Professionals Role In The Delivery Of Sustainability Construction Essay


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The end of the 20th century can be considered to be the age of a vigorous technological development of man but, simultaneously, a period of considerable damage to his natural environment. The latter fact has been ultimately recognized, but the idea of growth-at-any-price has dominated nearly everywhere for long periods of time. Human society worldwide has continued, during the past decade, on a path that is clearly not sustainable. By the year 2050, fewer resources (than we are now relying on) will have to support nearly 9 billion people, each requiring food, clothing, shelter and modern amenities of life. As rapidly developing nations with large populations increase their use of resources, at some point this demand will simply exceed the earth's resources, with drastic consequences for human life and the environment on the planet.

While specific definitions may vary, sustainability is frequently defined as meeting present-day needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. Sustainability includes three, overlapping, pillars of environment (planet), economy (prosperity), and society (people). The ''technical'' problem of sustainability emerges because of the contradiction between the desires of a good life and the requirements of sustaining the environment.

The historical development of the concept of sustainability is connected with the development of civilization. Since the Industrial Revolution, engineers, and civil engineers in particular, were always at the forefront of the transformation processes of human civilization.

I myself have studied civil engineering in Greece where I also worked for one year.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, civil engineering can be defined as ''the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and physical sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the progressive well-being of humanity in creating, improving and protecting the environment, in providing facilities for community living, industry and transportation, and in providing structures for the use of mankind.''

The profession of civil engineering has contributed much to human development and quality of life through the provision of basic water supply, pollution control, transportation, industrial/commercial, and urban infrastructure. Each of these civil engineering activities contributes to human comfort, convenience, accessibility, health and longevity of life. But now that same infrastructure, and the economies and standard of living that it supports, is contributing to environmental degradation due to its sheer size and the scale of its effects. There are ubiquitous signs that the human population is now impacting the global environment, and threatening our life-support systems. Our world is growing rapidly in population and is becoming more urbanized and economically developed. The civil engineer's role in guiding the development process towards sustainability is now more important than ever.

Civil engineering - Sustainability Case Studies _

Civil engineering has created the built infrastructure which supports our way of life. Notable examples of human benefit include:

Provision of portable water, sewage and sewage treatment, with their important benefits to health;

Provision of roads, railways, harbors and airports giving convenience of travel and reduction in journey times;

Provision of spacious and adequately heated offices, factories and homes;

Supply of power and energy

Development and provision of domestic and trade waste collection and disposal

Urban planning

The concept of sustainability as applied to a city is the ability of the urban area and its region to continue to function at levels of quality of life desired by the community without restricting the options available to the present and future generations and causing adverse impacts inside and outside the urban boundary. Sustainable urban planning by the civil engineer must attempt to achieve the objectives set forth by the community, taking into account the interests of future generations. In terms of life-cycle management, sustainable urban planning means that the entire life-cycle of an urban site has to be managed sustainably from pre-design, design, construction and commissioning, operation, maintenance to refurbishment.

Transportation systems

In the past 150 years, transportation infrastructure and services, vehicles, and design technologies have experienced a vast change in response to the increasing and complex demands of society, as well as in response to the advent of other technologies. As for surface urban passenger transportation, it has gone through several milestones, from horse drawn street railway, steam and cable powered lines, to electric streetcars, underground heavy rail and urban bus transit. The introduction of new public transportation technologies was primarily motivated by the desire of the user to find faster and more reliable forms of transportation than those that were available at the time, and this motivation eventually gave rise to the automobile. While this progression provided an unprecedented level of mobility and personal freedom, it paid little attention to social and environmental sustainability along the way. It was not only the technology used, but also socio-economic factors and urban growth policies which made the private automobile the most desirable mode of urban transportation.

Throughout much of the 20th century, the major focus was on private vehicles dependent on fossil fuels and a complex array of roads and highways for personal, commercial and industrial transportation.

The sustainability of an urban transportation system can be judged by how well it contributes to the quality of life in the community, whether its use of physical and natural resources ensures the ability of future generations in meeting their transportation and livability needs, how externalities are accounted for, and how well current and future demands of diverse segments of the society are satisfied.

It is evident that the impacts of modern transportation in terms of urban sprawl, inefficient use of energy, high air pollution levels and greenhouse gas emissions, and an unacceptably large ecological footprint, are not sustainable. For example, the transportation sector accounts for about one quarter of Greece's greenhouse carbon emissions and is a major contributor to smog in urban areas. A shift to sustainable forms of transportation is timely and essential. Civil engineers play such a major role in the planning, design, construction and operation of transportation systems that leadership must come from the Civil Engineering profession.

Residential Buildings

Water distribution systems

Unsustainable practices of humankind resulted in issues related to the cost and availability of resources and the effects on global climate of greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, a need has developed for social and environmental factors to be considered as key objectives (in addition to cost) in the optimization process. Due to this, it has become vital to incorporate sustainability into the design and optimization of water distribution systems.

Water supply has always been a top priority in the developing world. Infrastructure, such as dams and wells, was built to provide adequate clean drinking water to meet demands. These projects, however, frequently proved ineffective and unsustainable. The lack of continual financial and technical support after the projects were completed failed to maintain the water infrastructure. The real needs of poor local communities were not met owing to limited local capacity. Biases towards providing a water supply also put waste management at a low priority, and consequently, clean water was often contaminated by waste.

Whole-of-life-cycle cost is often used as a measure of economic efficiency and is usually expressed in the form of net present value of capital, operating and maintenance costs. Strictly speaking this should also include the cost of recycling of all of the system components such as disused pipelines, tanks or pumps. Other sustainability measures include the mass of material used, the total energy used and the production of greenhouse gases.

Waste management

Increased global development and consumption in recent decades has been accompanied by an increase in the amount waste that societies produce. It has for some time been recognized that measures are needed to control both the amount of waste generated (because it represents an unnecessary depletion of resources) and the way in which wastes are disposed (to minimise pollution of land, water and air). The traditional view of waste is as the residue of a linear process in which resource is consumed. A more modern and sustainable view sees the generation of waste as part of a resource cycle that includes extracting materials and energy from the environment, refining raw materials and producing goods, consuming and using goods, and then eventually returning materials to the environment. Each process has inputs (materials and energy) and outputs (products, energy and waste). Waste outputs from one process can be used as resource inputs to another.

Geotechnical design

Geotechnical design, as part of a civil engineer's work, has huge potential to improve the sustainability of projects due to its early position in the construction process. As geotechnical works can involve the use of large amounts of natural resources, consume vast amounts of energy and fuels and involve changes in landform that will persist for centuries, geotechnical projects can interfere in many social, environmental and economic issues and thus their improvement has an important part in achieving sustainable development.

Therefore sustainable values need to be fully embedded into geotechnical design in order to fulfill the potential in improving sustainability at the beginning of the construction chain. In order to achieve these objectives civil engineers need to understand the impacts and effects of their projects, and address the complex issues of trade-offs in decision making, whilst trying to embed sustainable values in every choice.

Sustainable construction

Sustainable construction typically has an environmental dimension, seeking to minimize the negative impact of our facilities on our environment. Economic dimensions of sustainable construction are also emphasized, with substantial discussion of life-cycle operations and employee costs as well as first-cost comparisons between traditional and sustainable buildings. However, the equally-important social dimension of sustainability; which includes considerations such as education, opportunity, community connectivity, and standard of living; must also be considered along with the environmental and economic dimensions.

According to the Sustainable Construction Strategy, the most recent report from the UK Strategic Forum for Construction, the economic output of the construction industry is worth over £1000bn a year and accounts for 8% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the UK, as well as providing employment for around 3 million workers (Strategic Forum for Construction, 2008). In this way, the activities of the construction industry have great impact on the social and environmental aspects of life, and in spite of the recent economic turmoil construction is still one of the three biggest industries in the UK. Similar patterns are seen in other countries around the world. Buildings are responsible for almost half of the country's carbon emissions, half of our water consumption, around one third of landfill waste and one quarter of all raw materials used in the economy. Construction also has a poor record in relation to people, especially with regards to health and safety, which impacts businesses not only in costly lost workdays, but in addition can lead to enforcement actions such as prosecution and site closure.

Several sustainable development issues that affect Civil Engineering practices have gained prominence over the last decade:

climate change: its potential impacts upon civil infrastructure; changes in extreme hydrological and meteorological events; and the growing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as adaptation requirements;

peak oil: depleting oil and natural gas reserves with potentially very serious repercussions unless major shifts in societal priorities and policies are implemented; these include energy conservation and efficiency, alternative renewable sources, and strategies to reduce waste;

sustainable transportation: renewed emphasis on pedestrian amenities; mass transit; and energy conservation in transportation systems;

environmental restoration: reconstruction of natural features, and fish habitat in rivers and streams; the control of sediment runoff; the removal of dams and tidal barriers, and cleanup and/or redevelopment of contaminated sites;

ecosystem disruption: loss of biodiversity; genetically modified products; and modified environmental vectors that may indirectly impact Civil Engineering;

ethics & equity: transparency and equity in providing basic human services to disadvantaged people; contributing to poverty reduction, human health and public welfare; and,

Infrastructure operations & maintenance: infrastructure must be operated and maintained as effectively and efficiently as possible if the intended service benefits are to be obtained.

Sustainability Appraisal in construction projects

With the development of environmental protection theory to the more holistic idea of sustainable development, methods of evaluation and appraisal have also widened. In the case of the United Kingdom planning system, SEA and sustainability appraisal requirements have been merged to a unified assessment process which must accompany the preparation of any local or regional plan. A range of methods have been developed to undertake sustainability appraisal of projects and plans. One such method is called the Sustainable Project Assessment Routine, or SPeAR®, and uses performance analysis of a range of indicators within a four-quadrant structure. Although SPeAR analysis can require a substantial exercise of quantitative analysis across a wide range of topics, the results are displayed in a wheel of color-coded segments which give the user a simple snapshot of the relative performance of the project or plan as a hole, as well as highlighting specific areas of better and worse performance.

Sustainability in the project sample diagram

[Using the SPeAR Assessment Tool in Sustainable Master Planning, McGregor A.I. et al, 2003]

A sample image of a SPeAR diagram is shown above. Where an aspect is colored red and located towards the edge the diagram, the performance is below accepted good practice. Aspects colored cream and positioned in the middle of the diagram are at or near to good practice. Aspects colored green and at the centre of the diagram are at or approaching best practice.

The intention of this tool is to enable engineers to see the impact of their design or planning decisions, leading to decisions which push the overall sustainability performance of the project or plan from red to green.

Critical assessment of civil engineer's role in the delivery of sustainability________

While civil engineers should all search for ways to enhance their environmental capabilities and to produce sustainable designs, emergence and development of more sustainability aware engineers would enhance their services to humankind and the rest of nature. The long-term goal will be more sustainability-aware engineers infiltrating all engineering subdisciplines and specializations. There is a pressing need to inspire and equip engineering students with the means to design and implement the required solutions incorporating sustainability concepts.

As such, university level education also entails a radical reorientation in order to enable a new generation of professionals to more effectively and positively confront the transition toward a sustainable society and act to influence it. The holistic approach comprises a wider knowledge base in the social, political, and life sciences in addition to physical sciences and mathematics. It has to furnish students with the ability to analyze, comprehend, and understand the multidimensional aspects of sustainable development problems. It is reckoned that the best way to prepare civil engineers for future challenges is to furnish them with a fundamental education in basic sciences, engineering fields, and society, as well as the linking amongst them in a broad manner. In this regard, three types of sustainability should be emphasized, namely, environmental, economic and social. The major barrier to changing the existing education structure comes from the inherent requirement of broad knowledge in sustainability issues. The work load of the existing curriculum is already very heavy and it appears at first sight very difficult to include increasing volumes of sustainability related materials. Increasing that content by the addition of new concepts will require the loss of other essential material. After all, this problem can be solved since, in implementing engineering education, technology trends should not be the focal point since they may soon be outdated.

The concepts of sustainability should guide the civil engineer: to recognize the full life cycle of a project or system; to ensure follow-up by the designer during the operational phase of works; to use performance indicators in post-implementation monitoring of projects; and to balance the environment, social and economic objectives over the entire life of the project in infrastructure development. Globally, there is the need to ensure civil infrastructure contributes to poverty alleviation, protects human health and ecosystem integrity, and offers the widest possible access to basic human services. Transparency, social equity and fairness must all be factored into civil projects. Throughout all of these changes, the role of public participation in project planning and environmental assessment has been increasing. Civil engineers must learn to communicate the importance, function and impacts of civil infrastructure in daily life, and in sustainability terms, in order to assume a greater leadership role.

Civil engineers need to be involved with the operational phases of their works, especially with buildings, structures, water supply and wastewater treatment works. The design process cannot be divorced from operations and maintenance aspects of project implementation, yet this is often the case. Civil engineers should be advocating that contractual arrangements for the design of infrastructure include an obligation to evaluate subsequent operations. The first principle of sustainable development should be that existing infrastructure must be operated and maintained as efficiently and effectively as possible, before undertaking new projects relying on non-renewable resources, high energy use, and generating additional waste.

The welfare of the world's population can be improved, and a better quality of life achieved, through sustainable civil engineering projects that help eliminate poverty, provide basic services, protect human health, and contribute to equitable economic development among the world's poor. Lack of transparency reduces the effectiveness of costly development projects. Civil Engineering societies in cooperation with several other engineering societies, should work on a set of principles of professional conduct that will help improve practices in the engineering and construction industry. Openness and transparency in the procurement and delivery of global engineering and construction services, efficiently allocated for their intended purpose, will result in additional financial resources being available for poverty reduction and optimizing societal benefits.

In the provision of infrastructure, there is need for financial and economic sustainability. This would include considering the true life cycle costs, both direct and indirect, such as the increased cost of water treatment required when water quality buffers such as wetlands are destroyed, and the loss of habitat for waterfowl and aquatic species. Other important considerations are operations and maintenance, repair and rehabilitation costs, demolition and disposal costs, as well as the appropriate level of service required taking into account the current level of economic development and the ability of users and consumers to pay.

The civil engineer should endeavour to:

Adopt a life cycle approach to project financing and implementation in which the construction, operation and maintenance, demolition and disposal costs are all adequately considered;

Include costs and benefits related to environmental quality in economic evaluations of engineering activities;

Recognize all actual, potential or perceived conflicts of interest in relation to engineering activities, and ensure clarity and transparency in dealing with them;

Recognize that compromising environmental quality or standards in Civil Engineering activities is an inappropriate means of reducing cost, and may only achieve short-term gains at the expense of long-term sustainability and human welfare;

Disclose environmental implications and uncertainties, and the entirety of external costs of Civil Engineering activities, taking into account the often inadequate and uncertain nature of environmental data;

Promote economic approaches that recognize natural resources and the environment as capital assets; and,

Consider the cost of environmental protection for the entire project life.

Civil engineers should endorse "Green Construction" - construction that achieves the beneficial objectives of engineering work with the lowest possible consumption of raw materials and energy, both during and after construction.

The civil engineer should endeavour to:

Promote the wise use of non-renewable resources, waste minimization and recycling in engineering activities and the development of alternatives to the use of non-renewable resources;

Select materials and systems with low embodied energy and easy reuse;

Promote the principles of conservation and energy efficiency;

Rigorously examine the basic functions and purposes behind a project to recognize options and alternatives that will increase sustainability;

Identify appropriate technology for sustainable development, recognizing that may mean low-tech solutions;

Choose a built form and orientation that contribute to environmental economies and future adaptability, flexibility of use and reuse;

Select construction methods that minimize the effects of construction and demolition in terms of land take, waste and pollution;

Consider individual and cumulative social, economic and environmental, including long-term and indirect impacts; and,

Adopt practices, policies and design goals that focus on efficiency, conservation of materials and energy, and waste minimization.

Ethics, together with other philosophical considerations, may have a real influence on the sustainable performance of civil engineering within the society. Various references note that sustainability must be considered, primarily, from the philosophical or even ethical point of view.

Public welfare should be the prime responsibility of the civil engineer. This inherently includes the well-being of the environment. The civil engineer should advocate for the principles of sustainable development in both their work and in their workplace, and urge clients and employers to incorporate environmental objectives, conservation and energy efficiency into design criteria, in order to prevent or minimize the adverse environmental effects of engineering activities.

The civil engineer should endeavour to:

Adopt practices that contribute to the goal of sustainable development;

Suggest alternatives to clients, if the proposed engineering activity is likely to create unavoidable environmental risks;

Urge clients to incorporate the monitoring of environmental changes into projects, and to adjust operations as a result of that monitoring;

Provide information to clients, employers, the public and government about ways of improving the sustainability of Civil Engineering solutions;

Decline to associate with engineering activities if the client or employer is unwilling to support adequate efforts to evaluate and/or mitigate environmental problems;

Employ the precautionary principle - always err on the side of caution with respect to environmental consequences, since the response of biological systems to human activities is frequently difficult to predict;

Provide leadership in the development of codes of practice for sustainable development within the workplace;

Reaffirm their commitment to regard the physical, economic and environmental well being of the public as the prime responsibility of their work.

Inter-professional relationship

The interdisciplinary nature of the issues necessitates the need for participation, by government, public agencies, institutions and societies, the public, employees, and other professionals. Civil engineers have a role as leaders to set an example and support actions leading to sustainable development.

Recognize that the expertise required for a specific engineering activity may not be sufficient for judging the environmental implications of that activity;

Involve specialists in environmental engineering and other professions in determining the environmental implications of engineering activities;

Recognize individual limitations in assessing environmental effects, and consider other opinions, professional and otherwise;

Recognize the rights of the community to be involved in project formulation and development, and actively encourage such involvement;

Maintain dialogue about sustainable development with other professions, with the public, and with environmental groups;

Ensure active community participation in engineering decisions/discussions;

Assist and advise other engineers, where necessary, in the application and use of the principles of sustainable development set out in this document;

Work to harmonize the activities of public and private sectors, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations; and,

Support initiatives of other recognized professionals to implement the principles of sustainable development.


Sustainable spiritual and economic welfare is a special calling. Engineers, in particular civil engineers, must be leaders in this way. Their emotional interest in the living world can inspire all those who develop social systems to be in harmony with the environment. The engineering culture should accept and strengthen a wider spectrum of values and practices but should focus on those based on clear moral foundations.

Civil Engineering offers needed solutions to global society and the environment in an increasingly populated and technology-dependant world. Civil engineers can participate fully in the development process, becoming more aware of social, health, environmental and economic issues, and better advocating for sustainable development in the true sense of the word. Civil Engineering is in a position to make a tremendous difference. By exercising a leadership role, individual civil engineers can help to solve the most challenging and threatening problems that have ever faced humankind. One of the most important aspects of this role will be to continue to research and develop new technologies for resource utilization, basic human services, energy conservation and waste minimization.

There is sufficient understanding of sustainability, and of the relevant practical actions, among the developed countries; there is some lack of it in Greece. The world of engineering, civil in particular, should work to further the practice of sustainability and to its implementation.

Civil engineers have a role to direct the greatest resources in nature for the best interest of mankind, in harmony with human aspirations and sustainable quality of the environment. They should devise feasible solutions that are affordable and in accord to aspirations of society, by contributing to economic growth, to environmental protection and to improved quality of life. In order to accomplish these objectives, solutions should strike an informed balance in terms of cost, benefits, sustainability and acceptability within the broader legislative framework, and involves the concepts of life cycle costs accounting for both the economic feasibility of engineering project and their long-term tangible and intangible environmental impacts.

The need arises to incorporate sustainability concepts and principles in both professional practices and education in the field of civil engineering. As a first step, a paradigm shift of engineering education is necessary in order for humanity to realize the goal of sustainability.

Civil engineers are faced with an increasingly complex and interrelated world; a world that is growing rapidly in population, and becoming more urbanized and economically developed. Infrastructure development can no longer be done in a microcosm on a project level - a more holistic inclusion of the complex interactions of human society and the environment upon which it depends, is needed.

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