Sustainability Focus Moving From Acceptance to Execution

November 24, 2017
Carol Haddock speaks during a panel discussion about recent natural disasters at the 2017 ASCE International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure.
Carol Haddock speaks during a panel discussion about recent natural disasters at the 2017 ASCE International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure.

It’s been three years almost to the day since ASCE’s first International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure in Long Beach, CA.

So, all the challenges surrounding sustainable infrastructure have been met, right? All the problems solved?

Yeah … no.

Even the most casual glance at the news the past few months, as natural hazards wreaked havoc across the country, would tell you that. But, with industry leaders and experts gathered in Brooklyn last week for ASCE’s third International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure, there were notable signs of progress.

“In 2014, we heard, ‘Tell me what this is,’” said Doug Sereno, P.E., ENV SP, F.ASCE, who helped organize the first ICSI in Long Beach and was again a speaker at the Brooklyn event.

“This week, it’s ‘Now tell us how to do it.’”

That marks a significant step forward as sustainability concepts are becoming increasingly ingrained into engineering practices around the world.

ICSI 2017 featured three days of workshops, lectures, and panel discussions centered around the latest practices and research involving sustainable infrastructure and engineering. It wasn’t difficult to make these topics relevant and current.

Gregory Kelly, president and CEO of WSP’s USA and Latin America regions, and Deputy Mayor of Paris Jean-Louis Missika were among the opening plenary speakers to note how the United States’ recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord has done nothing to slow the momentum toward sustainable infrastructure.

“We have seen how the cities are stepping up, saying, ‘Listen, this is something that affects us,’” said Feniosky Peña-Mora, P.E., Sc.D., FCIOB, NAC, M.ASCE, the ICSI chair. “Because at the end of the day, all these cities are competing for talent. And talent is saying, ‘We want to live in a city that is a responsible steward of resources.’”

The Friday morning plenary featured a panel of engineering leaders from California, New York, Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico outlining how the extreme events in their respective homes have put a spotlight on resilient and sustainable engineering.

“Maybe this is an opportunity to think about how to rebuild in a more resilient way,” said Youn Sim, Ph.D., P.E., M.ASCE, head of the Strategic Planning and Sustainability Office for Los Angeles County Public Works. “It’s an opportunity to think over the overall infrastructure planning and building, to improve the infrastructure in general.”

So what are the next steps?

The ASCE Committee on Sustainability – chaired by Cris Liban, D.Env., P.E., ENV SP, F.ASCE, executive officer for Environmental Compliance and Sustainability, LA Metro – is finalizing its sustainability roadmap. The key priorities are:

• Sustainable project development via an overhaul of how projects are conceived and developed

• Standards and protocols that address changing conditions

• Expanding technical capacity via new training opportunities

• Communicating and advocating so that the profession will meet the future needs of human welfare

“A lot of people are doing a lot of good work,” said K.N. “Guna” Gunalan, Ph.D., P.E., D.GE, F.ASCE, a speaker at the conference . “It’s very encouraging that people are starting to think in this way. We have turned the corner. Now we’re starting to be more conscious. I think the next generation is even more conscious of these things.”

And perhaps that next generation is the biggest reason for optimism. As ASCE tracks progress from the 2014 ICSI in Long Beach to 2017 in Brooklyn and the planned 2019 ICSI event in Los Angeles, the next generation of young engineers is growing into leadership positions with an understanding of sustainable practices utterly fundamental to their knowledge base.

“It’s easy for us to think about a world where we’re reusing, recycling and reducing our waste,” said Elizabeth Ruedas, P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE, project engineer at CNC Engineering, City of Industry, CA, and member of the ASCE Committee on Younger Members.

“We live with this on a daily basis – seeing the consequences associated with deferred infrastructure maintenance and not being flexible in our policy, regulations, and design standards. It’s really starting to show. So, sustainability just makes sense.

“For some of us, it just doesn’t make sense to do it any other way.”

Access a variety of ASCE resources that can help you engineer more sustainably today.

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