Last month I had the privilege to attend an American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) symposium for sustainable infrastructure at the CU Boulder campus. There were an array of knowledgeable speakers discussing approaches in moving forward with sustainable development. One resonating take-away from the symposium was how to unite policy makers, jurisdictions, engineers and developers when it comes to designing and building a sustainable infrastructure. The current formula is simple: The policy makers set the rules, the jurisdictions enforce the rules, the engineers design by the rules and the developers build to the design. This is the way it is and it has worked for years, right?
With an ever evolving society and movement to become more conscientious of future generations by implementing sustainable practices, the formula should be reconsidered or we will succumb to, as Bill Wallace of Wallace Futures Group described, “Stationarity” Engineering. If environmental conditions were predictable, this practice would be acceptable, absent of new technologies. With temperature and rainfall trends entering unchartered grounds, engineering will need to evolve to meet these changes. The included graphical chart was taken from Bill’s presentation, outlining a few impacts based on our “non-stationarity” environment.
Depending on the geographical location, many of these parameters are already considered in standard engineering practice. The issue is determining to what extent these impacts are affecting the life cycle of the infrastructure. Currently our society is scrambling for funding to replace a failing infrastructure; which has already lasted 50 years or more based on more constant environmental conditions. With the environmental alterations happening at a more expedited rate, will the new replacement cycle be 25 years? This would be the ideal time for the formula to reverse direction. Engineers (and Universities) along with the Developers, should work with the policy makers in developing updated criteria and processes that provide economic advantages that benefit the society and are environmentally friendly. I applaud the work completed by Colorado’s Resiliency & Recovery Office in assisting with the planning efforts following the 2013 floods along US36, leading to Estes Park. The work done by Central Federal Lands (CFL) and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) policy makers and engineers in combining forces, cutting through the red-tape and formulating innovative ideas, not only reconstructed 3 miles of US36 in record time, but built it as a more sustainable design considering future flooding.
“Sustainable development is an organizing principle for human life on a finite planet. It posits a desirable future state for human societies in which living conditions and resource-use meet human needs without undermining the sustainability of natural systems and the environment, so that future generations may also have their needs met.”
-Gregory Panza PE, PMP, FAC P/PM - Senior Project Manager