Canadian Society for Civil Engineering

Bringing Canada’s infrastructure industry into the 21st century

Founded in 1887 by prominent civil engineers, the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE) is a learned society created to develop and maintain high standards of civil engineering practice in Canada and to enhance the public image of the civil engineering profession. While the association provides its members with services and benefits, including specialized programs for student and young professionals, it is also taking a leadership role to ensure that Canadian infrastructure maintains the highest levels of sustainability.

With approximately 5,000 members in regions across Canada, the CSCE is committed to growing and developing its members professionally through technical courses, seminars and soft skills training. It holds national lecture tours where well-known civil engineers speak on important topics. Members also have the option to be part of specific technical subfields, including environmental, mechanics and materials, structures, hydro-technical, cold regions, transportation and construction engineering. Group members meet on a regular basis and discuss issues relevant to their areas of expertise in many of Canada’s cities. In addition, CSCE publishes a magazine, “Canadian Civil Engineer”, five times a year, a monthly e-bulletin and president’s e-letter, including various technical publications.

CSCE strives to inform the public about the important role civil engineering plays in society. It acts as voice for its civil engineering professionals, many of whom play important roles in Canada’s infrastructure industry. In 2012, CSCE was a key player in the development of Canada’s first-of-its-kind infrastructure report card which analyzed the state of our country’s infrastructure. CSCE has maintained this leadership role in the public discussion and understanding of the state of Canada’s infrastructure.

The Canadian Business Journal recently spoke with President Tony Bégin and Executive Director Doug Salloum about the CSCE’s role and its leadership in driving sustainable infrastructure in Canada.

What is a civil engineer?

Civil engineering is considered to be the broadest engineering disciplines. It deals with planning, designing, constructing and maintaining sustainable infrastructure. The profession includes several specialized areas including, engineering materials, structural, geotechnical, construction and management, transportation and environment and water resources engineering.

“Civil engineers are responsible for the essential infrastructure that provides our quality of life. That’s a huge statement,” says Salloum. “But when you think about it, all of water systems are designed, built and maintained by civil engineers. All of road systems, all of our buildings, all our major structures. The efforts of civil engineers make it possible to get from place to place safely, to having drinking water that is safe to drink, to being able to heat the buildings we live in. All of these things are products of one or more disciples of civil engineering.”

Driving sustainable infrastructure

To be sustainable, infrastructure must be both well-designed and contribute long-lasting value to society. Salloum explains that infrastructure fails for one or two reasons. “It fails because it wasn’t built right, or because it wasn’t the right thing to build,” he says. “If something is built cheaply, it won’t last, and by cheaply, I mean that the full lifecycle cost is not considered.”

“If when making infrastructure decisions, you decide to build the lowest cost option, you will probably run into trouble when it comes to maintenance and longevity,” he continues. “It’s a common problem for politicians. They believe they should be making responsible decisions on infrastructure and they often think that is the lowest capital cost option.”

Salloum points to Montreal’s Champlain Bridge as an example of infrastructure that was designed and built poorly. After five decades, the bridge has started to deteriorate to the point of collapse. Infrastructure like this is something CSCE is hoping to avoid in the future.

To ensure infrastructure is sustainable, the American Society of Civil Engineers and several partner organizations developed a rating system called Envision® in 2010 to rate projects from design through construction and maintenance. The rating system is used to set and achieve sustainability goals, adopt and implement effectively sustainable choices, and help set standards for others to follow. While no such infrastructure rating system exists in Canada the CSCE is working with a number of partners to convert the Envision® template to use in Canada.

In fact, the CSCE predicts that a sustainability assessment such as Envision will replace the basic environmental impact assessment process typically applied in Canada. “If you go back 30 years ago, there was no environmental assessment when building something new. Nowadays you can’t skip that step,” Bégin explains. “What we foresee is that in the near future the environmental assessment will become part of a larger sustainability assessment. And the key advisors in this process will be civil engineers. They will guide the process to ensure we build infrastructure right and we build the right infrastructure.”

Envision certification in Ontario

The Grand Bend Area Wastewater Treatment Facility in Ontario recently earned the Envision® sustainable infrastructure rating system’s Platinum award. This project is the first Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI) Envision certification in Canada, and the first wastewater facility to be ISI Envision-verified in North America.

For the project, the municipalities of Lambton Shores and South Huron commissioned global design firm Stantec to convert one of four existing lagoons into an extended aeration mechanical treatment facility and wetland nature reserve. The facility prevents effluent discharges from adversely impacting surface and groundwater quality and allows for responsible community development. Stantec used the ISI Envision framework during the design to integrate sustainable features throughout the facility.

The key sustainable features include a constructed wetland to support native wildlife species and further buffer treated effluent, flexible design that makes the facility responsive to changing sewage flows, reduced construction and operational costs through a focus on efficiency, constructing the project within the boundaries of the original facility’s footprint to protect prime farmland, and trails and interpretive signage to encourage community visitors.

New infrastructure report card

In 2012, the CSCE joined the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Public Works Association and the Canadian Construction Association to launch the first Canadian Infrastructure Report Card. The second edition of the report card released January 18, 2016 assessed Canada’s municipal infrastructure systems, including the roads, bridges, water, wastewater, storm water, public transit, buildings and recreation facilities.

The second report card determined that Canada’s infrastructure systems are not sustainable because they have not been engineered to be. The CSCE contends that the current infrastructure has been engineered to be cheaper or faster to construct. The CSCE says civil engineers have the ability to turn our infrastructure challenges into an opportunity – to bring innovation into the next generation of infrastructure systems that will support our future society. CSCE is well positioned to provide the leadership required to bring to bear the competencies of the different areas that need to work together to build the next generation of infrastructure systems: academia, government and the private sector in the disciplines of engineering, public policy and finance.

“The Canadian Society for Civil Engineering is proud to have, once again, played a leadership role in the development of this fact-based Report about the condition of infrastructure systems across Canada. The second edition of the Canadian Infrastructure Report Card clearly demonstrates the need for immediate actions and for a new emphasis on the sustainability of our infrastructure systems,” Bégin said in a recent press release.