Amber Ganapathy

Scholarship Status: Awarded
Scholarship Awarded: Geotechnical Scholarship
University: University of California, Irvine
Date of Graduation: June 2018


Code-based geotechnical engineering is inherently unsustainable. It is resource intensive (materials and technology), it often involves designs with factors of safety exceeding any safety factor used in other engineering disciplines (e.g. structural engineering), and can potentially be destructive to the ecosystem due to excessive land usage for development. Yet, geotechnical engineering is essential to any successful structure and infrastructure construction, and an integral design component of the amazing design and building process we have today. My vision for the future of geotechnical engineering is for it to be more sustainable. I think that there are ways we can improve the geotechnical engineering practice in California if we focus on systematically changing our design procedures, our material usage, our construction methods and technologies – all starting with effective geotechnical education in the context of sustainability. Recent natural disasters proofed the need for infrastructure resilience and strong, sustainable designs. As civil engineers, it is our responsibility to protect life and property, from residential /commercial structures to high level infrastructure and energy systems; both being subject to daily demands of dead and live loads as well as intense natural hazard events. Sustainability starts a mindset and follows up with design. I believe that a shift of geotechnical design and analysis towards performance based and risk-informed design should be a next step in our profession. Based on my understanding, this concept is common in structural engineering but has not been fully adopted in geotechnical engineering yet. Performance based design frameworks are used in geotechnical earthquake engineering, but not common in other areas, such as foundation engineering. However, performance based frameworks have the ability to explore new sustainable materials (e.g., carbon footprint reduced materials – green concrete, high strength materials, alternative reinforcement) and integrate innovative instrumentation technologies and permanent monitoring. The advantage is two-fold: (1) Using alternative materials can help reduce the strain on resources and reduce our contribution to climate change, and (2) advanced technologies such as permanent monitoring will enable engineers to more easily recommend repairs or replacement of damaged infrastructure components. During my time as an undergraduate student, I have had limited exposure any literature on sustainable geotechnical engineering, let alone initiatives that highlight alternative materials, methods and tools. Going into the future, this is a topic that is worth addressing to improve upon the current state of geotechnical design. As a college student studying civil engineering, sustainability is not something I am unfamiliar with. We learn about initiatives such as LEED and Envision Sustainability Professional certifications. However, the problem is the limited exposure I mentioned earlier. Sustainable design and awareness of certification programs are not explicitly taught to students in school. I have never had a class on sustainable design and am not aware that other schools require similar classes as part of their curriculum. Furthermore, the sustainability considerations we usually see have less to do with the geotechnical stages of construction and more to do with structure’s building materials and function post-construction. Geotechnical engineering is literally at the foundation of everything (pun intended), so sustainability efforts in the geotechnical stages of construction could really go a long way in terms of conserving resources. In summary, the two things I believe are needed to improve the sustainability of geotechnical design are: (1) education and mind-set, and (2) a shift in our practice to incorporate performance based designs with energy conserving materials and technological inventions. By educating geotechnical engineers about sustainable materials and methods, starting at the University level, we create advocates in our own profession. Second, stimulating discussion on alternative design procedures will enable a general shift in our practice that will allow for better use of our resources and materials that can be used in place of their traditional counterparts. I hope that following my graduation from UCI, I can help embed sustainability into the geotechnical field and become an advocate for environmental friendly and cost-efficient solutions in practice.


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