Civil engineering has played a crucial role in advancing human civilization. Through sheer ingenuity, our ancestors built awe-inspiring structures like the Great Pyramid of Giza. However, with advances in science and technology, we have taken civil engineering to new heights that couldn’t even be imagined by those before us.
The industrial revolution, for one, provided us with machines like cranes that do the heavy lifting. And with software tools like Building Information Modeling (BIM), it is easier to manage construction projects.
However, these advances have severely impacted the environment. Construction machines require fossil fuel to work, thereby releasing emissions at unprecedented levels. As thousands of buildings rise every day, the earth’s natural resources are exploited.
While we cannot ramp down on making buildings and infrastructure, we as civil engineers should be more intentional in factoring in environmental considerations into our projects. In this post, we explore some of these important considerations.
Do you know that buildings take up more than 40% of global energy usage? They also contribute to a third of greenhouse gas emissions.
While there are emissions associated with the construction phase of a project, the bulk of the emissions come from the operational phase. Think about it, buildings require energy for electricity lighting, as well as cooling and heating throughout their life.
Greenhouse gases cause climate change by trapping heat. They also contribute to respiratory disease from smog and air pollution.
As of now, the majority of these emissions come from developed countries. But with construction projects taking off at accelerating rates in developing countries, emissions level might soar.
Civil engineers need to understand how their building contributes to climate change. But more importantly, taking steps to deliver significant, long-term emissions reductions in construction projects.
Initiatives like making use of green materials over traditional ones can go a long way. For instance, using recycled materials from other construction projects can help reduce waste – which not only reduces emissions but also reduced overall costs.
Similarly, new technologies, as well as innovative methods can reduce energy consumption in buildings by up to 80%. New buildings have to be designed to leave a minimal carbon footprint.
Ever since we discovered how energy sources like fossil fuels can improve the quality of lives, there’s no going back to the Stone Age. Consequently, as the world population increases (especially in developing countries), the demand for more energy to sustain our lives will only go upwards.
While some might argue about the environmental-friendly nature of renewable clean energy like solar, we shouldn’t forget that fossil fuel will continue to play a crucial role, at least till the turn of the century. Therefore, we all need to be conscientious about energy usage.
Civil engineers, in particular, need to constantly think about how they can make the entire project phase as energy-efficient as possible. This starts from making sure machines, equipment, and tools are repaired and maintained. Also, using old, outdated tools and equipment lowers productivity and consumes more energy, so they should be replaced.
The lifecycle of buildings also needs to be analyzed for energy consumption. Simple changes like the position of the windows or using the right kind of bulbs can help save energy in the long run.
Long Term Sustainability
When executing a construction project, civil engineers should not only think of the present- but also the future. How will the building affect the environment over the long haul? Only methods and techniques that will pay environmental dividends for decades to come should be adopted.
As noted earlier, the majority of greenhouse emissions (up to 80%) come from the operational phase of a building. Simple operational designs like choosing when the light and air conditioners come on and off can help reduce CO2 emissions.
What’s more, older buildings can be retrofitted for today’s environmental considerations, so they become sustainable. Countless generations lie ahead of us and it is crucial we make use of the resources we have to meet our building needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
Governments have a role to play.
Left alone, unscrupulous civil engineering firms will continue to create environmentally unfriendly buildings as long as it maximizes profit for them in the short term.
Governments have to ensure that as a society, we are working towards a better future with a lower overall impact on the environment. New buildings, for one, have to meet this future that we envision.
That’s why governments of countries around the world have to introduce credible, achievable, and measurable energy performance standards and targets in the construction industry. But more importantly, training should be provided for technicians, so they’re better equipped to assess the energy performance of buildings.
Easily enforceable laws must also be put in place to ensure that those that willfully disobey them are prosecuted.
Contact us today for more information and to ask any other questions you may have.