Five ways for civil engineers to act on climate change – New Civil Engineer

19 Nov, 2021 By Rajesh Ranjan
As we emerge from the COP26 Summit, we all have an opportunity to consider what steps we can take to act on climate change. Individual engineers play a significant role in shaping and designing the world around them, meaning we all have the opportunity to help create a more sustainable world. Following the lead of the Institute for Civil Engineers’ guide for engineers to make practical change, here are my five messages for engineers who want to act on climate change.

Rajesh Ranjan is section manager for Civil & Structural Engineering at Burns & McDonnell UK
Think differently, act urgently
We can’t continue to do what we have always done before. The problems presented by the climate emergency provide an opportunity for civil engineers to take a more creative, collaborative, and holistic approach. For substation projects, we need to encourage project stakeholders to reduce the footprint of the project, opt for a no build solution, where feasible, to reduce carbon emissions.
Modular substations offer increased efficiency and flexibility as compared to conventional substation solutions. Civil engineers are implementing precast / preassembled foundation solutions (constructed offsite), which can be quickly assembled and easily deployed for a reduced construction schedule. These foundations can be quickly dissembled and moved to new substation for reuse in future.
Carbon should be part of every conversation
For EPC / retrofit projects, it is never too late to put carbon on the project agenda, irrespective of the status of the design. Where it’s too late to influence design, we need to look again at implementation, operation, or usage where carbon savings can be made down the line. Radical carbon savings can be generated through fresh thinking about outdated practices that may be surprisingly simple to change.
Civil engineers should be working with various stakeholders to propose alternatives to the conventional concrete usage in areas such as reinforced concrete, foundations, general, and paving concrete.  We can propose use of recycled aggregates and low carbon cement replacements to reduce embodied carbon by up to 80% compared to standard concrete mixes, whilst also increasing durability.  Early engagement via supply chain partners and their various material suppliers will continue to be essential to success in this key area of sustainability.
Influence your stakeholders
Civil Engineers can propose alternate reduced carbon solutions in collaborative meetings with clients. For example, finding alternatives to concrete paths and foundations in substation projects – using more sustainable alternatives such as chippings and steel grillage – can have a significant environmental benefit. As well as being more sustainable, these techniques have other benefits – they are cost effective and produce relatively little disruption and noise.
Outcomes before outputs
To achieve lower-carbon infrastructure, civil engineers need to shift their thinking from what infrastructure is to what infrastructure does. We should be asking the project stake holders, ‘What is this for?’ This outcome focus is central to the Project 13 principles which advocate an enterprise approach to project delivery that brings together owners, partners, advisers, and suppliers, working in more integrated and collaborative arrangements, underpinned by long-term relationships.
Civil Engineers should query, for example, a GIS Building requirement for a substation. GIS has been installed outdoor with touch up painting according to maintenance programme by some OEM’s.  There will be substantial savings in carbon and project cost /programme, if GIS buildings and its foundation including crane are not installed in site.
Be creative
Committing to a zero-carbon future means investigating alternative scenarios that involve re-use, adaptation, and encouraging behaviour change that will radically reduce users’ need for the asset.
Civil engineers can affect outcomes by building nothing – by adapting existing infrastructure or changing the way we use it. People with diverse mindsets are more likely to be able to bring their experiences to problem solving and creative solutions.
Civil Engineers should always propose to use existing permanent civil, structural, and building engineering assets on any substation sites with due justification of its use, including carrying out design risk assessments. A project team should be challenged to modify routing of any services such as cables, services to meet capacity of existing infrastructure where they are being routed and supported. Design shall always seek out opportunities to retain and restore buildings instead of demolishing and replacing.
Design should involve least material use while retaining safety, buildability and 100% utilisation. Design should also consider future strengthening process as a viable way to future proof instead of over design.
Civil engineers should be using BIM for various project stakeholders to make better informed decisions for optioneering more sustainable materials in a project lifecycle use.
Believe you can make a difference
A combination of different thinking, influencing stakeholders and creative solutions can make the difference when it comes to making real and sustainable changes. As the world gathers in Glasgow to find global solutions to tackle climate change, your team can make a difference on the ground too. Never underestimate the role individual engineers can play.
*Rajesh Ranjan is section manager for Civil & Structural Engineering at Burns & McDonnell UK
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