Sustainable Engineering Initiative (SEI)

Sustainability means living well, within the limits of a finite planet. There is abundant scientific evidence that humanity is living unsustainably. More than ever engineers need to find holistic and effective solutions to protect our vital life support systems and meet the social and economic needs of a growing human population at the same time. The big challenge is to find the right balance between social, environmental and economic sustainability.

Sustainable Engineering Initiative

In response to the challenges of climate change, financial uncertainty, urban population growth and endangered ecologies, a group of academic researchers and educators at the UNSW School of Civil and Environmental Engineering have formed the Sustainable Engineering Research Initiative.

The aims of the Sustainable Engineering Initiative are to:

  • explore, research, define, assess and resolve issues of sustainability in engineering problems, in particular the implications and implementation of sustainability concepts and practices for civil infrastructure – buildings, roads and transport, water supply, waste disposal – in the areas of planning, design, construction, operation and maintenance.
  • consider the interactions between technical, ecological, social and economic systems and avoid shifting problems from one area to the other. This means adopting concepts such as life cycle thinking, industrial ecology and sustainable systems engineering as important elements in research, education and work practice.
  • lead awareness and practice of sustainability principles within the civil and environmental engineering community of students, researchers, government and industry practitioners.
  • lead industry into a sustainability direction and inform and support corporate sustainability initiatives, asserting that sustainability practices are not an added cost for engineering professionals, but a business opportunity.

The main working areas of the Sustainable Engineering Initiative are:

The Sustainability Assessment Program provides research and consulting services to industry and government focusing on environmental footprint analysis, life cycle assessment and sustainable consumption and production. We develop sustainability assessment methods and tools for applications in areas such as low-carbon built environment, sustainable cities or sustainable products and processes.

In the Water Research Centre we provide multidisciplinary research in water resources, engineering, and environmental and risk management. Research topics include wastewater treatment, nutrient recovery solid and hazardous waste management, waste recycling and regional sustainability. We develop tools for environmental impact and risk assessment such as life cycle and material flux analysis.

Researchers at the UNSW Hydrology Group (website coming soon) develop the tools which are used to assess the sustainability of water use. The multidisciplinary team generates data on water demands, climate inputs and other hydrological parameters under current and presumed future scenarios.

The Sustainable Construction Program provides research and consulting services focused on achieving a balance between economic, environmental and social impacts of construction. We develop methods and tools for the assessment of sustainability in construction with a life cycle perspective, sustainability reporting, multi-objective optimisation of construction operations to improve sustainability, management of construction and demolition waste and automation in control of construction equipment and operations to reduce wastage of resources.

Carbon emissions due to the manufacture of Portland cement are second only to burning fossil fuels. The Centre for Infrastructure and Safety (CIES) carries out research activities related to the development of low carbon concrete technologies, namely geopolymer concrete. Geopolymer concrete is the result of the reaction of materials containing aluminosilicate, such as fly ash and slag, with alkalis to produce an inorganic polymer binder. Geopolymer binder can provide a reduction of embodied CO2 of up to 80% compared to Portland cement.

The sustainability of transport systems is being investigated at the Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation (rCITI). The Centre is focused on the development of computational tools for the quantified assessment of sustainable approaches and policies to transport management and operations that simultaneously consider technical, social, environmental and economic aspects. The Centre is also heavily involved in the development of algorithms and technologies to reduce emissions from transport systems. New alternative vehicle technologies, novel fuel sources and innovative techniques are being developed to deliver, alter and utilise energy/fuel more efficiently in the transport system.

The Australian Climate Change Adaptation Research Network for Settlements and Infrastructure (ACCARNSI) investigates the effects of climate change on natural, economic and social resources and generates the information needed by decision-makers in government and in vulnerable sectors and communities to manage the risks of climate change impacts and choose appropriate adaptation strategies.

Members of the Sustainable Engineering Research Initiative include:

All staff are welcome to join the Sustainable Engineering Research Initiative.

More information

Convenor: Associate Professor Tommy Wiedmann