ASCE Developing New Sustainability Standard

In civil engineering design, sustainability is too important to merely be implied or suggested.

So, ASCE’s Committee on Sustainability is creating a performance-based, life-cycle sustainable infrastructure standard.

The committee’s Standards Executive Committee has been developing “Standard Requirements for Sustainable Infrastructure” for nearly a year, aiming to have an innovative and essential industry standard ready for use in 2021.

“As we move toward a civil engineering industry that’s based on sustainability, you now have to be able to answer the question: ‘What is and what isn’t sustainable?’” said John Frauenhoffer, P.E., M.ASCE, secretary for the Sustainable Infrastructure Standard Committee.

“What threshold of sustainability do you need to accomplish? It’s important. And this will give civil engineers a benchmark as to what is sustainable as we attempt to move the industry to sustainable construction.”

The proposed standard will be applicable across all infrastructure sectors, providing coherent and consistent performance-based objectives that can be included in procurement documents by owners, regulators, stakeholders and policymakers.

It addresses the entire life cycle of a project, with an emphasis on the operations-and-maintenance phase and the establishment of baselines and reduction targets over the infrastructure’s lifetime.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the standard is by calling it ASCE 7 for sustainability.

ASCE 7,  “Minimum Design Loads and Associated Criteria for Buildings and Other Structures,” has long been a staple of building codes and structural design.

“I believe it’s important, because many of the things that are created in the civil engineering industry are based upon ASCE standards,” Frauenhoffer said. “The most common one is ASCE 7. Structural engineers everywhere depend upon that document to make sure they are analyzing structures for a threshold-level of loads.

“This is the same idea. Just for sustainability.”

The standard will also give ASCE another tangible way, along with the Envision rating system, to not just promote sustainability concepts but to hold businesses and organizations accountable for employing sustainability in design and construction.

The standard’s working group draws from a wide range of perspectives, including owners, consultants, government engineers and equipment suppliers. Their goal is to have a draft of the standard ready to share for feedback this fall.

“Sustainability affects everybody,” Frauenhoffer said. “This is one of the first industry-wide standards in the modern era. We think it’s going to make a big impact. There’s a hunger for it out there.”

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  1. It’s great to see that new sustainability standards are being recognized by ASCE. Although ASCE has been involved in the development of other sustainability programs, such as Envision, a formalization of the design methods is a step in the right direction. I have been an ASCE member for a few years and reading this makes me proud to support the society.


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