How civil engineers can make a difference on climate change
With COP26 now been and gone, civil engineers have the opportunity to take a step back and assess next steps on responding to climate change. The profession plays a significant role in shaping infrastructure and the built environment, meaning that civil engineers are ideally placed to be at the heart of successful sustainability initiatives.
Focusing on outcomes not outputs, arriving at creative solutions and acting with urgency are some of the ways civil engineering can make a difference on climate change.
Outcomes not outputs
Responding to the climate emergency needs a shift in the way we think about infrastructure. That requires a shift in focus from what infrastructure is for to what it actually does.
Civil engineers can move towards an enterprise approach to delivery that sees everyone from project owners to suppliers working collaboratively and developing long term relationships. There are substantial carbon msavings to be made by taking this approach.
Civil engineers are also uniquely placed to influence stakeholders who make critical decisions to adopt carbon reduction strategies. For example, using sustainable alternatives to steel and concrete not only have significant benefits for the environment, but they're also cost-effective and can reduce noise pollution and disruption.
Committing to zero-carbon means finding radical solutions based around re-use and adaptation of existing infrastructure. Civil engineers can make a huge impact by choosing to repurpose existing structural, civil and engineering assets subject to risk assessments instead of building new.
At the design stage, civil engineers should seek to retain and restore rather than demolishing, making carbon savings now rather than sometime in the future. Futureproofed design should use fewer materials yet maintain the usability and safety of an existing building. Using BIM will help engineers to involve project stakeholders in making better and more informed decisions that reduce carbon impact.
Think differently, act now
What's clear is that civil engineering can't continue as it did before. In some ways the climate crisis is an opportunity for engineers to think anew and take a more collaborative and creative approach to engineering solutions.
Opting for no build solutions, or substantially reducing the footprint of a project are just two of the ways we can start to reduce carbon emissions. Using MMC and offsite construction can reduce the construction schedule, eliminate errors and significantly reduce disruption, pollution and waste.
Make carbon part of every conversation
It's never too late to centre the conversation on carbon. Even when design decisions have been finalised we can look at areas like implementation and usage to reduce carbon at a later stage.
Just by finding new ways to tackle outmoded practices, substantial carbon savings can be made. For example, using concrete replacements and recycled aggregates can increase durability and reduce embodied carbon by 80%.
Making sustainable changes
Influencing stakeholders, thinking differently about the way things have always been done or finding creative solutions. These are just a handful of the ways civil engineers can make real and substantive changes to any project. Making changes on the ground can add up to significant carbon savings over the lifetime of a project and prove that civil engineering can make a fundamental difference as we head for carbon zero.