Thursday, August 26, 2010

The REAL Reason that Engineers Resist Going Green

After years of disbelief at the resistance of engineers to implement "green" strategies, I can finally answer the question of why - FEAR. I came to this realization when I was examining some of my own reservations. Despite the fact that I am enthusiastic about sustainability and green design, and have a passion for finding a better way to engineer green, I still have a reservations about implementing green strategies on some projects.  I believe that this is the underlying reason for all engineers, and from my own experience as a civil engineer I have come to understand this to be true for others that I come into contact with.

It's FEAR of the UNKNOWN and FEAR of FAILURE, that drives us to stick with the warm and fuzzy feelings of doing it the same way it has been done for years.  The bottom line is that many green techniques, especially those that are civil engineering related, such as raingardens, bioswales, bioretention, etc are relatively untested.  And the areas where they have been tested, Prince George's County Maryland, Portland, Seattle and so on don't always have conditions that translate well to other parts of the country.  This lack of familiarity and basis for comparison makes it somewhat more risky to design and spec these green techniques.  Without a really solid set of design guidelines, engineers are forced to do some of their own research, make their own judgments and think outside the box.  And while I admit this can be unsettling at times, its one of the reasons that I got into engineering in the first place - to figure things out and find a better way.  I have been feeling my way through it for a number of years and there have been plenty of times where my designs have not turned out quite like I expected.  There have been a different reasons for that; the contractor didn't install it correctly, it wasn't maintained correctly, I made assumptions that were incorrect, etc. but I have learned from all of them, and I think that's the key.  For the most part the "green" techniques available to engineers don't involve anything truly new, they are just different applications of the knowledge set that we already have.  In my opinion, this is engineering in it's purest form - taking knowledge and fact and applying it in a practical way to solve a problem.

I can acknowledge that I sometimes feel some apprehension when implementing a design strategy that hasn't been successfully implemented in my area before, but we can't simply stick to the status quo because of that FEAR.  It's time that we as engineers work to find a better way, rather than just going with the flow and designing like we have for the past 50 years.  To do that we need to come together with our colleagues to vet innovative and practical designs and we need to support those within and outside our own professions to have the confidence and creativity that we need to solve the problems of our typical development process.

8 comments:

  1. Bob... its incredible how much I have learned from your blog today!! I´m Melissa, I`m an industrial designer and I just started working in my family business: civil engineering...the conventional way. I resonate so much with this post. FEAR is the cause of boredom, I say. My sister and I are trying to develop this new, fresh and green way of thinking in the company...it´s been hard, they have done the same thing, the same way for over 60 years... we are willing to take action, but since we are not experts, I would like to ask you in what should we start working on? How can civil engineers start helping the planet?...our main businesses are earthwork, urbanism and roads and there are several projects here in Colombia which we would like to work with that will be certified with LEED. How can civil engineers be part of the LEED certification? Do you know where can I find this info easy to understand?

    Thanks for your ideas!!!

    PD: Santa lives in the north pole and just because of that we should preserve the planet from melting!!! jajajajaa

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  2. my email is: mecamogi@gmail.com
    It is the first time I comment on a blog...I don´t really know the dinamic...

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  3. Melissa - I am glad that you found the blog useful! There are a lot of things that you can do as a civil engineer. I would encourage you to check out some of my other blog posts. There is one specifically on LEED - http://www.thegreencivilengineer.com/2010/04/idiots-guide-to-leed-for-civil.html that I think may point you in the right direction.

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  4. Hey Bob, i am really thankful too about this post, and i want to take your permission to use it while defending my masters graduation project which is about an IT building built in accordance to LEED and it's certified (Silver), i faced a lot of problems with my Dr. in uni regarding the Green thngy, they think that it's not related a lot to Civil Engineers, which is totally fasle, it's pathetic to have such mentalities i know, anyway, i insisted to work on LEED and proof for them that Civil Engineer is related to Green building.

    Anyway, thank you for this important post, and in case you have any another blog posts or useful informations that may help me in my project.

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  5. and btw this is my first comment on a blog =))

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  6. Zahi,

    Thanks for your comments. You have my permission to reference this blog in your master project - I would be honored. Let me know if there is anything else that I can do to help.

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  7. I would like to ask you in what should we start working on? How can civil engineers start helping the planet?...our main businesses are earthwork, urbanism and roads and there are several projects here in Colombia which we would like to work with that will be certified with LEED. How can civil engineers be part of the LEED certification? Do you know where can I find this info easy to understand?

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  8. Jacky - i appreciate your comments. Try checking out some of my other posts for some tips on civil engineers in the LEED process etc.

    http://www.thegreencivilengineer.com/2010/04/idiots-guide-to-leed-for-civil.html

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