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Insights How are civil engineers building a greener future?

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The built environment has significantly improved in recent years to combat carbon emissions and ensure the net zero targets are met, but there is still a way to go. Infrastructure projects including power plants, buildings, and transport are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, with an ever-increasing need to meet the demands of a growing population, we are reliant upon astute engineers bringing a new wave of sustainable thinking into the industry, using resources effectively, using renewable or recycled resources, and planning for resiliency.

Effectively using resources sustainably

In today’s climate, projects must be designed sustainably from the outset, rather than simply adding green features to post-build. This includes civil engineers using resources effectively and minimising non-renewables where possible.

Civil engineers commonly employ technology like Building Information Modelling (BIM) to cut waste and reduce the energy and materials used, whilst also saving time and money. BIM allows engineers to map the lifecycle of projects and accurately calculate the resources needed.

Using renewable or recycled resources

Civil engineers are also taking steps to use recycled materials, including cement substitutes, because they have a lower carbon intensity. Furthermore, rather than solely concentrating efforts on decarbonisation or using recycled materials, engineers are also looking at how to safely capture the carbon emitted during infrastructure building processes, using data and tools to make sustainable decisions.

For instance, carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) entails capturing carbon at its source and using or storing it to prevent it from being released into the atmosphere. We are also seeing a rapid emergence of new construction techniques, such as prefabrication, offsite and modular. These methods help to increase efficiencies and performance, whilst decreasing costs, waste and carbon as materials and resources are made to measure away from project sites.

Future planning for resiliency in a changing climate

Mike Hayes, Leader in Renewables and Sustainability at KPMG, says that ‘unlike COVID-19, there will never be a vaccine for climate change – it is only the actions we take today that will help to solve the problem’ regarding the sustainable infrastructure opportunity. In addition to taking action to prevent further climate change, civil engineers must factor in the impact of the changing climate when planning for projects, and to build resilience that allows for humanity and wildlife to flourish in uncertain circumstances.

We will inevitably see more extreme and unpredictable weather conditions with the warming climate - including hurricanes, tornadoes, and heatwaves - all of which can impact the infrastructure. Engineers therefore need to consider specialised equipment which may be necessary in future so that infrastructure is built to withstand these conditions.

Setting a path for the next 200 years in engineering

The built environment is set to be led by social, economic and environmental factors in the coming years, with COVID-19 acting as a catalyst for change, signifying how infrastructure will need to adapt to how people choose to live and work. With requirements for new infrastructure, in turn, raising demand for new ways of thinking, it was encouraging to see Rachel Skinner, the 2020-21 President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, state that her year in office will be focused on the journey to net zero carbon.

A Chartered Engineer herself, Skinner sees the sustainability challenge as an opportunity for engineers to regenerate what they do and how they talk about it. ‘We can set ourselves on a path for the next 200 years that not only allows economic growth but does so in a way that is genuinely sustainable’, she states in an interview with the New Civil Engineer. It’s all about finding new ways to deliver better results for a greener future, and civil engineers are taking a leading role in this period of transformation.

Aiming for net zero emissions at AtkinsRéalis

We are committed to achieving our target of Net Zero emissions by partnering with clients to effect genuine change across every aspect of our projects, pioneering new technologies and ways of working, throughout our entire Group. Therefore, earlier this year we launched Engineering Net Zero, a series of reports and goals providing solutions for prioritising clean and affordable energy solutions and developing sustainable infrastructure, transport and cities.

However, we are all still learning, developing and innovating and we are looking for fresh new talent in all roles, from engineering internships to project management, to help us shape the future sustainably.

Apply for a job in civil engineering and help us achieve net zero

Whilst problem-solving skills and technical expertise are still paramount, the preconceptions of a civil engineering job are changing. It was once a structured and traditional discipline, yet civil engineering is now an increasingly innovative, exciting and rapidly changing career choice, with technology playing a leading part. Our mission for civil engineers at AtkinsRéalis is to create sustainable solutions that connect people, data and technology to design, deliver and operate the most complex projects.

It is an exciting time to be starting a career in engineering and there is a huge opportunity to build a greener, safer and more resilient future for our planet and its people. Are you going to seize it?

Join us on our journey and apply for a civil engineering job today