civil engineer leed Many architects feel that the civil engineer is the hardest one to get onboard with green buildings or that they contribute the least among the design team toward a LEED project.  It shouldn’t be that way, civil engineers should be an enthusiastic and integrated contributor to the LEED process and the project is likely missing a lot of opportunities for true collaboration and integrated design. The credits that can benefit from the civil engineer’s input are: construction activity pollution prevention, site selection, development density and community connectivity, brownfield redevelopment,alternative transportation, site development, stormwater design,heat island effect, light pollution reduction, water efficient landscaping, innovative wastewater technologies,optimize energy performance ,construction waste management, recycled content, regional materials, innovation in design,and regional priority.

by Bob Faulhaber, PE, LEED AP, Founder/Owner of Faulhaber Engineering & Sustainability, LLC. Read his blog, The Green Civil Engineer. Follow him on Twitter @FESCONSULTING. Like him on Facebook. Connect with him on Linkedin.

“Crap, this fruitcake architect is trying to make me use these fru fru stormwater techniques so he can have his “green building“.  He just doesn’t understand that its more complicated than just putting some pervious pavement down and installing one of those raingarden things!” – unknown civil engineer.

[See The REAL Reason that Engineers Resist Going Green]

Does that sound like a civil engineer that you know?  Or maybe it sounds like you, if you’re a civil engineer.  I may be beating this to death, but I hear over and over again from architects that the civil engineer is the hardest one to get on board with green buildings or that they contribute the least among the design team toward a LEED project.  It shouldn’t be that way, civil engineers should be an enthusiastic and integrated contributer to the LEED process.

There are several ratings systems under the LEED umbrella now, but for the purpose of this post I am going to use the New Construction and Major Renovations (NC) system.  It’s the most used and chances are if you are involved with a project, it will be under that system.  I often hear – “oh, you’re the civil engineer, we need you for the stormwater credits (2 pts).”  If that’s the civil engineer’s only input on a LEED project you’re missing a lot of opportunities for true collaboration and integrated design.  Civil engineers have the opportunity to provide input on 46 or more of the 110 possible points.  26 of those points are in the Sustainable Sites category and the rest are spread throughout the remaining categories.  Below is list of the credits that I believe benefit from the civil engineer’s input, including a brief description of the practices and value that the civil engineer can provide.

Sustainable Sites

  • Prerequisite 1 – Construction Activity Pollution Prevention – This one is pretty obvious, even if the local regulations don’t require you to do so, you should always be implementing erosion and sediment control plans in compliance with the construction general permit.
  • Credit 1 – Site Selection (1 pt) – Although its often not the case, civil engineers should always be a part of the site selection process.  Even beyond the LEED credits, a civil engineers input can often save money, time and headaches.
  • Credit 2 – Development Density and Community Connectivity (5 pts) – Again, this comes down to the civil engineer being a part of the site selection process.
  • Credit 3 – Brownfield Redevelopment (1 pt) – Civil engineers can be an integral part of the site rehabilitation process and can help to explain the pros and cons of developing a brownfield site and remove some of the uncertainty and fear in selecting such a site.
  • Credit 4.1-4.4 – Alternative Transportation (12 pts) – Transportation is what civil engineers do, so their involvement in this credit should be implied.  By providing for public transportation access in the form of site selection or creating new infrastructure, making traveling by bike more appealing, providing infrastructure and parking for low emitting vehicles and keeping parking lot sizes to their minimums, civil engineers can have a tremendous impact on the environmental footprint of a project.
  • Credit 5.1-5.2 – Site Development (2 pts) – Protecting habitat area and maximizing open spaces can be accomplished with creative and efficient grading plans and site layouts, both of which should be designed by or with input from the civil engineer.
  • Credit 6.1-6.2 – Stormwater Design (2 pts) – This is the typical, give to the civil engineer credit, so the civil engineer’s involvement is usually assumed.  The stormwater controls must address quantity and quality to standards that often exceed local standards.  To meet these requirements, the civil engineer should think out side the box and implement innovative best management practices such as bio-swales, raingardens, etc.
  • Credit 7.1-7.2 – Heat Island Effect (2 pts) – Civil engineers can help achieve these points for both roof and non-roof credits by recommending appropriate hardscape materials, providing shade from landscaping (new or existing), or assisting with greenroof specification and design.
  • Credit 8 – Light Pollution Reduction (1 pt) – Although the responsibility for this credit falls primarily on the electrical engineer or lighting designer, civil engineers should participate with site light locations, limits of site areas that require artificial light, etc.
Water Efficiency
  • Credit 1 – Water Efficient Landscaping (4 pts) – Civil engineers can assist with eliminating potable water use for landscaping by recommending and designing rainwater catchment systems, wastewater treatment systems for use in irrigation, and designing stormwater management controls (such as raingardens) that divert stormwater to landscape areas and provide for landscape water needs.
  • Credit 2 – Innovative Wastewater Technologies (2 pts) –  Civil engineers can accomplish this credit through option 2 by designing on-site wastewater treatment systems that treat 50% of wastewater to tertiary standards.
Energy and Atmosphere
  • Credit 1 – Optimize Energy Performance (7 pts) – There are 19 available points in this category, but civil engineers can help achieve up to 7 or more by participating in the site design process.  Building siting and orientation on the site can achieve 25% or more in energy savings and civil engineers can contribute by assisting architects, landscape architects and other engineers with creative and innovative site layout options.
Materials and Resources
  • Credit 2 – Construction Waste Management (1 pt) – If the project is on a redeveloped site or other site with existing pavement and/or concrete, civil engineers can write specifications allowing the reuse of the demolished concrete and asphalt in aggregate base, concrete mixes or asphalt mixes.  Doing this reduces raw material use and reduces the amount of waste that must go to a landfill.
  • Credit 4 – Recycled Content (1 pt) – Civil engineers can contribute to the amount of recycled content used on a project by specifying fly ash replacement in site concrete, recycled asphalt pavement, recycled aggregate base and site appurtenances.
  • Credit 5 – Regional Materials (1 pt) – The largest ingredient in both asphalt and concrete is the aggregate, which is almost always meets the regional materials requirements of LEED.  While it is usually a small portion of the cost on a project, it can still contribute to the total nonetheless.
Innovation in Design
  • Credit 1 – Innovation in Design (2 pts) – Everyone on the design team should be trying to achieve innovation in design credits.  The ID credit was established by the USGBC to reward innovative design  and construction strategies that are not specifically accounted for the in the rating system.  4 points are possible in this credit and civil engineers should be able to provide valuable input on 2 or more of those potential points.
Regional Priority
  • Credit 1 – Regional Priority (2 pts) – Regional priority credits obviously vary by region, and a total of 4 points are possible.  Civil engineers should be able to provide valuable input on 2 or more of those potential points.
I think that civil engineers as a whole are missing opportunities to be an integral part of the LEED process, which is not smart.  Whether you are a civil engineer or another team member involved with a LEED project I would encourage you to look at the whole process and not limit yourself to a few credits.  In my opinion one of the most important parts of the LEED or green building process is the integrated design process, which hopefully solicits input from the entire team on all aspects of the project design and construction.

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© 2011, Bob Faulhaber. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Bob Faulhaber (8 Articles)

  • Tom Brantley

    I’m a licensed civil engineer who is employed to manage buildings and building construction for a large municipal county government and actually find this article pretty comical! It seems to espouse a general lack of understanding for local land development regulations, the adherance to longstanding and inflexible transportation standards at the Federal/state/local levels, along with local/state/regional environmental permitting regulations that exist throughout the country. These are perhaps noteworthy impediments standing in way against what is claimed as being a “civil engineers perceived lack of desire to get on board with LEED,” which is an unfounded comment! Simple fact is, that the government regulators just seem to have taken all ability to innovate away from the site-civil CE’s through various codes and standards that are employed today, so that engineering science is relegated to mere “cookbook” approach. In this way, the regulators can place their non-professional reviewers on an even keel with design professionals and basically just tell them all what to do, and in process of this innovation gets stifled. But if this were not so, I agree and believe that — CE’s would indeed be excellent choices for LEED tasks — within many of the same areas as enumerated by author. However, one other failure that I’ve routinely witnessed upon projects is an architect’s incorrect assignment of what are predominantly stormwater issues (CE tasks) to their other subconsultants, which tends to be the MEP professionals. The MEP’s are just not schooled in elements of CE field, nor do they realy understand things such as hydrology, water collection, storage, etc., as needed to be able to pull the LEED water credits off in a way that does not endanger the building envelope, property, and possibly fails to protect the public’s health, safety & welfare. Until which time that architects understand they are not the sole custodians of LEED, and that other factors (regulations, codes & standards just to name a few) are instilling obstacles against desired innovation by other members of design team, then I think LEED will remain limited as to what it both could and should possibly be allowed to become in specified areas. What really needs to occur if LEED is the desired platform that everyone needs to follow, is for the professionals to join forces to revolutionize government by retiring some of the outdated and restrictive codes & standards, thereby allowing engineers to do what we have been trained to do, which is to be able to apply available technologies as solutions to current society problems (aka, innovate)!

    • http://www.fesconsulting.com Bob Faulhaber

      Tom – I appreciate your comments, however, I disagree with you on a number of fronts. First of all I write my blogs based on personal experience and knowledge and what I have seen is that civil engineers are the most hesitant to adopt and buy into the LEED standards. I also know that as a percentage of total engineers that are Accredited Professionals (AP) civil engineers are far behind mechanical engineers for instance. So to say that my comments are unfounded is untrue. And while I agree that many federal/state/local regulations make it difficult to innovate and implement LEED standards I don’t think that we as civil engineers should use that as our excuse for not participating in a meaningful way. It simply makes it more challenging for us to do so. I also disagree with blaming the architects for mis-allocating credits to the wrong specialties. Again, I believe that it is our challenge and responsibility to educate other building and design professionals about our value in the process. I have lead the LEED process my self on projects and was able to communicate that to team members. I have also had some personal success in working with code officials to allow unconventional engineering solutions by educating them on the science and reasoning behind the approaches.

      Ultimately, I agree that many government standards around the county are inflexible and outdated and pose a significant roadblock to sustainable site design, but to transfer all of the responsibility for lack of innovation to those entities is, I believe, a cop out.

  • daniel maris

    In my experience civil engineers do tend to be somewhat sceptical of green solutions. I think the reason is that they are very much in tune with the issue of upfront cost-control, whereas green solutions often require great upfront costs that then get covered over a number of years. This is certainly true of green energy solutions, improved insulation and so on.

    • http://www.fesconsulting.com Bob Faulhaber

      Daniel – I agree that the increased cost perception is certainly a primary reason for not adopting green design principals. However, on the civil engineering end many of the green design solutions are first cost neutral or less expensive. And for those that are not I think that we all need to do a better job of explaining the benefits of life cycle cost analysis rather than just first cost. That argument, however, is a very difficult one to make to many people with the state of the economy and the financing environment.