photo of sustainable infrastructure

Now that ASCE has published ASCE/COS 73-23: Standard Practice for Sustainable Infrastructure, providing guidance for infrastructure owners to develop and implement sustainable solutions throughout a project’s entire life cycle, the focus turns to implementation.

How will agencies, owners, and civil engineers put the standard into practice?

“I think it’s a really important standard,” said Anthony Kane, ENV SP, A.M.ASCE, president and CEO of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. “With infrastructure, there are so many steps and levels along the way, and you really need to embed sustainability at every level.

“So I think ASCE 73 is a great policy-level document. Agencies can adopt it as policy, and that’s a great foundation or starting point.”

The non-mandatory, performance-based consensus standard is designed for civil infrastructure ranging from transportation projects to water systems and the energy grid.

The standard’s performance-based approach to sustainability is intended to:

  • Allow for implementing sustainability strategies on a project-by-project basis.
  • Involve the project owner in establishing the “triple bottom line.”
  • Facilitate the use of rating systems or other tools to measure the sustainability of the project.
  • Encourage creativity and innovation in the design and construction community.
  • Allow for optimizing any conflicting environmental, social, and economic requirements of the project.

The standard could be particularly effective for public agencies. 

“The city of Houston looks forward to integrating ASCE 73-23 in our projects as Houston moves towards a more sustainable future,” said Director of Houston Public Works Carol Haddock, P.E., M.ASCE.

“Most of these standards are already being used in our Resilient Houston and Houston’s Climate Action Plan. This framework will help us fill any gaps as we strengthen our infrastructure while reducing any major impacts to Houston’s environment.”

The standard complements existing ASCE standards and tools like the Envision rating system. The Envision 3.0 rating system for sustainable infrastructure can be used as a tool to measure achievement of sustainability goals. ISI, founded by ASCE in partnership with the American Council of Engineering Companies and the American Public Works Association, participated in ASCE 73’s development.

“Envision is a project tool. And ASCE 73 can work at the agency level as a policy for everything that they do,” Kane said. “When it comes to the actual projects and, ‘How do we implement ASCE 73?’ That’s where Envision can come in and really be helpful. Envision provides a little bit more specificity, project-level guidance. Then you can say, ‘Yes, we met ASCE 73 by executing it through the Envision criteria.”

Kane also sees ASCE 73, Envision, and the related sustainability initiatives as a key solution to the civil engineering workforce crisis.

“It’s very relevant. And it’s not just the younger generation. There was this element with COVID that it made everyone rethink, ‘What am I doing with my career? Am I working on the things that really make me happy?’” Kane said.

“We see a definite correlation between sustainability and people who want to know that their work has meaning and positive value. 

“I think civil engineering, in sort of a traditional older sense, didn’t have perhaps the best reputation for that. But this is really transforming the industry and profession, in my opinion, and demonstrating that civil engineering is the foundation for a sustainable future for the whole planet and society.

“We can’t have sustainability without infrastructure. So, giving these younger engineers the vision that they are going to be part of the solution is critical.”

ASCE/COS 73-23: Standard Practice for Sustainable Infrastructure is available as an eBook or hard copy online in the in the ASCE Bookstore, as well as at the ASCE INSPIRE 2023 Conference, Nov. 16-18 in Arlington, Virginia.