As the authors of the above-titled report note, the ecosystem and the built environment are inextricably linked, and understanding the interdependence of the two is the key to sustainability in geotechnical engineering, and all civil engineering. Although I am curious how they came to this conclusion, they state that geotechnical engineering is "the most resource intensive of all the civil engineering disciplines." Assuming they are correct, this is a sobering thought for all of us as designers.
Aditi Misra and Dipanjan Basu of the University of Connecticut Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering have published this report where they review the philosophies and definitions of sustainability an interpret them in the context of geotechnical engineering. That in and of itself would be useful to practitioners in this day and age of environmental stewardship, but they also propose a "sustainability assessment framework" that can be adopted for geotechnical engineering projects during the planning and design stages of geotechnical projects.
This quantitative framework combines life cycle assessment, environmental impact assessment and cost benefit analysis, and can be used to assess the relative sustainability of different design choices in geotechnical engineering.
We as geotechnical engineers and engineering geologists are used to evaluating alternatives on the basis of safety, constructability and economy. But I believe the time is coming where you will see the sustainability criteria added to this list on a more routine basis. This document is not for the faint of heart, and not something that one can implement without some serious thought and effort. I anticipate there will be much more published on this topic in the coming years. I can almost see sustainability becoming a specialized sub-discipline within our industry. But this report excites me because everyone loves the idea of sustainability on their projects, but this framework gives people a starting point for how you could go about implementing it. [Source: University of Connecticut. Image: UCONN Digital Commons]