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Talking E: Civil Engineering and the Green/Sustainability Trend

October 7th, 2011

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) defines sustainability as a set of economic, environmental and social conditions in which all of society has the capacity and opportunity to maintain and improve its quality of life indefinitely, without degrading the quantity, quality or the availability of natural resources and ecosystems.

The civil engineering profession recognizes the reality of limited natural resources, the desire for sustainable practices and the need for social equity in the consumption of resources.  To this end, the ASCE supports the following strategies in the field:

  • Promote broad understanding of economic, environmental, political, social, and technical issues and processes as related to sustainable development;
  • Advance the skills, knowledge and information necessary for a sustainable future; including habitats, natural systems, system flows, and the effects of all phases of the life cycle of projects on the ecosystem;
  • Advocate economic approaches that recognize natural resources and our environment as capital assets;
  • Promote multidisciplinary, whole system, integrated and multi-objective goals in all phases of project planning, design, construction, operations, and decommissioning;
  • Promote reduction of vulnerability to natural, accidental, and willful hazards to be part of sustainable development; and
  • Promote performance based standards and guidelines as bases for voluntary actions and for regulations in sustainable development for new and existing infrastructure.

The ASCE believes that civil engineers should take a leadership role in sustainable development and take on the responsibility of providing effective and innovative solutions in addressing the challenges of sustainability.  As the bridge between science and society, working on multidisciplinary teams with other professionals, such as ecologists, economists, and sociologists, civil engineers can effectively address the issues and challenges of sustainable development.

As part of this challenge, civil engineering has become more than providing standard designs and plans. It is about creating unique design and construction practices that are cost-effective, healthier, and easier to maintain.

Green design is a powerful and timely concept. Across the nation, municipalities, developers and architecture firms are realizing its value. Green design brings with it an all-new array of ecological, engineering and planning issues, which play a part in still-developing sustainability requirements and regulatory processes.

Globally, the civil engineering profession has recognized the reality of shrinking resources, the desire for sustainable practices and design, and the need for social equity in the consumption of resources. Civil engineers have helped raise expectations for sustainability and for environmental stewardship. The profession has led world acceptance of green design and has been at the forefront in making environmental considerations part of life-cycle and cost-benefit analyses.

Civil engineers have been instrumental in urging clients to use environmentally-friendly technologies to improve the quality of life in urban environments. Green designs routinely incorporate recycling, either by using recycled materials, or by making project components recyclable at the end of their useful life. Most new construction is based on green and smart-building technologies, and many new buildings actually produce more energy than they consume.

Overall, the “green movement” is providing an opportunity for civil engineers to think outside the box about the short-term and long-term effects of their designs, and provide solutions that minimize the impact on the environment.

Talking E: America’s Crumbling Infrastructure: An Engineer’s Nightmare, or a Great Opportunity?

September 22nd, 2011

On a daily basis, we drive on paved roads over bridges, take hot showers, turn the lights on and off, and take out the trash. Most of us take these activities for granted because after all, we live in a modern country, not a developing nation. However, experts are warning that if America doesn’t act soon, it will have the infrastructure of a third-world country within a few decades.

  • Citing a report released in July by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which found that America’s crumbling surface transportation infrastructure will cost the economy more than 877,000 jobs, U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, renewed calls for Congress to create a surface transportation bill that provides the investments necessary to tackle the well documented backlog of highway, bridge, and transit infrastructure needs.“Today’s report provides the cold hard truth that America’s economic recovery and long-term competitiveness will suffer if we continue to under-invest in our future,” said Rahall.  “The report paints a disturbing picture of how America’s small businesses and middle class family incomes will be affected by our Nation’s deteriorating surface transportation systems.”
  • For the past few years, evidence of America’s crumbling infrastructure has been hard to ignore, from the devastating breach of New Orleans’s levees after Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of a big bridge in Minneapolis last summer.
  • In 2005 the ASCE estimated that $1.6 trillion was needed over five years to bring just the existing infrastructure into good repair. This does not account for future needs. By 2020 freight volumes are projected to be 70% greater than in 1998.
  • Thanks to soaring oil prices, a surge in demand for buses and trains has revealed aging transport systems in big cities and underinvestment in small ones.
  • America’s aging water infrastructure is tremendously underfunded: the Environmental Protection Agency forecasts an $11 billion annual gap in meeting costs over the next 20 years.
  • America’s transport network is similarly dysfunctional, says a recent Urban Land Institute report. The ports in Los Angeles and New York are overloaded. Flight delays cost at least $15 billion each year in lost productivity. Congestion on the roads costs $78 billion annually in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted gas. Our railways are old, and America’s only “high-speed” train runs between Boston and Washington, DC, on an inadequate track.

Obviously, the U.S. has invested very little in infrastructure over the last few decades. The ASCE began researching and grading the state of the nation’s infrastructure 10 years ago and determined that every area from aviation to roads to wastewater needs serious attention. To repair all the areas of infrastructure to good condition or a grade of “B” will cost $1.6 trillion over 5 years time.

This should mean additional work for thousands of engineers, if the government allots the money necessary to make these much-needed repairs. Terence O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, says 47,500 jobs will be created for every $1 billion the government spends on infrastructure.

 

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