Thursday, May 21, 2009

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH: Environmental Engineering - What is it's Purpose?

[ebook] Design for Environmental SustainabilityImage by Changhua Coast Conservation Action via Flickr

by Dominic Donaldson

Engineering consultants offer a variety of services to the domestic and commercial sector that involve design, planning and implementation of engineering projects. This can be as diverse as building a bridge over a small river to constructing a Trans-Atlantic pipeline for transporting natural gas.

Engineering consultants have previously specialised in understanding the technologies available to the construction industry to produce impressive feats of engineering; however, this is beginning to change as the emphasis on environmental engineering becomes more pronounced.

Environmental engineering consultants focus on the environmental impact a project will have on the local community, flora and fauna by conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment. This assessment establishes what species are in the area and the level of negative impact a project would have during construction, as well as highlighting the potential hazards associated with the type of development under consideration.

The assessment requires that mitigation procedures are put in place, especially for commercial industrial developments such as power stations or chemical manufacturers. If the project put forward by engineering consultants is deemed to have an insignificant environmental impact and the risk assessment includes adequate solutions for dealing with potential hazards, it is likely that the project will be allowed to go ahead.

A part of this requirement is for the construction to be energy efficient. This was brought about by the implementation of a European Union directive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Engineering consultants are able to give advice about using energy from sustainable sources for heating and lighting and can offer information on constructing buildings that do not need heating or air-conditioning.

By employing certain architectural methods and by using specific materials a building can be constructed to maintain a comfortable ambient temperature throughout the year. By using materials with a high thermal mass a building can absorb heat from the sun, and release it slowly with minimum external loss. This can work just as well in hot climates as it can in cooler ones, simply by adding thermal shades to minimise solar heat gain.

The skills of an environmental engineering consultant not only have to embrace knowledge about materials, it is essential that a deep understanding of the environment as a whole is demonstrated. Each aspect of construction has a potential knock-on effect that is not necessarily localised. Whether that is sourcing building materials from mines overseas or simply creating an access road to the construction site, the potential damage needs to be identified and steps taken to reduce any negative consequences.

Dom Donaldson is an environmental expert. Find out more about Engineering Consultants at

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