How can civil engineers add social value?

Once upon a time, the role of the civil engineer was to plan, design and oversee construction of new infrastructure projects. But with social value having always been at the heart of any infrastructure project, recent times have had civil engineers focusing even more on this aspect of their role.

How social value ties into infrastructure projects

While a new building, new transport system or new housing development might initially feel like it’s more about the infrastructure than anything else, all projects that are delivered are done so to meet a fundamental need in society. A new building may be used to meet educational requirements, a new transport system may provide more public transport to reduce carbon emissions and a new housing development may provide affordable homes for those from a low socio-economic background. The basic functionality of an infrastructure project is only the beginning though. They can also provide further social value to those in the communities they are created in, by generating jobs, providing opportunities for new businesses and to try and minimise inequalities in the community. While it’s useful to think about the social value that can be created by the actual completed infrastructure project itself, it’s certainly not the only stage of the process where this can be added. Social value can be produced at pretty much every stage of a project from concept to completion and with civil engineers overseeing every step of this, we’re asking how they can play their part in the process.

Choosing the right project

The first step in adding social value comes from what you build. Encouraging your client to research alternative solutions that may perhaps deliver more social value is the first step. Remember that it isn’t just about the vision they have for the design or the build, but what the structure will be used for and how it can integrate into its local surroundings. It may be that there are numerous ways to achieve what the client is looking to create, with some adding more social value than others.

How you build

The next stage in ensuring social value is created by a project is to think about how you build it. This isn’t limited to just the actual construction phase either, but throughout the entire creation of the infrastructure project. When considering how to add social value through the way you build something, you should think about a wide range of possible benefits including environmental ones (using more sustainable methods), and socio-economic ones (creating more jobs, recruiting apprentices, reducing negative impact on the local community).

Ingrain social value in your operations

Rather than to simply think about social value at one, or many, stages of a given project, it’s best practice to incorporate it into the very fabric of how you operate (as an engineer and as a business). By adopting a broad view of social value, you can begin to consider employment, apprenticeship opportunities, wellbeing, sustainability, and improving the lives of local people, far beyond the benefits that may initially spring to mind. And if civil engineers begin to operate this way, it won’t be long before all other infrastructure workers start to follow suit.


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