin, Bachelor and Master degrees in Environmental Engineering (2011)

But even if today I work as an environmental project manager, choosing this career had not always been obvious! At high school, I specialized in biology and chemistry, but then, I studied one year of psychology in a university. I eventually realized that I missed sciences and technology and I enrolled at EPFL.

My job at the CFF is to manage different projects, from planning to execution, and make sure that these projects comply with Swiss environmental law, one of the most restrictive and well-developed worldwide. I work on anything from building or modifying train stations, tracks and noise barriers, widening tunnels to adapt to the double-deck trains, to modifying the power supply. I have a multidisciplinary job, which requires to be very well organized and to respect deadlines. It also implies fieldwork, which was very important to me.

The environmental aspect plays a huge role in my company, at different levels. For example, using new rolling stock allows us to save energy. We also have to make sure that every project complies with Swiss law. And as a large company with almost 30’000 employees, the CFF also takes this environmental impact into consideration so they can be reduced with appropriate measures.

At the end of my studies, I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to work. But I definitely wanted to put my skills into practice and acquire a first professional experience. I worked a couple of months for a small engineering office, but I was somehow still attracted to research. I came back to EPFL as a scientific assistant, as I didn’t want to start a PhD, so I could lead my own researches in a water related field. After two years, I finished my project and I started looking again for a job in the private sector.

Many of the people I studied with work in engineering offices, making technical studies for public or private clients. Other friends found a job in private companies or in the public sector. Now and then, I even collaborate with them on some projects, which is always nice!

Franklin Golay

After my Master’s degree, I wanted to work in the humanitarian field. I left Switzerland for Nicaragua and I found an internship with the NGO WaterAid.

Franklin Golay, Bachelor and Master degrees in Environmental Engineering (2011)

I discovered there an amazing environment (the wild and autonomous Caribbean coast of Nicaragua), as well as very interesting development projects for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), in different indigenous communities. Among other things, my work included interactive mapping of water sources, the construction of water supply networks and rainwater harvesting systems, but also creating and reinforcing local capacities in those fields. I enjoyed my first responsibilities as a team leader, managing construction sites and keeping within budget. It’s the opportunity to acquire experience and find a job easily thereafter.

After this internship, I started working as a WASH project manager for ACTED in the DRC, as well as a base manager. This means not only implementing an extremely interesting development project for many communities, but also the great responsibilities that come with it. I have a lot of challenges: managing both construction and awareness teams, and dealing with logistics in remote areas. And all that is set in a beautiful place, between the jungle and the DRC’s big rivers!

A Master degree in Environmental Engineering at EPFL not only teaches you the technical tools, but gives you as well the capacities to learn and adapt to any situation. And this is a crucial point in the humanitarian field! To work for a NGO, SIE offers some very interesting classes: hydrology, public health engineering, water management, and of course, fluid mechanics. I would also recommend the option “water, soil and eco-systems engineering” for the Master degree, as this option prepares you well to work for countries in crisis or developing countries. An internship as an engineer in this field could also be a start.

NGOs need WASH engineers all over the world. Given the huge number of organizations (French, English, German, and Spanish-speaking) and the diversity of their actions and countries of intervention, there are many possibilities for students interested in a humanitarian job.

Chantal Imhof

wo natural catastrophes in the Upper Valais, one in 1993 and another in 2000, drove me to study Environmental Engineering.

Chantal Imhof, Bachelor and Master degrees in Environmental Engineering (2008)

Today, I am active in danger prevention in a civil engineering office in Sion. I focus on river flood management. It’s a domain that includes cartography of hydrological risks and projects dealing with flood risk management in torrents.

My first contact with risk management was at EPFL. I did an internship during my studies at a company specialized in the field, and during my Master work I studied health risks for researchers working with nanoparticles.

After receiving my degree, I worked in the environmental security domain for a railroad company. I was in charge of organizing security and environmental audits, analyzing existing tunnel security, managing pollution, and I was a representative for the company in a workgroup dedicated to reducing the risks associated with transporting dangerous merchandise.

During my studies, I was at interested in the sections “Water, Soil, and Ecosystems Engineering” as much as “Pollution Management and Industrial Ecology.” The pluridisciplinary education at SIE allows one to be flexible in the face of change and able to work in domains that are completely different. My professional activities center around management of many types of risk, and my experience has proven to me that it is possible to go from one domain to another.


Looking for further details about this program? Please check its specific webpages or use the contacts  below:

[email protected]

41 (0)21 693 80 71