8 Benefits of Building Sustainable Infrastructures

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Sustainable infrastructures protect the environment and add long-term value to the facilities and roadways that the public depends for prosperity. [1] The Greenroads Foundation promotes environmentally friendly transportation infrastructure through training and project support, using a rating system that encourages sustainable transportation infrastructure.

The group provides civil engineers who design transportation features that generate relatively nominal maintenance and operational costs with funding sourced from green initiative friendly investors. In urban environments, sustainable infrastructures promote financial growth and stability, and for the rising low-income population, provide otherwise unavailable opportunities to improve living conditions.

Promoting Sustainable Infrastructure in the United States

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) promotes project design practices that help society and the environment prosper. [2] The United States government employs civil engineers to repair aging roadways and bridges, while reducing maintenance costs and environmental impact.

The ASCE grades the transportation network with the Report Card for America’s Infrastructure and believes that effective leadership, resource prioritization and sustainable engineering practices provide solutions for the country’s under performing motor vehicle routes. Civil engineers use the ASCE’s rating tool, hosted by the group’s Envision Institute, to incorporate sustainable community, environmental and financial features into national building, maintenance and operational infrastructures.

The ASCE report cards help state and local officials understand transportation system sustainability in their respective jurisdictions. Jointly, the report cards reveal America’s transportation network status and serves as a resource to develop conferences, training and publications that help administrators to develop sustainable infrastructure plans.

Civil engineers use Envision to learn how to incorporate sustainable initiatives into their building practices. The tool provides free resources for sustainable design, construction and upkeep.

Envision also serves as a collaborative platform for developers and community advocates to choose how to allocate limited resources for communities. Using the tool, design teams forecast project expenses and benefits for the entire life cycle of structures. The process results in high project transparency and goodwill between participating developers and communities.

Benefit 1: Cleaner Air

Environmentalists commonly discuss ways to reduce air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions. [3] Decreased energy consumption and renewable energy sources directly contribute to improved air quality.

Major urban areas suffer increased exposure to the air contaminants sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. Excessive traffic along with abundant industrial and power plant emissions combine to produce air quality that is unsafe for metropolitan populations.

The carbon dioxide emissions also threaten the global climate with harmful greenhouse gas production. Even though it takes a long time for the carbon dioxide to induce planetary climate change, so does repairing the damage, which makes greenhouse gas reduction a real and current concern.

Benefit 2: Reduced Solid Waste

United States consumers produce 230 million tons of waste annually. Nearly 30-percent of all refuse results from construction projects in the form of:

  • Cardboard
  • Concrete
  • Drywall
  • Insulation
  • Metal
  • Paper
  • Plaster

Most construction material remains unsoiled and easy to recycle. As recycling production grows, more firms manufacture renewable building products. Sustainable recycling infrastructure incorporates waste reduction practices, such as:

  • Construction byproduct management
  • Recyclable management
  • Recycled material usage
  • Waste mitigation

For instance, civil engineers used these practices when building the New England Regional Library to reduce landfill dependence and save on construction costs. Once a building structure opens for operation, some consumer waste is also recyclable.

Benefit 3: Reduced Ecosystem Impact

Sustainable design reduces natural resource dependence. Some sustainable projects save resources through building repurposing or land contamination remediation. Civil engineers practice sustainable site selection by avoiding natural land resources; such as agricultural regions, animal habitats and flood plains.

Once engineers select structure sites, they develop plans to reduce erosion and water runoff, which includes preserving as much open land, indigenous wildlife and cultural resources as possible. Engineers also develop plans to maintain the landscape throughout structure life cycles.

Benefit 4: Decreased Energy Consumption

For maximum sustainability, energy consumption is one of the first considerations during green development. Sustainable engineering costs more than traditional building methods, but the owner recovers the initial fees over time via reduced utility and maintenance expenses.

Sustainable engineering typically results in energy savings of around 37-percent from features such as increased natural light, which lessens the need for daytime lighting, and energy-saving lighting, which reduces energy consumption when using artificial lights. Combined sustainable infrastructure features create a synergy between mechanical components that produce considerable energy savings.

Benefit 5: Reduced Water Consumption

Civil engineers design sustainable building features that use less water, such as water free urinals, no flush toilets and low flow showerheads. Property owners recoup investments in sustainable water features in around three years, which generate a mere 40-percent in water utility expenses compared to traditional plumbing fixtures. Many federally owned facilities incorporating sustainable water features experience this result. Civil engineers practicing sustainable infrastructure design also incorporate water saving technologies that make quantifying savings difficult but impossible to discount, such as water producing cooling towers, cooling systems and boiler systems.

Benefit 6: Improved Community Health

Sustainable buildings increase worker wellness and productivity. For example, the federal government experiences exceptionally high labor costs. Therefore, the institution enjoyed atypical wellness benefits in the form of a 90-percent labor cost reduction after improving workplace air quality. However, even organizations with typical absenteeism and sickness rates enjoy nearly 40-percent in reduced annual labor costs related to employee absenteeism. In one instance, mechanical improvements such as high volume air circulators and ultraviolet irradiation devices reduced air borne illnesses, while improving employee alertness and vision and reducing worker fatigue.

Benefit 7: Natural Disaster Risk Reduction

Sustainable engineering also encompasses natural disaster mitigation. Protecting the public from unforeseen natural threats is a heightened concern for high population clusters, such as low-income housing. Mechanical system failure in a densely populated structure might result in structure condemnation and tenant relocation, which costs considerably more than structural disaster planning. Therefore, civil engineers incorporate emergency features, such as backup power generators, as insurance against power failures.

While the features cannot alleviate all financial losses, they greatly reduce disaster related costs and operational impacts. Additionally, preventative disaster measures might earn property owners insurance discounts, further offsetting emergency equipment expenses.

Benefit 8: Increased Building Longevity

Sustainable designs increase structural lifespans, and property owners save on construction costs by renovating and repurposing existing structures. As such, civil engineers suggest that structures should remain safe and functional for 200 to 300 years.

Minimalist designs allow property owners to add features as needed. For instance, civil engineers design sustainable buildings with framing that facilitates future additions. Additionally, sustainable floor plans include multiple use spaces. Other sustainable design practices incorporate frameworks that accept additional floor levels and accessible wiring conduits that facilitate future improvements, such as solar power wiring.

Sustainability As a Profit Center

Hanon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure (HASI) Capitol Incorporated manages a portfolio that primarily invests in green, public sector construction projects. [4] The firm generates safe, reliable revenue similar to the blue chip stocks trusted by investors for safe, low yield long-term returns.

The firm also invests in sustainable enterprises, such as renewable wind and solar power plants, while diversifying asset allocation to reduce investor risk. Due to the long-term returns created HASI’s sustainable assets, stock market analysts have recently upgraded the company’s stock.

Learn More

Civil engineers play a crucial role in engineering the structural solutions of tomorrow and plan, design, construct, and operate the infrastructure essential to our modern lives. As a student in the online Master of Science in Civil Engineering program, you can enhance your quantitative decision-making skills and learn how to justify managerial decisions with data. You will also explore the capabilities of modern management technologies and discover how to successfully leverage these tools to maximize efficiencies in your projects and on your teams.


[1] http://www.masstransitmag.com/press_release/12289907/hdrs-janet-gonzalez-joins-greenroads-foundation-board-of-directors

[2] http://www.asce.org/envision/

[3] https://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/pdfs/buscase_section4.pdf

[4] http://www.fiscalstandard.com/2016/12/08/should-you-buy-hannon-armstrong-sustainable-infrastructure-capital-inc-nysehasi-on-current-analyst-views/