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re: sustainable design

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Roger Turk wrote:

What do you mean by "sustainable design?"

I'm glad you asked. I should have provided more information in my original posting.

We, as engineers, play a critical role in determining the characteristics of our built environment, and part of our responsibility is to protect the welfare of our home, the planet Earth.

The intent of sustainable design is to produce buildings (and other structures) which do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Constructing and operating a building necessarily uses up resources, such as materials and energy. Most resources are limited. There are finite supplies of oil, natural gas, ores, etc. on our planet.

Constructing and operating buildings also creates waste. There are limits to the quantity of pollutants we can tolerate in our water and air.

Sustainable design is not some wacky, new age concept. Even our esteemed professional organization, ASCE, has recognized this responsibility in the first Fundamental Canon of its Code of Ethics: "Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties." ASCE defines sustainable development as the "challenge of meeting human needs for natural resources, industrial products, energy, food, transportation, shelter, and effective waste management while conserving and protecting environmental quality and the natural resource base essential for future development."

There are steps we can take as designers to minimize the impact of our structures on our environment. We can reduce the energy consumption required to construct and operate buildings. We can specify materials which are renewable, recycled, and/or recyclable, and which do not require tremendous amounts of energy to produce and transport. We can design durable and adaptable buildings which will have productive lives of 200 years instead of 20 years.

Many owners and government agencies, recognizing the resource crunch we are in, are requesting/requiring sustainable elements in building design. Thus, in addition to the moral necessity of attending to the needs of future generations, there may be professional benefits to becoming proficient in sustainable design.

That said, who would like to help figure out what we as structural engineers can do to make sustainable design a reality?

Mark D. Webster
Simpson Gumpertz & Heger Inc.
297 Broadway
Arlington, MA  02474-5310
tel: 781-641-7369
fax: 781-643-2009

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