What Sustainability Principles Are Most Key for Engineers?

published Nov 29, 2019
2 min read

Construction Engineers

Today’s society is much more concerned with the impact we have on our environment. That’s why so many organisations are looking to improve their eco-friendly operations through green initiatives and more sustainable practices.

A high level of sustainability is the goal to shoot for, as it’s the practice of reducing waste, resource consumption and environmental impact. The problem with improving sustainability, however, is that it has to be done at a foundational level.

That’s where civil engineers and construction professionals come into the equation. By increasing sustainability knowledge and awareness for these professionals, we’re putting the future of the industry in better hands.

Why Sustainability Matters in Construction and Engineering

To start, it makes sense to point out why sustainability should be a major concern in the construction and engineering fields. Here are some primary reasons:

  • Construction and engineering are responsible for a lot of the waste materials we see in the world.
  • Emissions from machinery, vehicles and related hardware can be harmful to the environment.
  • Noise pollution often stems from heavy machinery used in construction.
  • Engineering and development waste often produces pollutants that can get into water supplies and the atmosphere.
  • The raw materials and components used for builds have a massive impact on the final product’s influence.

Essentially, engineers are at the source of the problem, which means they’re in a lucrative position to suggest improvements and enact change. If a new, more eco-friendly material can be used in place of a conventional source, civil engineers are the ones who can make it all work.

What Key Principles Should Engineers Focus On?

True sustainability is more of a collective effort, upheld by the entirety of an organisation or team. That said, certain individuals tend to hold more weight, civil engineers being an excellent example.

Because engineers are responsible for designing, building and supervising development projects, they have a lot of control over what’s happening in regard to a job’s requirements. They can help select and procure project materials and supplies, for example. They might also come up with efficient use of machinery and equipment to get a task done faster.

Ultimately, the point is that engineers are mainly responsible for the efficiency and success of a project. When they adopt more sustainable practices, it’s likely that the team’s environmental impact will see a reduction too.

Here are six of the key principles every engineer should keep in mind.

1. Use Resources Effectively

Non-renewable resources should be adequately and sparingly used, both to reduce their consumption and to cut down on waste. When resources are depleted considerably in an area, it’s up to the engineers to ensure proper restoration.

2. Eliminate Excess Waste

Where applicable, more sustainable practices should be deployed to make use of renewable resources and honour minimal-footprint operations. Swapping to electric-only vehicles to cut down on fuel consumption and emissions is an excellent example of a change that will significantly cut down on waste.

3. Take Advantage of Renewable Resources

Instead of choosing conventional power for a build, planning to develop or tap into renewable energy sources can be remarkably beneficial. Solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower are great alternatives to fossil-fuel and coal-based power.

4. Remember Adaptability

Sustainability is also about the longevity of a project or process, particularly when it comes to withstanding changing conditions and natural or human-made disasters. Engineers should always consider these elements during the planning and work phases, ensuring that the necessary economic, environmental and social resources are available as needed.

Building homes or other structures in a flood-prone area, for example, would call for appropriate precautions, like hurricane shutters on windows and doors and water-resistant designs. Proper erosion control and protection is a similar concern.

5. Consider Material Alternatives

In the process of acquiring materials for a job, there are innovative supply channels to consider. Recycled or reused materials, for example — such as steel, wood and concrete — can help repurpose what would otherwise be wasted. More importantly, applying them instead of procuring new, non-renewable alternatives is an intelligent use of existing resources.

6. Do the Work Right

The longer a project takes to finish, the more materials used, the more waste builds up and the higher the labour costs. Not to mention, the impact of development on the surrounding community also grows exponentially. You see this a lot with infrastructure projects, where communal roadways and projects end up impacting not just the environment, but people too.

It’s crucial for engineers to plan out a project beforehand and manage it effectively throughout its life cycle. Cutting down on development time can be incredibly beneficial for everyone, including those who do the work.

In the end, the real focus should be to improve sustainability across the entire industry. It starts at a foundational level with engineers, yes, but that doesn’t mean they should be the only professionals involved.


Emily Folk is a conservation and sustainability freelance writer. Check out her blog, Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter for the latest updates.