Sustainability Decisions: “What one can measure, we can manage.”

June 25, 2014
WORKSHOP Attendees2

Workshop attendees hear presentations before breaking into groups to develop recommendations for a multi-year research agenda. Photo Credit: Bilal M. Ayyub

There are presently over 100 definitions for the term “sustainable development.” And there are literally hundreds of sustainability rating tools worldwide, including the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure’s (ISI) Envision tool, which allows civil engineers to rate their infrastructure projects against a full range of sustainability objectives.

So how does a civil engineer know that they are delivering sustainability?

“The real challenge facing the civil engineering community is how we take sustainability from a general discussion to the specifics and particulars of a project,” says Bilal M. Ayyub, Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, a member of ASCE’s Committee on Adaptation to a Changing Climate. “What one can measure, one can manage.”

Ayyub, who is also a member of the executive committee of ASCE’s Council on Disaster Risk Management, the editor-in-chief of the newly established ASCE-ASME Journal of Risk and Uncertainty in Engineering Systems, and director of the Center for Technology and Systems Management, as well as professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland, was one of the organizers of the 2-day invitational workshop Measurement Science for Sustainable Construction and Manufacturing, held June 12-13 at ASCE’s headquarters building in Reston, Virginia. Sponsored by ASCE, the  National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), ASMEs Center for Research and Technology Development, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), and ASHRAE (formerly the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers), the objective of the workshop was to examine the measurement science needed to guide decisions for sustainable development through the product life-cycle of design, construction/manufacturing, operations, and maintenance.

“When we talk about construction and manufacturing we are not talking simply about the on-site activities that occur during the construction process,” said Richard N. Wright, Ph.D., NAE, Dist.M.ASCE, vice chair of ASCE’s Committee on Adaptation to a Changing Climate, member of ASCE’s Committee on Sustainability, and a research professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Maryland. “We are talking about all the things that occur in the whole life-cycle of the constructed facility – from planning and design all the way through operations and maintenance – and we are also talking about the end of life of a facility, which hopefully will be recycled or reused.”

“However, achieving long-term sustainability poses a series of challenges to the engineer to not undermine the economic, environmental, and social systems already in place,” Wright added. “Therefore, achieving the goal of designing sustainable construction and manufacturing requires establishing meaningful measurements for these complex lifestyle attributes.”

“The challenge many engineers face when they approach sustainability is that it [encompasses] too many different things – social issues, the economy, the environment – and we find them struggling to determine how to incorporate sustainability-related particulars into their projects,” Ayyub notes. “This workshop aimed [at developing] recommendations for NIST to create a research agenda in sustainable construction and manufacturing, focusing on measurement science.” 

Sustainability Guidelines for Stakeholders


Eighty invited individuals from academia, the manufacturing industry, the construction industry, civil engineers, designers, economists, facilities owners, and federal and local government officials, attended the workshop. Photo Credit: Bilal M. Ayyub

Unlike other workshops, participants were asked to write draft position papers and submit them prior to the conference. Those, along with final reports from 4 breakout groups, will be synthesized into a monograph and presented to NIST, who would develop a multi-year research agenda.

Said Ayyub, “We hope the ultimate outcome from this workshop will be a set of guidelines to help stakeholders, including civil engineers, plan and design things in a manner that will be cost effective and sustainable over the life-cycle of the project.”

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