r='ltr'> The Green Civil Engineer: The Green Brick Road - My Journey

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Green Brick Road - My Journey

Over the years I have been called a lot of things as a result of my passion for green - treehugger, hippie, liberal, greenie, unrealistic, etc. And I probably have a little of all of those things in me, but the truth is I am not really any of those. I believe that I am a forward thinking and pragmatic engineer who would rather be green than gray!

I wasn't always as interested in green buildings and sustainability as I am today. As a child and young adult I recycled, turned off lights and thought about the environment, but it was far from a driving force in my decision making or goals. I was always good at math and enjoyed figuring out how things worked so I decided to pursue an engineering degree when I started college. My course work and some job experience eventually led me to major in civil engineering. Unfortunately the course work did not include any courses on green design or really any mention of it at all in the coursework that I did take. Mostly what I learned was how to break down problems, think critically and find solutions. When I graduated with my undergraduate degree in civil engineering I decided to pursue a masters degree, which led me to Georgia Tech. At the time, Georgia Tech was already beginning to integrate sustainability and green design into some of the coursework and I even had a course that focused a great deal on sustainable design. It was in that class that I first learned about the USGBC (US Green Building Council) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). We even completed a team project that required us to design a community building that could be essentially self sustaining. The project was in central america where the infrastructure was not good so it was not uncommon to be without power and clean water so we made provisions for rain water capture, power generation etc. This was a building that was designed to be sustainable, not just green. It was that class that sparked my interest in sustainability, the USGBC and LEED.

When I graduate from Georgia Tech and went out into the work force I was ready to convince the world that building green was the only way to go. I thought people that couldn't see it were crazy and I figured if I beat them over the head enough with the stats and reasons for building and designing green it would finally be clear to them, like it was to me. It took me a while to learn that you can't force feed this stuff to people, but I did learn. Since those first years I have learned a lot. I have studied sustainability, green buildings, etc and my engineering education helped me to sift through the information and develop opinions and ideas about many facets of sustainability. What I have learned has shaped my beliefs about sustainability and how we can accomplish it in the built environment. Here are some of those lessons and beliefs.
  1. You can't force people to be "green" - You're more likely to turn people off rather than on to green if you try to force it down their throat. All you can do is educate people and present it to them in ways that are important and sensible to them and let each one make their own decisions. It finally worked with my wife!
  2. You can't do everything - Bill Clinton once said "You cannot do everything, but you must do something." Regardless of your opinion of Bill Clinton, I beleive that is a very wise statement. I used to try to learn everything about everything green, but it wasn't until I turned my focus to green buildings and specifically green civil engineering that I was able to really learn enough to make an impact. Too much information and too many things to do can overwhelm anyone.
  3. Money talks - I know that sounds cynical, and it is, but it is also the reality for most businesses and people. There are a limited number of business and people that are interested in sustainability just to be environmentally friendly. The most effective way to convince people is to show them that it makes business and financial sense. Fortunately, it almost always does so it shouldn't be a hard sell.
  4. Build Trust First -I integrate green design principals into pretty much all of the projects I work on. Most of the time I abandon the more traditional methods, especially for stormwater, and go with the sustainable options. The reason that I am able to do that isn't because all of my clients share my passion for green, many don't. What I have found is that if I earn their trust first I don't have to sell them on the ideas, they just accept my judgment and design because of that trust.
  5. Be Reasonable - You've go to be reasonable. Too many "environmentalists" are against any type of development or insist on such extreme measures that no one can afford to do it. That stance doesn't help anyone, businesses have to be able to make money in order for the process to be sustainable. As simple as it sounds, being reasonable is something that is often overlooked.
These are some of the experiences and lessons that have shaped my thoughts and outlook on sustainability and green design. I am sure that there will be plenty more lessons and experiences along the way as well. I'd love to hear about some of the lessons and experiences that you have had - please share them by commenting on this blog post or emailing me directly.


  1. Bob, I very much agree with the approach you lay out. I'm not an engineer, but a marketer, and I use a similar approach. In fact, I talk about these things in detail in my eighth book, Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet (co-authored with Jay Conrad Levinson), http://www.guerrillamarketinggoesgreen.com

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