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Sustainability Practices in Structural Engineering

Global environmental challenges must be a priority for our profession. With finite natural resources and an ever-growing built environment, iAssociates considers the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of their designs and recommends being involved at every stage of the project.

Improved Life-Cycle Performance

Historically, engineered structures have been designed to minimize the initial cost, rather than their life-cycle costs. Small increases in initial costs could substantively reduce life-cycle costs by decreasing maintenance and allowing for salvage or disposal at the end of life. By reducing life-cycle costs, engineered structures become more sustainable.

Specifying Salvaged or Recycled Materials

As natural resources are depleted, engineers must begin to look for alternative sources of materials. This is occurring for some materials already. Concrete, for example, will increasingly be made from salvaged materials and waste products. This is already a part of our design specifications, with recycled aggregates, fly ash, and other waste products replacing natural aggregates and Portland cement. The resulting products can have better environmental performance as well as reduced costs and improved engineering performance. In addition, designers should seek to maximize the flexibility of any design, to allow for future changes in its intended use.

Specifying Alternative Materials

Steel and concrete are often used for construction. These materials require substantial energy to produce and their production produces high carbon emissions. For their inherent advantages though, these materials will continue to be in frequent use. However, engineers can and should explore alternative materials. In particular, materials with lower environmental impact should be considered.

What is Sustainable Engineering Design?

It is good design, reducing material consumption, improving the quality of peoples' lives, and providing better economic performance; and it preserves natural resources for future generations.