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Top Ten Issues In Sustainability Engineering Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Engineering
Wordcount: 3390 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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At the most basic level, all Civil Engineers are public servants. I realize that with virtually countless numbers of private engineering companies in the U.S. this idea may seem counterintuitive, but fundamentally it is true. 1) Define the responsibility of civil engineers from ASCE codes. 2) explain w/ REF the responsibility engineers have for protecting the public. 3) detail that the newest responsibility to the public is the integration of sustainable engineering practices.

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Personally, through my years of experience in the field of municipal engineering, I have the distinct honor of literally serving the public both at the Federal level (in both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and in the U.S. Navy Reserves Civil Engineering Corps) and at the Local level (in both public works departments as well as municipal engineering and planning departments). A public engineer enjoys the distinct perspective of experiencing many aspects of civil engineering, aspects that may not be shared by their counterparts in the private sector focusing on specific facets of the field. From this unique vantage point, I have seen and assessed the sustainability issues relevant to the needs of city governments – the level of government with the most constant (and I think, most personal) interaction with the public. This report will list and vet the ten most-important current issues of sustainability that is within the purveyance of municipal engineers that I have seen in a decade of work.

The First Cannon of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (hereafter, ASCE) Engineering Code of Ethics – and repeated throughout all seven Cannons – specifically states that “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public…” (REF) (bold font added by the author of this paper for emphasis). Continuing… Engineers also “…shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.” (REF) Thus, the ASCE emphasizes that all civil engineers are responsible at the least for considering and at the most for integrating sustainable solutions into every project for which they are engaged. To do less would be a violation of the ASCE principle code of ethics.

XXX +2 sentences regarding municipal engineers, etc.


As I previously mentioned, being a municipal engineer in various states across the country has given me many opportunities to engage in all areas of civil engineering – transportation and traffic, water resources, sanitation and solid waste, geotechnical, structural, storm water resources, sanitary sewer, etc. – while gaining hands-on experience in facilities design, maintenance, and construction; electrical engineering (in the case of building renovation, stand-by power generators, and traffic signal wiring); and mechanical engineering (in the cases of pump design and specifications, HVAC design and efficiency studies, etc.). Municipal work creates an environment where engineers become virtual jacks-of-all-trades; and conversely masters of none. However, working in the municipal venue provides me with access to experts in many different technical fields such as regional planners, facilities managers, landscapers and arborists, hydrologists, lawmakers, financiers, and environmentalists. I have sought the knowledge of these resources while researching for this paper to glean a wider perspective on the ten issues of sustainable engineering listed hereafter. Where specific assistance, advice, or opinion was garnered, I have so noted accordingly.

It is also noteworthy to express at this point that while this assignment encouraged the personal opinion of the author, I have reserved my opinion to the vetting, defining, and explanation of my ten choices for sustainable engineering issues. Therefore, I have not imposed my own beliefs or superimposed my commentary into the opinions or perspectives presented by others on these topics. Where necessary, I have provided referenced citations to other peoples’ work, but I will not in this paper debate their perspectives, findings, or opinions – they will be assumed for the purpose of this report to be whole and unaltered representations of the work’s authors’ opinions of ‘fact’. I will let their respective works address the issues as they will – with no CCCC. Thus, I present my estimation of the top ten issues facing sustainable engineering in municipalities today.


[+3 Introductory sentences]

Issue 1 – Validating the Environmental Findings

In my opinion, the single greatest issue (which I have ranked first on my list) when regarding sustainability in municipal engineering is validating the environmental findings. While almost everyone who is educated to any level on the topics (as well as many who are not), believes that something “bad” is happening to the earth’s environment, not everyone can agree on what that “something” entails. Moreover, as is evident in the variety of published books, journals, and reports, almost no one can agree – including the professionals – to what level human influence is causing the “something” changes to the environment. Thus, the primary concern for sustainability-minded engineers must be to attempt to separate the facts from the worries…

[quotes from environmental pros w/ REF] and [quotes from environmental cons w/ REFS].

In the face of contradictory opinions from the experts, the question arises then, what is the proper course to follow to …? I believe that everyone is entitled to their own opinions regarding the issue of sustainability, provided that those opinions are rooted in well-supported factual information.

The sustainability movement agreeing on the issues will be a much better….. when it comes to actually developing solutions to the sustainability problems in municipal applications, though, before anyone can act properly and effectively to mitigate the environmental sustainability concerns, the consensus of what those concerns entail as well as their level of XXX and their order of importance must be reached, nationally and internationally, or well-meaning but misaligned mitigation efforts may very well be in vain.

Issue 2 – Educating About Sustainable Engineering and Planning

Once a consensus can be reached on what is actually occurring to the environment, the level of human impact on the environment, required levels of sustainability-driven action in order to recover, the earth’s potential to naturally recover from human influence, and what we can expect the environment of the future to be like – a tall order that may never be reached fully in time to affect positive change – we must concentrate on the second most important issue regarding environmentally-sustainable engineering: educating the masses.

[+3 PARA on education for environment]

Issue 3 – Engendering Feelings of Concern in Others

I, like many other Americans, subscribe to a satellite television provider that includes around twenty channels which broadcast news program from around the world around the clock[http://www.directsattv.com/directv/all_channels.html]; I listen daily to satellite radio while I travel which boasts over forty news channels [http://www.xmradio.com/onxm/full-channel-listing.xmc]; I read from two or three newspapers (both in print and online); and my internet provider’s homepage has updated news from across the globe in unending procession. In short, I – like all Americans – am overwhelmed by “news” to the point that I rarely see things that engender emotional (or often even physical) responses; and I am certain that I am not uncommon in this unfortunate emotional desensitization.[2 psychology journal REF] In the modern world, people are inundated with what I call “media noise” – topics presented as problems, catastrophes, and calamities – that either do not come into fruition (i.e., Y2K) or are so benign as to make them irrelevant (xxx).[REF?] With equal occurrence, issues of real concern are degraded to negligible status. This confusion creates desensitization and detachment from overexposure to generally negative information presented in nonchalant methods and in removed location.[media is bad REF?]

This directly applies to long-term and short-term environmental and sustainability issues, as they are relegated often to being “more bad news” but of little immediate concern. In the wake of wars, economic collapse, aaa, sustainability issues ultimately become ignorable since they are only estimations for an uncertain future.

Humans have short-term memories when it comes to pain and XXX troubles easy to dismiss??

I rank this issue highly since without emotional responses, which may encourage people to teach others and change laws and CCC, and physical responses, such as utilizing only sustainable equipment, alternative fuels, clean power sources, renewable building material usage, grey water recycling, etc. – the environmental and sustainability engineering issues will only worsen before they are addressed, perhaps to a point where mitigation is not achievable due to overuse, over-pollution, or prolonged delays.

Issue 4 – Changing the Influences on Policy Decision-makers

The forth-greatest issue facing sustainable engineering practitioners is the lack of real change in policy and standards by elected decision-makers. While it is true, the issue of sustainability has become more popular in the last fifteen years, rising perhaps even to mainstream in the last five years, there have been few truly applicable, result-oriented changes made to regulations and law to demand sustainable practices be implemented. [REF on the Kyoto Protocal’s generic language] [Then move to U.S. EPA issues w/ REFs] & [Perhaps case law re: EPA w/ REFs]

But these concerns are not only experienced at the (removed) federal or international level, but they are also felt locally at the municipal level. In my own experience, I work for a 70,000 populace municipal government who prides itself on its progressive XXX in sustainability and GREEN xxx. After considerable research into the issue across seven different departments in the city (?), I have determined that my city considers hybrid vehicles, lighting management systems, and timed HVAC thermostats to be adequate actions with respect to long-term sustainable engineering and environmental solutions.

This is not an issue of merely educating the rule-makers because the city – thought it’s Human Resources Department, oddly enough – presents quarterly mandatory training on a variety of topics that includes environmental sensitivity, context sensitive design, sustainable/reuse/recyclable construction material applications, and environmentally-friendly construction methodology, sustainable engineering practices, etc. However, none of these are implemented into practice. The principal reason for this is the upfront cost to implement. Cheapest,,, XXX.

+3 sentences on education

+3 on how to stress importance of issues

Issue 5 – Economically Implementing Sustainable Engineering

The previous issue segues directly into my fifth ranked issue in sustainable engineering and that is the economics of utilizing renewable and environmentally responsible building materials. A part of the job of the municipal engineer is to prepare, review, and recommend to a city council engineered design packages and construction contracts for municipal infrastructure projects. In the decade I have worked for city governments, this process has incorporated sustainable engineering ideas in the project bidding packages as Alternate Bidding procedures. These sustainable engineering practices have included green roofs for public buildings, rainwater collectors for irrigation systems at golf courses, solar collectors and passive energy water heaters for part-time occupied public safety structures, recycled pavement for street rehabilitation projects, gaseous leaching for power generation from municipal landfills, renewable building materials for schools, multimodal transportation and mass transit systems for pollution emission reduction, hiking and biking trails paralleling roadways, etc. alternatives to municipal projects.

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While these systems are designed as project alternatives (and the cost of design is approved and incurred by the city, e.g., the taxpayers), none of these sustainable solutions have ever been approved by city administration as these options are typically more expensive – in some cases up to 35% more expensive – to implement than their non-sustainable counterparts, even though many are cheaper to operate and maintain over the product’s lifecycle.

This issue will be difficult to overcome since rule-makers are short-term employees conserned more often than not with the immediate cost savings of projects and the growth within the duration of their elected terms and are bound by the political boundaries of their electoral districts. [REF]

Issue 6 – Protecting Fresh Water Supplies for Expanding Areas

Though I have ranked this issue towards the middle of the pack in sixth place, fresh water sources are of the utmost important to the Houston, Texas region and other arid places across the United States. As the population grows to over 6 million people, urban areas sprawl radially along the major roadways. As these areas expand and grow, the available water supplies, already tapped by the residents and industries of the country’s fourth largest city, municipalities are having to dig deeper and deeper for clean, available raw water to process into clean drinking water. As the regional water table, [SIZE OF WATER DEPLETION IN TEXAS w/ REF], drops to record lows… more about the need for water in the state.

Issue 7 – Providing Fresh Water Supplies for Developing Areas

Although similar to the issue heretofore stated, the seventh issue is one of fresh water supplies for developing areas. The city in which I work is geographically located along the Port of Houston Ship Channel, but is politically located in two counties: Harris County, of which Houston is the County Seat and Chambers County, a rural county comprised of a small population and many industrial complexes. As this portion of Chamber’s County develops, and with it, the City of Baytown expands, XXX… municipal engineering needs for to provide clean water for residential and commercial drinking and fire water, and CCC… municipal engineers responsibility. Sustainable engineering is difficult with the high number of pollutant-XXX factories in the area. Engineers must strive to clean these point source polluters to protect the limited water supplies… sustainable engineering practices must be utilized to mitigate the polluted water …. [EPA QUOTE ON POINT SOURCE POLLUTIONS w/ ref].

Issue 8 – Industry-wide Buy-in of Alternate Automobile Fuel Sources

The eighth most important issue, and building from the seventh and the XXth, is the necessity for industry-wide buy-in of alternative fuel sources??? Alternative business practices. In municipal applications, this is not so much an issue of designing a better widget, but one of engineer’s recommendation to use sustainable – or at least, more environmentally friendly – equipment. Remember the First Cannon of the ASCE rules… “strive to use sustainability…”. Thus, when the time came to expand the fleet, we in the engineering department pushed for either electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles. We purchased two hybrid Ford Fusions for the engineers on staff and three Chevy Silverado hybrid pickup trucks. At first, and prior to taking the ENV XXX course, I was very happy with our decision to “go Green”. However, the more I thought about the situation, and in the wake of my more recent enlightenment regarding environmental concerns, I am afraid we fell victim (and even encouraged, as it was the engineering department’s recommendation) to Green-washing, the practice of making environmentally unfriendly activities or processes look environmentally friendly or sustainable by accentuating the XXX. In this case, we purchased vehicles that still ran on petroleum, producing only about 10% better fuel efficiencies than their all-gas-fueled counterparts. Our … not for heavy trucks or construction equipment of the Public Works Dept which still run on diesel fuel.

Companies need to develop petroleum free vehicles of all sizes (cars, trucks, heavy equip, etc.). Hydrogen, electric, ethanol, etc. vehicles in US… [QUOTES FOR ALL w/ REFs]

Issue 9 – Punishing Heavy Polluters First

Although it is very important to treat all entities – citizenry, municipal, and industrial specifically referenced here – equitably, there should be XXX to monitor compliance in and punish for illicit discharges of pollutants that harm the ecosystem and environment.

Issue 10 – Better Living through “Green” Chemistry

Lastly, only with respect to


Throughout the course of the ENV 6932 class and over the course of preparing this paper, it became apparent that the United States, generally speaking, is well behind many other nations across the world in its attitudes towards sustainable engineering practices. The municipal engineering field as well as the greater construction industry have not generally accepted sustainable design and construction practices as a useful, alternative source of project CCC practices. And that is a shame. America as a whole is relatively rich in renewable resources and therefore the civil engineering industry should utilize this mostly untapped CCC. An increased awareness of the environment became evident in past recent years.

The results of my research for this paper is that on average, the requirements to convert from current and conventional sustainable practices is viewed as too costly and too time-consuming. [MULT REFS] It appears that people – industry and designers alike – will make small steps towards environmentally responsible operations together rather than taking large (though necessary) steps alone.

In some sense of the definition and responsibility of the word, all engineers are public engineers. municipal engineer Protect the Health, Safety, and Welfare of the Public.

This report tasked the writer with presenting the top ten issues that the author felt were the most important issues regarding sustainable engineering. It encouraged the inclusion of opinions reinforced with factual references by engineers, planners, and environmentalists. Given the brevity of this report, though, it is not possible to flush out the topics fully.

From the beginning, this course has sought to inform and enlighten students on the important problems facing engineers and society regarding social, environmental and economic sustainability. Now as the course moves toward completion, it seems appropriate to ask for feedback. Given your experiences, your goals and aspirations, and what you’ve taken away from this course in terms of new knowledge and understanding, what do you now think are the top ten issues in sustainable engineering facing your generation? Name, describe and rank each issue. Discuss why, in your opinion, it deserves the ranking you gave it, that is, its impacts/consequences and urgency of response. Discuss what actions need to be taken to address each issue. In your concluding remarks, discuss the prospects for and barriers to success. Discuss what key changes need to be made to improve prospects and eliminate barriers.


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