Structural engineers are sometimes not known for their strong attendance at environmental workshops and seminars. And, like some professionals, they may not want to work with electronic documents, demanding paper instead.

Why is this? Well according to structural engineer Adam Jones, the Green Building Council of Australia’s Future Green Leader of the Year, the answer is twofold. For one thing, safety-minded engineers often use more material than they might need; perhaps using 50 percent more steel than is necessary for their project, for example.

In addition, to save money on projects, engineers often seek to save time as well. It takes time to add sustainability features that are not absolute design brief requirements; a fact which may inspire structural engineers to avoid adding those features altogether.

What is the net effect of these actions? Well as operational energy use becomes more energy efficient and less intensive of carbon, the amount of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions intertwined in energy expended during the construction process is set to elevate.

At this point, it will become more critical than ever to lessen embodied energy consumption. And, says Jones, structural engineers can play a vital role in this process. They have great knowledge and many ideas regarding sustainable design—including strategies geared toward reducing carbon emissions.

Jones suggests ways that engineers can further the cause of sustainability:

  1. Engineers can order the precise amount of material needed for each project.
  2. They can choose to use concrete solutions apart from Portland cement, whose manufacturing process is energy intensive. The use of solutions such as geopolymer cement, an inorganic polymer formulated at room temperature with the use of industrial waste or byproducts, can be conducive to 50-60 percent of carbon savings. Hydrogen technologies are being used to create high-framed steel. And timber is an essential ingredient in today’s construction—bringing with it a great number of environmental benefits.
  3. At the conclusion of a building’s useful life, engineers can encourage and practice the concepts of deconstruct, reuse and recycle. Minimise welds, avoid gluing elements, recycle materials whenever possible.

Jones says that structural engineers must lead the way to achieving a zero carbon and highly sustainable future.