Orange County Branch Newsletter

February 2018

Sustainability Committee

The State of Sustainability 2017, Orange County

The State of Sustainability 2017,

Orange County


Welcome to American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE-OC) Sustainability Committee’s State of Sustainability 2017 Report - a comprehensive picture of how sustainability is being approached by a wide range of organizations and agencies in Orange County.

Our respondents told us that the great majority of firms and agencies are now convinced of sustainability’s value. The sustainability discipline has started to slowly escape from its silo and is becoming a vital aspect of strategic planning, engineering, construction and even operations and maintenance. This is especially true for public agencies that have the greatest reputational and operational risks as they build and operate long-lived infrastructure. In addition, the regulatory requirements in the State of California are forcing agencies and businesses to develop a strategy to minimize their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, promote healthy living, create green jobs, and contribute positively to socio-economic qualities of life.



Events in 2017 are likely to make it a crucial year for sustainability and environmental protection in United States due to changes in regulatory requirements and federal funding levels for projects with sustainability elements. This State of Sustainability 2017 report, therefore, comes at an important time. It tells us something about the level of preparedness of firms and agencies on a local level to rise to sustainability challenges.

In this respect it was encouraging that we found that:

  • Leaders and senior management in Orange County are increasingly persuaded of the value of sustainability.
  • Sustainability is becoming increasingly important as a strategic and tactical business concept to gain competitive advantages.
  • It is gaining momentum at all levels of corporate and municipal government.
  • Budgeting and spending for sustainability efforts is expected to increase in the coming years.
  • Sustainability is already driving business revenues directly or indirectly and it is becoming a key marketing theme.
  • Continued emphasis on the role of sustainability in healthy communities is a key to increased focus on sustainability.
  • Significant opportunities exist for firms in sustainable innovation, resource conservation and cross-industry collaboration.


However, we also found that:

  • Firms in OC are slowly beginning to understand that “sustainable” is more than a synonym for “green”.
  • The industry still finds it difficult to quantify the benefits of sustainability.
  • Sustainability is still perceived by many as an additional cost.
  • Many firms in OC do not have sustainability staff and will not bring one onboard unless there is a specific project requirement.
  • External consultants that help firms and agencies with advanced sustainability services are not easy to locate in OC.
  • Most of the professionals work in silos, and OC being spread out does not help, either.
  • Educational institutions need to develop programs that integrate sustainability in technical fields such as engineering and architecture.



Sustainability is emerging on the periphery of business issues as an important concern that is starting to reshape the rules of competition. Despite its simplicity, however, our findings indicate that sustainability is a concept people have a hard time wrapping their minds around, let alone succeeding in fully integrating into all aspects of their organization’s activities.

We see a myriad of opportunities for sustainability in the coming years. However, to tap into them we need to invest in developing skill sets, foster multidisciplinary learning and sharing settings, and earmark adequate financial resources. Recommendations that will promote the further adoption of sustainability efforts and programs in OC are:

  1. Showcase successful case studies of best practices and lessons learned.
  2. Focus more on education and effective communication. Increase awareness of sustainability; work in a collaborative, multi-disciplinary/multi-functional way; and work with multiple stakeholders to maximize returns on investment.  
  3. Conduct cost/benefit analyses on projects, including identifying tangible returns on investment to drive increased internal investment.
  4. Inform clients and owners of the tangible and intangible values of sustainability in the short and long terms to include well-being and health benefits.
  5. Educate organizational leaders on why it's important to be sustainable even when it may appear to cost more now, but will actually be far cheaper in consideration of total life cycle risks and costs. 

Our broad conclusion is that firms and agencies in OC are making progress in incorporating sustainability into their strategies and business practices even though it is still mostly driven by external factors such as legal mandates and client requirements. However, there is still a huge amount to do in moving from theory to practice by fully operationalizing sustainability through an understanding of its business case and impacts on overall organizational performance. There is a need for challenging the status quo with open mindedness to solve some of the 21st Century challenges. This can best be done by, leveraging multidisciplinary approaches to constantly look for synergies and win-win opportunities. Grappling with these issues will be the key challenge in the years ahead!

Full report can be downloaded Here

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