While the civil engineer has a big role to play in the construction of mines, the environmental engineer dedicated to sustainability probably wouldn’t approve of. Here lies the nature battle between the two disciplines of engineering that are tied together closely.
Civil engineers are responsible for structural construction projects that have the potential to be disruptive to the environment.
The Common Origins
Environmental engineering (EE) as a profession has its roots linked with civil engineering. In terms of organization, the two go back to a time when the Committee for the Advancement of Sanitary Engineering (the origins of EE) was a part of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
The ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) is much older than the SEE (Society of Environmental Engineers), as the professional field of environmental engineering is relatively new. The ASCE was founded in 1852, which makes it America’s oldest national engineering society. Once, it was an association of architects and civil engineers, before the architects branched off into their own society. The ASCE’s Code of Ethics was drawn up and adopted for the first time in 1914.
The SEE is the umbrella organization of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists (AAEES), the American Water Works Association and the Water Environment Federation. The AAEES went through several name changes and created its own mission statement.
Since environmental engineering has its roots in civil engineering, it is not surprising that Civil and Environmental Engineering programs are often clubbed together under a single department in universities.
What is surprising is that there continue to be different codes for the various engineering associations, when there really should be a single code. And when you consider the point of “nature”, both codes have very similar things to say.
Here is the mission statement of the AAEES:
“Protecting public health and environment”
Civil engineers who are required to follow the ethical code laid down by the ASCE are ruled by the first canon of the Code of Ethics, which states:
“Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.”
But the nature battle between the two disciplines continues to exist.
The Nature Battle
Civil engineering construction projects require water and fossil fuels, which are scarce resources. These resources are often used indiscriminately in developing countries for construction. Development and building also destroy biodiversity, which, for pragmatists, become significant when it begins to affect our food supply. Construction projects and development have also led to large-scale deforestation.
Civil engineers may seem not to have the choice or option to be environmentally responsible. But that is not the case.
Let us come back to the example of mining, which will actually help to demonstrate how the ASCE and the SEE are, in the best of times, working with the same ethical goals.
Mining can cause a severe environmental impact. It can cause erosion of topsoil, which exposes radioactive elements. These toxic chemicals can leach into nearby ground and surface water, and turn the area acidic. Ecosystems can be disrupted, which can cause loss of biodiversity. Mining may create sinkholes. Some methods of mining may further affect public health.
But civil engineers today are required to follow codes laid down by the ASCE and sustainable building standards.
Environmental “civil” engineers who focus on hydrology, water resource management, bioremediation etc. have made it possible, to a large extent, for mines to be less disruptive.
Today, many mining contractors are recommended by the EPA to remediate mines when all its resources have been extracted.
Sustainability in Civil Engineering
ASCE has been awarding civil engineers with the Sustainability award since 2011 and offering a “Sustainable Infrastructure Certificate Program” for more environmentally- responsible designing, building and management of projects.
The Envision rating system is an additional planning and guidance tool to help engineers and firms with making their infrastructure projects sustainable.
Meanwhile, environmental engineers and students continue to replenish water bodies, solve some pressing global issues, and raise their voices against environment-disrupting practices, and exhibit their research to state legislators.
It is to be hoped that the synergy between civil engineering and environmental engineering, between the ASCE and the SEE, will continue to move in the positive direction, with help from the EPA.