Environmental Systems Technology: Diploma, Associate & Online Degree Info

About this article
Although diploma programs specifically in environmental systems technology are rare to non-existent, certificates and associate degrees can prepare you for a career supporting environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC+R) systems. Find out about these programs and available options.
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Studying Environmental Systems Technology: Certificates and Associate Degrees at a Glance

Opportunities for HVAC+R mechanics and installers, environmental engineering technicians and architectural drafters were expected to grow 34%, 24% and six percent from 2010-2020, respectively, against 14% projected for all occupations by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In an environmental systems technology program, you could learn to design, install, service, sell and manage healthful, efficient building comfort systems that address federal, state and local regulations. Although entry-level training could be provided through high school or apprenticeship programs, some employers might look for postsecondary preparation.

These interdisciplinary programs may place more emphasis on environmental and pollution controls than traditional HVAC+R curricula. Studies could incorporate science topics addressing health and sustainability issues such as indoor air quality and energy savings. Certificates might provide a broad overview of the field or targeted training in one area. Through 2-year degree programs, you could train for management, facility operation or running your own contracting business.

Diploma Associate
Who is this program for? Individuals who want an introduction to the environmental systems technology field Those interested in entry- to mid-level positions, advancement to management or business ownership
Common Career Paths (with approximate salary) - Entry-level HVAC mechanic ($41,000)*
- Mid-level HVAC mechanic - ($48,000 - with 2-5 years of experience)*
- Senior HVAC mechanic - ($54,000 - with five or more years of experience)*
- Architectural drafter ($39,000)*
- Facilities supervisor ($63,000 - with 3-5 years of experience)*
- Sales representative for wholesale, manufacturing and technical products - ($86,000)**
- Self-employed contractor or business owner (salary not available)
Time to Completion Less than one year, full-time 1-2 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - May involve 30-40 credits
- Laboratory work or internship
- Approximately 60-80 credits
- Internship or laboratory work
Prerequisites - High school graduate or currently enrolled
High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Online coursework is available, especially from professional associations Online coursework is available

Source: *Salary.com (2012 median salary), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 annual mean wage).

Certificates in Environmental Systems Technology

Certificates may combine theory with hands-on training, equipping you for a variety of entry-level positions or supplementing your existing knowledge of the field. You might get an overview or specialize in refrigeration, heating or air conditioning, electronics or controls in these short-term programs. If you're already employed in the industry or completing an architectural technology associate degree, a program emphasizing chemistry, biology, water and wastewater and hydraulics could help you understand aspects of environmental science that impact your work.

Pros and Cons of Environmental Systems Technology Certificates


  • Completing a short-term program could get you into the workplace quickly.
  • Those already employed could update their knowledge or add a new area of expertise.
  • These options could be less expensive than degree programs.
  • Some curricula might offer credits transferable to degree programs.


  • You may qualify for a similar entry-level position by participating in a high school vocational or apprenticeship program.
  • Opportunities in specific geographies may depend on construction and retrofit activity.
  • Maintenance and repair work may be more stable than installation work.

Courses and Requirements

Requirements could vary depending on certificate focus. Programs may assume preparation including one year of high school algebra, computer applications, basic electricity, electronics or welding, or you might need to qualify in these areas before beginning your program. Depending on your discipline, you may need to satisfy additional requirements. For example, refrigeration specialists need to pass a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exam to handle refrigerants.

You may find courses like these in a certificate curriculum covering environmental systems technology:

  • Topics in environmental engineering
  • Refrigeration principles
  • Applied electricity
  • Electronics
  • Heating systems
  • Blueprints
  • Programmable controls

Online Certificates

Fully remote certificates in environmental systems technology may not be available due to the hand-on nature of this field. Although some courses might be available online, you'll probably need to complete shop or laboratory requirements on campus or through an internship program. You can investigate options at your school, or inquire if a school accepts some transfer credits earned elsewhere. Professional certifications and alternate non-credit online training options may be available through professional associations like the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association (PHCC) or the Refrigeration Engineers Society.

Standing Out with a Certificate Covering Environmental Systems Technology

You might check for accreditations and curricula that align with EPA or Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute competency examinations and state licensing standards. Some schools might offer training that addresses energy savings through student-built model projects. Students who put in extra laboratory time or who work part-time in the industry could have an edge. You may be able to obtain scholarship and career information through PHCC and similar organizations.

Associate Degrees Covering Environmental Systems Technology

Associate degree programs could facilitate specialization in residential, commercial or industrial facilities. Students who want to manage buildings or businesses might find environmental systems technology programs that incorporate HVAC+R design and technology and business disciplines such as accounting, supervision, organizational behavior and computer systems.

Programs at 2- or 4-year colleges and proprietary schools in HVAC+R technology could include both classroom instruction and hands-on training in basic HVAC+R technology, electrical systems, architecture and Computer-Assisted Design (CAD). You may be required to complete an internship.

Pros and Cons of an Associate Degree in Environmental Systems Technology


  • Credits earned in this degree program might be transferable to 4-year programs in energy management, environmental studies or engineering technology.
  • Advanced understanding of environmental factors and regulations could make you more competitive than traditional HVAC+R specialists.
  • Maintenance and repair specialists are needed in all locarions.


  • Some positions might be obtainable without a degree.
  • Candidates interested in contractor or installation careers may experience periods of unemployment during economic downturns.
  • Failure to spend time in the lab and less exposure to hands-on aspects of this career option could decrease your competitiveness in the higher job growth HVAC+R mechanics and installers area.

Courses and Requirements

Students pursuing associate degrees normally complete general education requirements as well as courses in their discipline. Your choice of electives may depend on previous preparation and goals. Environmental systems technology programs might include math, technical physics and fundamentals of electricity, refrigeration, air conditioning and heating. Prospective business owners might take courses in accounting, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship.

You might take courses like these in an environmental systems technology associate degree program:

  • Computer-assisted design (CAD)
  • HVAC layout
  • Building environmental systems
  • Microprocessors
  • Electrical controls
  • Environmental science
  • Thermo- and fluid dynamics

Online Course Options

Since courses in this field could require access to laboratories or equipment available at your internship worksite, you may not be able to complete all your requirements online. Some classes may be available through traditional or proprietary schools or as not-for-credit continuing education offerings of professional associations. Virtual courses require meeting similar requirements, but you'll access materials online and submitting your work electronically.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Schools may have well-equipped, up-to-date laboratories, shops and computing facilities with design software such as AutoCAD. Graduation from programs recognized by an agency affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education or an industry association could enhance your employability.

You might enter training programs that prepare you for industry certifications or help you earn hours toward state licensing requirements. Schools may offer sponsored chapters of organizations such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers that facilitate participation in service projects, field trips or design competitions. Professional associations may also provide scholarships and career information.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Thomas Edison State University

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Featured Schools

Thomas Edison State University

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What is your highest level of education completed?

University of Toledo

The Community College of Baltimore County

Stark State College

Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

Southern Arkansas University Tech

Sinclair Community College

Schoolcraft College