How civil engineers can save the world?

Following a recent interview where I needed to present on how geotechnical engineers can be innovative in 2021 and beyond? I started wondering how many civil engineers would it take to change the world and hit net zero targets?

A modern twist on the age-old question, how many people does it take to change a light bulb?

Will 2021 be the year that the engineering profession grasp hold of the challenge to combat climate change?

If engineers continue doing things the way they’ve always done them, they will not address climate change. Therefore, not only is innovation needed in the industry, but a overall rethink in the way problems are tackled. Engineers have a key role in addressing the gigantic challenges presented by climate change.

In this blog I aim to make three suggestions to show how engineers could start to change the world.

Engineers need ‘retraining’

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Currently, the new generation of engineers are being taught to design with sustainability in mind from day one. However, engineers who have been in the field for a while may need retraining and a new mindset when approaching problems.

To most engineers the idea of throwing away the security blanket of established is heresy. Codes like the Eurocode have been guiding design for over a decade now. However, by design they are overall conservative which is by nature unsustainable.

This needs not only rethinking but reworking, to ensure design codes and standards can be not only safe but sustainable.

The status quo is no longer acceptable

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Image of Xerxes

“Plan and prepare for every possibility, and you will never act. It is nobler to have courage as we stumble into half the things, we fear than to analyse every possible obstacle and begin nothing. Great things are achieved by embracing great dangers.” Xerxes

I love this quote and I think even 2000 year later it can be inspiring. Engineers are taught to fear failure – for good reason; and I am not in any way saying we should have risk in construction. However, we as an industry need to become more ambitious if we want to meet target carbon requirement. This is potentially something which needs to be incorporated into early studies as well as later studies.

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Global Carbon Emissions 1751 – 2010

To cut carbon we need to start being ambitious, we no longer have the time to put obstacles in our path to net zero. We need to create safe sustainable construction now.

Current projections show that worldwide spending on infrastructure is set to rise from £2.0 trillion to £5.1 trillion annually.

For us to stop a two degree rise in global temperatures, we need to rethink this current spending. Are these projects necessary? After the unprecedented year of 2020, when we saw working from home become the norm, surely there needs to be a huge rethink of infrastructure projects.

To me, it seems unethical to spend that sum of money on infrastructure and miss the emissions target, we have set for ourselves.

Share your carbon successes

A big part of reducing carbon across the industry would be encouraging and creating collaboration in the industry. Engineers working together and sharing techniques and design ideas to reduce carbon could allow for a much wider focus from the whole industry.

Bevis Marks Building – London

A great example of a carbon success, is a Skanska project in London on the Bevis Marks building, were they were able to reuse 67 piles from the previous building, which saved 1 million pounds from the budget, reduced construction by 8 weeks and saved 1000 tonnes of Caron dioxide. In engineering this is the holy trinity, however I think this should not be a success story it should be a industry standard.

Written by:

Hi, I'm a Masters Civil Engineering student and the marketing officer at the Centre for Entrepreneurship. I hope you enjoy reading my blog about studying at the University of Dundee.

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