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What is sustainable design in a construction project?

Before we can understand sustainable design, we first need to understand sustainable development. 

Sustainable development

The World Commission on Environment and Development defines it as “a strategy that…meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. 

However, measuring progress towards sustainable development can present a problem in terms of what should be measured.  The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) published a series of sustainability indicators in the mid 90s.  This can be used by other countries to develop their own national indicators tailored to the specific circumstances of that country.

Some of the circumstances that need to be considered include:

  • Poverty
  • Natural hazards and disasters
  • Economic development
  • Health
  • Land
  • Demographics
  • Consumption and production patterns
  • Biodiversity

Environmental impact

This is interconnected in sustainable development and design.  It’s the influence that human activity has on the environment either locally, globally or both.  Environmental impact can be either positive or negative, and some of the ways that activities can have a negative impact are:

  • The use of resources such as land, raw materials, energy resources, and water
  • The emission of pollutants
  • The production of waste
  • An activity can have a positive impact on the environment by:
  • Reducing demand on resources
  • Reducing emission of pollutants
  • Utilisation of waste as a material

Environmental Ethics for Engineers

Recognition of the importance of protecting the environment has really taken off in the last 30 years, which pushed the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) to draw up an International Code of Environmental Ethics for Engineers.  It states “Engineers, as creators, promoters, and implementers of technical solutions, bear a special responsibility to the future.  In their work, they need to provide the technological growth essential to social, economic, and cultural advance and, at the same time, ensure sustainability of development by conserving and enhancing the environment”. 

To adhere to this code, engineers should always observe the principles and practices of sustainable development and the needs of the future, as well as present generations.  They should also assess the environmental impact of engineering projects right from the beginning, then monitor it to ensure minimal effects on the environment and on the health and safety of everyone working on the project.

Engineers should also strive to accomplish to objectives of their work with the least possible consumption of natural resources and energy, with the minimum production of waste and pollution of any kind.  It’s also essential to maintain the importance of social and environmental factors to colleagues, employers, and clients, and to consult other professions about any potential negative impacts of common projects.

Lastly, they should foster environmental awareness within their own profession and among the public, and to promote environmentally-sound working conditions.

When outlining sustainability in design and development, the type of resources available are referred to as ‘environmental resources’.  This can include:

  • Raw materials and energy sources.
  • Parts of environment that can provide services – recreations, appreciation of wildlife and scenery.
  • Essential life support system for humans.

It’s worth noting that a feature of the environment doesn’t becomes a resource until we see it as one.  For example, snow on certain mountains was once seen as a problem, and now is used for skiing and seen as having value.  Resource creation normally looks like:

, What is sustainable design in a construction project?

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