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Five actions structural engineers can take to design more sustainably

Laura Kirk, an engineer for Cundall, discusses One Planet Living, an initiative that encourages sustainability, and explores what structural engineers can do to build in a more sustainable way.

If everyone around the globe consumed as many natural resources as the average western European, the equivalent of three planets would be required to support the demand.
One Planet Living is an approach that, when implemented, is designed to reduce our impact to the equivalent of one planet.

I recently undertook research into the One Planet Living scheme to investigate how the concept could be applied to construction industry projects, specifically in the fields of civil and structural engineering.

Sustainable living

BioRegional, the organisation behind One Planet Living, first applied the principle to construction through the BedZED residential scheme in London – an effort to create a development with reduced emissions and water that also encouraged residents to live lower impact lifestyles.

The scheme has since developed into a framework formed of ten principles: Health and happiness, equity and local community, culture and community, land and nature, sustainable water, local and sustainable food, travel and transport, materials and products, zero waste, and zero carbon energy.

Structural design

There are five key ways structural engineers can apply One Planet Living principles in their work now:

  • Zero Waste/Materials and Products: Always think about how to design for deconstruction or reuse (e.g. using bolted steel connections rather than welded) to encourage zero waste when the building reaches the end of its life.
  • Zero Carbon Energy/Zero Waste: Use local materials on site, particularly reclaimed or recycled materials. This reduces transportation, and supports local businesses - the London BedZED scheme made use of reused steel in its structure and used 'sand' made of crushed glass beneath outdoor paving slabs.
  • Culture and Community: Where applicable encourage designs that have flexibility and dual-use facilities, allowing clients to let out the facilities to local community use.
  • Land and Nature: Compost organic waste on-site, reducing truck movements and limiting the volume of material directed to landfill.
  • Materials and Products/Land and Nature: Specify materials and finishes which include no volatile organic compounds – this has the additional benefit of promoting the health and wellbeing of workers.

It's not always possible or practical to apply these principles in all structural engineering projects, but as structural engineers we are as responsible as any other construction industry professional to provide for future generations by having sustainability in mind in all that we do.

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Blog Sustainability & Environment

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