Sustainable Engineering Pioneer and Distinguished Member Dies at 87


Donald V.N. Roberts, P.E., Dist.M.ASCE, who helped integrate sustainable development principles and techniques into engineering education and practice, has died at 87.

Sustainable infrastructure now stands as one of ASCE’s key strategic initiatives, and Roberts was at the forefront of the movement to stress adoption of sustainability by civil engineers. He served as a member of ASCE’s Task Committee on Sustainable Development, which was instrumental in revising the Society’s Code of Ethics to include an emphasis on sustainability.

Three decades ago, Roberts was a cofounder of both the Hazardous Waste Coalition and the World Engineering Partnership for Sustainable Development, creating new platforms to teach the importance of sustainability.

“Don was an engineer from the top of his head to the soles of his lace-up boots,” said Charleen Roberts, his wife of 64 years.

Over more than 60 years as a consulting civil and environmental engineer, Roberts conducted major geotechnical investigations and environmental studies for 500 projects in 20 countries. He developed methods used to analyze the environmental impacts of projects prior to the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act. For the U.S. Department of Energy, he managed programs to investigate and clean up nuclear waste sites.

Roberts began his career with Dames and Moore and left as a senior partner to become vice president of CH2M Hill. After retiring in 1994, Roberts held senior positions in several engineering societies, including the American Society of Foundation Engineers (now the Geoprofessional Business Association), Engineers Without Borders and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations.

Active in the Colorado Section, Roberts received the ASCE President’s Award in 2005 and was elected a Distinguished Member in 2009. View the Distinguished Member video.

Roberts was well regarded for his accomplishments, passion, and kindness, although he saw himself largely as a problem-solver. He was fond of saying “Scientists may discover problems but engineers are the ones who solve them,” his wife said.

The Roberts family has asked that all donations in his memory go to the ASCE Sustainability Fund. Those interested in doing so should visit the ASCE Foundation web page, and in the dropdown menus, note that the donation is directed toward the Sustainability Fund with a note indicating Donald Roberts in the tribute box.


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