News: Sustainability and the Climate Emergency: The Role of the Engineer

Sustainability and the Climate Emergency: The Role of the Engineer

Few credible scientists now seriously question the reality of man-made climate change and the devastating impact it’s having on our world. According to the recent UN report ‘United in Science 2021’ we’ve already reached a tipping point in the fight to protect the planet for future generations. The COVID 19 pandemic caused a slight slowdown as the world ground to a halt for several months, but that slowdown has been rapidly caught up, with greenhouse gases, including CO2, containing to increase. There’s little indication of a greener recovery.

The upcoming UN Climate Change Conference, better know as COP26, will take place in November in Glasgow, Scotland. This conference presents a major opportunity for the world to come together and take the urgent steps that are required to combat the emergency.

As an organisation, David Narro Associates are taking what steps we can to do our part. For COP26, we’re delighted to be involved in the Beyond Zero Homes COP26 House, a fantastic project building a zero-carbon timber framed home that demonstrates how beautiful, affordable, healthy and comfortable homes can be developed with minimal impact on the environment, throughout their lifecycle. The home, built next to the COP26 venue, will be open during the two week conference to allow members of the public to see how green construction can meet housing needs.

As well as participating in COP26, DNA has also set up an internal Sustainability group, focused on keeping our engineers and technicians at the forefront of techniques, software, materials and legislation that can have a positive impact on our industry’s environmental impact. One of the first acts of the new group was to sign DNA up to Engineers Declare, a petition bringing together all strands of the engineering industry from across the globe, demonstrating our commitment to taking positive action to tackle climate breakdown and biodiversity collapse.

As a profession, engineers can play a vital and pivotal role in decarbonising the construction industry through a variety of direct and indirect ways to influence the full process.

Direct Methods

  • Creating efficient design on all their structural projects.
  • Reducing material quantities required to achieve a certain design.
  • Structural design can also fulfil other roles such as architectural / M&E support thus reducing the need for extra provisions or doubling up.
  • Structural design should be as flexible and adaptable as possible to various future changes of use and consider the whole life of the structure – this can promote the extension of the lifespan with minimal structural alterations/strengthening and negate the need for demolition.
  • Tracking the embodied carbon of the structures designed in the same way that costs are tracked.
  • Offering a well-developed concept design optioneering exercise to allow the clients to take informed decisions, not only from a cost perspective, but also making the carbon implications clear and transparent.
  • Proposing and integrating alternative greener construction methods within the design to reduce the carbon content (CLT, Glulam etc.).
  • Promoting modular construction to reduce waste production and reduce errors on site.
  • Assisting research and academic groups to develop new Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) that can reduce carbon content throughout production, transport, construction, in use and demolition.
  • Adaptable re-use of existing buildings using current construction methods to avoid costly demolition & rebuild alternatives.

Indirect Routes

  • Advising clients / contractors / design team members of the implications of their design decisions on the structural design and environmental impact.
  • Advising fabricators / contractors / subcontractors of the lower production methodologies that they can implement to reduce carbon content (electric arc furnace, GGBS concrete etc.).
  • Lobbying and active representation within construction forums through ICE and IStructE to influence current policy makers.

As a Practice, our team of engineers and technicians always take sustainability and energy efficiency into consideration. We aim to specify materials in our designs which can be locally sourced, are durable, and/or have minimal environmental impact in either their production or disposal. As well as embracing new materials and technologies, we also consider innovative ways to use conventional methods in more sustainable ways.

If you’d like to discuss our sustainability expertise or find out how we can advise on your project, please get in touch.