Understanding our role in sustainability: A civil engineer’s perspective

Civil infrastructure can be thought of as the building blocks of society – from the roads we drive on to the pipes that deliver clean water to our home. As the builders and stewards of infrastructure, civil engineers play a unique role in establishing a sustainable society built for the future.

One of my favorite parts of being a civil engineer is seeing my projects in the communities they serve. Every time I drive past one of the lakes in my city, I think of how my colleagues and I addressed the design of the dam controls and how, even in a small way, my contribution helped the city not only control water flows, but also provide a community space where people can go boating, walk along the path and enjoy the outdoors.

As civil engineers, we have a unique ability to shape the world around us. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers has recognized our critical role in its Public Policy Statement 418: The Role of Civil Engineer in Sustainable Development. We have a leading role in “planning, designing, building and ensuring a sustainable future by providing the bridge between science and society.”

It’s inspiring! But it can also feel daunting. We have a professional role in making sustainability real to others. Like many of my colleagues, I became interested in Arcadis specifically because of its approach to sustainability, both in the breadth and depth of its solutions for clients and the values it holds. Arcadis’ vision is improving quality of life wherever we live, work or play, and its core values are people first, integrity, client success, collaboration and sustainability.

As the Sustainability Community of Practice Lead at Arcadis North America, I’m passionate about communicating all the work we do to promote sustainability. I connect and collaborate regularly with a variety of subject matter experts (from coastal resiliency to product stewardship to sustainability reporting and disclosure) across the United States and globally to focus on providing clarity and insights around the environmental and social aspects of sustainability.


Demand for solutions that preserve and protect natural resources has never been greater. Rising sea levels and the scarcity of clean water are critical issues around the world. Regarding built and natural infrastructure, it is critical to integrate sustainability across the project life cycle to meet environmental objectives, such as:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints
  • Build more resilient communities and industries
  • Use water resources more efficiently
  • Ensure environmental compliance
  • Design environmentally efficient buildings
  • Incorporate green infrastructure, and more

Applying sustainability across the project life cycle often coincides with opportunities to increase efficiency and reduce costs. For example, we work with industrial organizations to audit and identify where they can reduce water usage through our Water Kaizen BlitzTM method. We also partner with the government of Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Chile by designing a sustainable waste management program.

In addition to our client work, Arcadis is committed to managing our own company operations in a responsible manner. We measure and track our impact through the use of ISO 14001 and ISO 50001. Across all our regions, we are working to improve the quality of the data we collect on our operations (no small feat when you operate more than 350 offices across 40 countries), set increasingly strict environmental targets and maintain consistent governance.


Organizations must focus on recruiting and retaining talent by providing equal opportunities for professional development, prioritizing health and safety, offering a diverse and inclusive workplace, and cultivating a culture of innovation.

Arcadis North America’s goal is to be the employer of choice and cultivate a culture where all our people can grow, perform and succeed. As a part of our corporate social responsibility, we launched our first Pro Bono Program in 2018 to give employees the opportunity to nominate a project where we could bring the full force of our exceptional people and services to a community or organization free of cost. Our regional leadership team chose two projects, in Detroit and Los Angeles, and the initiative has been such a success that it will continue in 2019.

From North America’s first energy-neutral wastewater treatment plant to sustainable land remediation and coastal resiliency, as civil engineers, our employees are given the opportunity to work on incredible projects.

Sustainability is a journey, one that is gaining momentum as more and more people accept the challenge of living out their personal and professional values in a way that ensures future generations will have the resources they need to live full, meaningful lives. Our employees are integrating sustainability into their projects and their offices, seeking out training to be more aware of advances in the field, and getting involved in their communities through local projects, days of service and office-organized volunteer events. As a civil engineer at Arcadis, I’m inspired by my colleagues and eager to continue improving the quality of life in our communities with sustainable projects.

Melissa Darr

Sustainability Community of Practice Lead Ask me a question
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