ASCE Actions on Climate Change
As president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Grasso’s premise in “Engineers’ Deafening Silence on Climate Change” (Last Word, Prism, March/April 2020): As engineers, we do in fact have a distinct and special opportunity to use our voices to address one of the critical matters of our age—climate change. However, I would like to take this opportunity to set straight ASCE’s efforts to date to address climate change and its detrimental impacts on the nation’s infrastructure.
More than two decades ago, ASCE was at the forefront in adding a commitment to sustainability in Canon 1 of the Society’s Code of Ethics. Like our counterpart in the chemical engineering profession, ASCE has a long-standing public policy calling for a reduction in human-based greenhouse gas emissions. ASCE’s policy on greenhouse gases, along with our policies on climate change adaptation and other environmental and sustainability issues, forms the basis for our substantial advocacy efforts toward a more resilient and sustainable national infrastructure. [In June] I spoke before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis to support its plan for addressing the impacts of climate change on infrastructure and called upon the rest of our nation’s leaders to ensure our infrastructure is not only climate-resilient but also mitigates climate change effects.
Moving beyond our nation’s borders, in November 2019 ASCE teamed with the Global Covenant of Mayors and other organizations in the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure, whose mission is to support and implement practical solutions to adapt infrastructure to a changing climate, close the resilience investment gap, and eliminate barriers across the globe. On the education front, ASCE’s Committee on Sustainability (COS), Committee on Adapting to a Changing Climate (CACC), and Infrastructure Resilience Division (IRD) are working tirelessly to broaden civil engineering expertise and to expand the public understanding of the impacts of climate change on infrastructure. In 2018, ASCE’s CACC released Climate-Resilient Infrastructure, a manual of practice intended to help civil engineers meet societal needs in a world where climate change continues to upend our understanding of risk profiles in the built environment. ASCE’s Institutes, Geographic Units, and Committees are also actively involved, including, for example, ASCE’s Structural Engineering Institute (SEI), which endorsed last year a position on embodied carbon reduction. SEI’s Sustainability Committee and its Carbon Working Group have a number of initiatives and a recent white paper, “Achieving Net Zero Embodied Carbon in Structural Materials by 2050,” not to mention a variety of related publications on carbon capture, storage, and reduction.
Meanwhile, recognizing the need for better tools to prepare engineers to tackle the challenges posed by climate change, ASCE’s Committee on Sustainability is creating an outcome-based, life-cycle sustainable infrastructure standard aiming to have an essential industry standard ready for use in 2021. The standard will be published for public comment this fall and will complement the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s Envision rating tool, developed by ASCE and its partners, the American Council of Engineering Companies, the American Public Works Association, and the Harvard Zofnass Sustainability Program. Like the Envision rating tool, the standard will include outcomes focused on quantifying and limiting net embodied energy and greenhouse gases. In addition, ASCE is moving rapidly towards completion of its Future World Vision project, which combines future-scenario forecasting based on climate change and other key trends with deeply researched hard data, to provide a glimpse of possible cities of the future in an interactive, virtual experience. Every future virtual community teaches the user about climate-resilient options including preventive, adaptive, and mitigation measures, along with regenerative and circular economy approaches.
Far from remaining on the sidelines, ASCE is working tirelessly to address the detrimental impacts of climate change. By disseminating research, supporting global cooperation, engaging with public policy makers, and developing new tools for planning and innovation, ASCE supports the work of civil engineers not only to understand but also to mitigate and adapt to climate change through sustainable, resilient, and safe infrastructure, with a long-term view toward the health, safety, and welfare of society and the planet.
American Society of Civil Engineers