What does structural engineering have to do with sustainability?

Structural engineers affect the sustainability of our built environment in several ways. It is often said that sustainability stands on three legs of environmental, societal and economic sustainability. In terms of the environment, structures in the form of buildings and infrastructure take up an enormous amount of material resources and energy in their manufacture, transport and construction, and end of life. Structures are also the first item to be constructed on a project and can inhibit or enhance the subsequently installed systems that greatly affect operational energy performance. Thoughtful material selection and specification can drive responsible sourcing to reflect both environmental and societal stewardship. As engineers making material choices for infrastructure as well as buildings, we "spend" an enormous amount of carbon on behalf of the public. Long term energy performance of buildings is crucial to reducing are carbon emissions over time, but the carbon we embed in our structures through the materials we use is carbon we need to avoid spending now. Lastly, structural engineers are an indispensable player in the team of designers that connect the purse strings of the developer to the activities of the builder who procures and constructs the final product. Our communications and design decisions with these two parties largely determine whether the three pillars of sustainability can truly be upheld in balance.

Besides specifying fly ash and recycled steel, what can structural engineers contribute?

There is so much more a structural engineer can do! The first step is to become educated on the issues and different roles within a project that structural engineers can play. The report “Sustainability Guidelines for Structural Engineers” is a good starting point. It covers topics from what can be done with each of the common Structural Materials, to Reuse, Design for Deconstruction and Adaptability, Integration with other building systems, Infrastructure, Life Cycle Assessment, and Green Codes. In the meantime, we will be populating the Resources page of this site with useful links. Please check back frequently.

What does ASCE stand for? What does SEI stand for?

ASCE stands for American Society of Civil Engineers. SEI stands for Structural Engineers Institute and is a community of over 20,000 structural engineers within ASCE.

What does the SEI Sustainability Committee do?

Please see our Mission & Goals. The primary task of committee members since inception of the committee in 2005 has been towards publication of the ASCE Report “Sustainability Guidelines for Structural Engineers.”  Committee members are now pursuing specific objectives within various Working Groups. Working group meetings and the monthly conference calls for all members are posted on the Calendar.  Our monthly meeting minutes are available here.

What role does the SEI Sustainability Committee have within SEI?

The Sustainability Committee is a technical committee within SEI and has provided substantial guidance through the document "Sustainably Guidelines for Structural Engineers," numerous articles for publications such as Structural Engineering + Design magazine and Structure magazine. Members have filled presentation tracks and held workshop sessions at the Structures Congress, GreenBuild, as well as other venues and events.

Is this committee related to the ASCE Sustainability Committee?

The ASCE Task Committee on Sustainable Design (TCSD) acts directly under ASCE, while we fall under SEI and focus on issues most relevant to Structural Engineers. Environmental impacts of structures is where we can provide expertise.  Major concerns for structures are more related to resource depletion and carbon emissions, while TCSD looks at broader impacts of civil engineering, including such topics as stormwater management and green space.  Members of the TCSD, before it officially formed last year, were an integral part of the development of the ASCE Sustainable Sites Initiative which addresses sustainable practices in site development landscape. There is much overlap in our goals and message and we have liason members in the TCSD to insure cooperation across committees.

How do I join the SEI Sustainability Committee?

Membership in the SEI Sustainability Committee is by application only. While we are always interested in talented and energetic new members, committee enrollment is limited.  New members are accepted based on experience and/or interests, and are encouraged to participate beyond the minimum requirements our committee has set forth. Applicants must be current members of ASCE or SEI in order to participate. More information about membership and application procedures are available here. Current members are listed here.

What is the Structures Congress?

The Structures Congress is the annual conference of SEI. The Sustainability Committee uses this conference as the annual meeting place for face-to-face collaboration and establishment of current and future goals. This is also one venue where the Sustainability Committee hosts presentations on the national level.  For more info on this year’s Structures Congress click here. Committee member attendence at this face-to-face meeting is required at least once every three years.