Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What does structural engineering have to do with sustainability?

Structural engineers affect the sustainability of our built environment in several ways. It is often said that sustainability stands on three legs of environmental, societal and economic sustainability. In terms of the environment, structures in the form of buildings and infrastructure take up an enormous amount of material resources and energy in their manufacture, transport and construction, and end of life. Structures are also the first item to be constructed on a project and can inhibit or enhance the subsequently installed systems that greatly affect operational energy performance. Thoughtful material selection and specification can drive responsible sourcing to reflect both environmental and societal stewardship. As engineers making material choices for infrastructure as well as buildings, we "spend" an enormous amount of carbon on behalf of the public. Long term energy performance of buildings is crucial to reducing are carbon emissions over time, but the carbon we embed in our structures through the materials we use is carbon we need to avoid spending now. Lastly, structural engineers are an indispensable player in the team of designers that connect the purse strings of the developer to the activities of the builder who procures and constructs the final product. Our communications and design decisions with these two parties largely determine whether the three pillars of sustainability can truly be upheld in balance.

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