Six climate emergency actions for structural engineers

Author: Mike Cook FIStructE

Date published

27 March 2020

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Six climate emergency actions for structural engineers

Date published

Mike Cook FIStructE

Date published

27 March 2020


Mike Cook FIStructE

Institution Gold Medallist Mike Cook FIStructE, Chair of the Institution's Climate Emergency Task Group, describes six actions structural engineers should take now to address climate change.

Updated 1 May 2020


1 - Get better informed about the Climate Emergency
  • Understand the causes and consequences of carbon emissions for life on the planet
  • Recognise how structural engineering decisions have a direct impact on emissions and the harm they do
  • Understand how you, as a structural engineer, can reduce your professional carbon footprint TODAY.
  • Look for information from IPCC, CCC, UKGBC, IStructE, LETI, UK FIRES
  • Re-read the Structural Engineering Climate Emergency Declaration and note the key commitments made
  • Make sure your firm has declared and that everyone knows what this means for them

2 - Design low-carbon: reduce embodied carbon through low-carbon design
  • Understand where construction activities create carbon emissions through material production, manufacturing and site activities
  • Understand how to measure carbon embodied in a structural design
  • Understand how to reduce embodied carbon through material choices you make and the way you specify them
  • Select structural materials in ways that you know will reduce embodied carbon
  • Make controlling carbon in your design as important as controlling costs and ensuring safety
  • Make low-carbon important to your clients, team and supply chain
  • Information Sources: LETI Embodied Carbon Primer; IStructE Principles for Assessing Embodied Carbon (being published soon)

3 - Design lean: reduce material use specified in your design
  • Design for least material use, whilst retaining safety and buildability
  • Make sure all components are designed for least material use and are 100% utilised
  • Make sure design loads are fully appraised for the particular building context and use – do not design for unnecessarily high loads “just in case”
  • Consider future strengthening processes as a viable way to future-proof instead of over-design
  • Make sure the client understands that benefits of Lean Design in terms of cost and carbon

4 - Target zero waste - increase the re-use of materials in your designs
  • Apply cyclical practices for materials and design and build these into the project team way of working
  • Seek to use recycled materials to their full in your material specifications and in choice of components
  • Seek methods of fabrication and construction that allow easy deconstruction and re-use of materials at end of life

5 - Influence the brief - question your brief and take your client with you
  • Provide a Structural Sustainability report for your project that tracks sustainability targets agreed at the outset and targets achieved on the completion of the project
  • Inform your client of the changes in market expectations that will raise the value of low-carbon ethical construction and reduce the longer-term value of high carbon construction
  • Seek out opportunities to retain and restore buildings instead of demolish and replace
  • Understand how a development project could become an asset to the planet and regenerative (see

6 - Get Involved - Be an active Professional Engineer
  • Engage with the Institution
  • Share your successes and failures
  • Set up local professional groups to exchange information
  • Lobby your local MP for changes in taxation, planning legislation
  • If you haven’t yet done so, join us in declaring a Climate Emergency

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