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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.

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