The message is clear, either get on the sustainability wagon or get left behind!

By now you would’ve heard the mantras echoing throughout the engineering space such as going green, net-zero, sustainability and eco-friendly. One needs to only look at recent emission strategies released by the big players like AECOM, Jacobs and Aurecon to see that there has been a notable shift in the engineering space within the last year or so. The message here is clear, if your consultancy doesn’t have a carbon emissions strategy or net-zero policy, there’s a chance you may soon begin to lose out on work to your competitors as clients and countries around the world become more averse to taking on projects that don’t consider carbon emissions.

As many of us know, geotechnical engineering is considered to be the most resource intensive discipline within civil engineering, and can significantly influence the sustainability of infrastructure development because of its early position in the construction process. Sustainability in civil engineering is often equated to resource efficiency as civil engineering processes are both resource and fuel intensive. Design and construction related to geotechnical engineering consumes a vast number of resources (e.g., concrete, steel and land use) and energy, and can change the landscape that persists for centuries. Improving the sustainability of geotechnical processes is extremely important in achieving overall sustainable development. In fact, the exploitation of increasingly large areas of land has led to the construction of infrastructure under difficult geological and geotechnical conditions, meaning clients are increasingly asking geotechnical engineers to find solutions that are not only new, but environmentally friendly as well…not always an easy task!

But where to begin? It’s not like you can just flip a switch and change the way you provide your geotechnical services overnight. We’ve put a few ideas below to help provide an overview of what you can do to meet the rising demand for sustainable solutions.

Technology

Within geotechnical engineering, you can save time and man hours by applying more digital solutions and technology such as BIM, TabLogs, 3D geological modelling, GIS, laser scanning, digital rock mapping and field force applications.

These technologies reduce time, waste and more importantly, can reduce the carbon emissions of your project. They also allow geotechnical engineers to have real-time updates and visualisations of geological conditions, providing greater accuracy. Additionally, by increasing collaboration across and between teams, you can share knowledge, remove duplication of work and remove barriers to best practice. We acknowledge that it’s not always easy to train team members to use these new digital solutions, but not using these could risk your business from acquiring work. This might not be a reality today, but you can bet sometime in the next couple of years you will be asked to show how your firm is utilising digital solutions to reduce emissions on your projects.

Materials

With geotechnical engineering using natural and manufactured raw materials in large quantities, a part of recent sustainability related research in geotechnology has focused on introducing new, environmentally friendly materials and reused waste materials into projects. Click on the links below to read more about how the following recycled or secondary materials are being used in construction.

Using asphalt pavement and cement-stabilised quarry fines for pavement bases.
Recycled glass-crushed rock blends for pavement sub-bases.
Recycled shredded scrap tires for light-weight fill material.
Pulverized fly ash to improve the thermal properties of energy piles.
Bioengineered slopes and recycled mixed glass and plastic for segmental retaining wall units.

These alternate construction techniques could be used in your next project.

Whatever you choose to do in your business, it’s important to know that sustainability is a multidimensional concept that requires a balance of economic, social and environmental equities of development. For engineering processes, this balance can be achieved by ensuring efficiency in resource use and by reducing the environmental impact without ignoring the technical, technological and financial concerns related to the process.

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