31st May 2018

YoE: Engineering in the environment

For last month’s Year of Engineering theme, we explored how engineering can improve lives and the increasing importance of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This month takes an offshoot of this as its focus: Engineering in the Environment.

Civil engineering, in particular, touches on a range of environmental subjects. Our Associate, Xavier Martínez, explains some of the key considerations involved when planning projects:

“Water is a significant part of the planning process, affecting it in numerous ways. In any development we need to apply sustainable urban drainage techniques (SUDS) according to the National Planning Policy Framework; specific policies are set out by the relevant local Planning Authorities in their local plans. There are a number of guidance to follow, provided by CIRIA, susDrain or the LASOO advisory group. By following a drainage hierarchy, from storing rainwater for future use to discharging rainwater to the combined sewer, we contribute to water use efficiency, quality and contribute to biodiversity as well as providing some amenities. In some circumstances we may provide treatment of storm water with a petrol interceptor or higher levels of treatment.

“With over 5 million UK properties at risk of flooding, according to the Environment Agency, this is another risk that needs to be considered. The Environment Agency differentiates flood risk on a 3-point scale ranging from low to high, which determines the different development types allowed in an area. Along with watercourses and bodies of water, other sources need to be considered, including surface water or groundwater. To minimise vulnerability and increase resilience, it’s crucial to allow for an appropriate climate change allowance.

 “Where relevant trees are involved, root protection areas (RPA) need to be defined to identify where digging is prohibited or restricted. Where activity cannot be avoided in the RPA, specially designed pavement can protect roots from excessive pressure while still providing ventilation.

“Some developments in brownfield and infrastructure come with the issue of land contamination. Excavations produce waste materials and contaminated land may require remediation measures. A range of solutions may be considered depending on the extent and nature of the contamination: encapsulation of the contaminated land and minimisation of disruption; treatment of the contaminated land in situ; or replacement of the contaminated land with clean material by sending the excavated material for an appropriate treatment.

“Just as the environment impacts on us, we must look at how we affect it back. Reports such as Environmental Impact Assessments help establish restrictions and requirements which minimise our ecological footprint. This is complemented by carefully specifying materials that have lower negative implications.”

“Engineers have a significant impact on our surroundings. As we look to improve our built environment, we have a responsibility to ensure this is not to the detriment of the natural one. Planning should be sympathetic to the landscape and climate, bearing sustainability in mind to ensure viable, long-term solutions.”

To read last month’s article on improving lives, click here.