What is Sustainability in Structural Engineering?

Published 30th September 2022

In this month’s article we are going to discuss what is sustainability in structural engineering.

Structural engineers are responsible for ensuring that structures are designed well, easy to construct and function.

Structural engineers for a long time have been undertaking the design of buildings without calculating data for Co2. The consumption of resources in constructing buildings is huge, all these resources contribute to the emission of global Co2. Considering a significant number of materials used in buildings are used for structural stability, structural engineers have a direct impact on the suitability of the building. So, structural engineers have a great opportunity in playing a leading role in increasing sustainability throughout the sector by taking special consideration to the quantity of materials they specify in their designs.

Apart from just reducing the mass of material used in a building, there are other options that can achieve suitable designs.

The use of alternative materials can improve sustainability, timber is considered carbon neutral as it sequesters carbon though out its life cycle. The use of timber in mid- and high-rise buildings has become more common due to advances in timber technology and a push for sustainability.

Another way to consider sustainability in structural engineering is the decision on the use of different structural systems. The decision on what structural system to use should come down to safety, cost, and now embodied carbon. Each system offers the chance to save carbon for example using a beam and slab system over a flat slab system can save between 15-20% of embodied carbon, and for steel chosen a lateral bracing system over moment frames can save 20% of embodied carbon.

Overall sustainability in structural engineering is a combination of choosing the correct materials, considering the quantity of materials used, allowing for alternative materials to be chosen and using the correct structural systems.