Toward Sustainable Development: Quantifying Environmental Impact via Embodied Energy and CO2 Emissions for Geotechnical Construction

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Virginia Tech


With rising awareness that future generations may not have access to the resources and quality of life that exist today, sustainable development has become a priority within civil engineering. One important component of sustainable development is environmental stewardship, which concerns both the resources taken from the environment, and the wastes and byproducts emitted to the environment. To facilitate more sustainable development, environmental accounting is necessary within civil and geotechnical engineering design and construction. Historically, geotechnical practice has focused on maximizing design performance while minimizing monetary costs, and well established methods exist for quantifying these factors. Quantitative consideration of environmental consequences has seldom played a large role in geotechnical design and construction, and clear guidelines and a methodology for such an assessment are not available within the geotechnical profession. Therefore, this research has focused on establishing a method for quantitative streamlined environmental Life Cycle Analysis of energy and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for geotechnical ground improvement works, known as the Streamlined Energy and Emissions Assessment Model (SEEAM). The boundaries for the SEEAM extend from raw material extraction through the completion of construction, including the energy and CO2 emissions associated with construction materials, construction site operations, and the transportation of construction materials and wastes. The methodology relies on energy and CO2 emissions coefficients, which represent typical industry average values and not necessarily the specific processes contributing to a project. Therefore, there is uncertainty in SEEAM analyses, which is addressed via a Monte Carlo simulation framework that assumes the energy and CO2 emissions coefficients each follow a lognormal distribution. Data sets of total energy and CO2 emissions generated by the Monte Carlo simulation framework with the SEEAM may be used to statistically compare the energy and CO2 emissions of different geotechnical design alternatives. Such comparisons can help facilitate designing for minimum environmental consequences, thus advancing sustainable development within geotechnical engineering. For clarity, the development and application of the SEEAM is illustrated using two different geotechnical case history projects, including rehabilitation of levee LPV 111 in New Orleans, LA, and the construction of foundations for a replacement dormitory on the Virginia Tech campus.



Sustainable Development, Geotechnical Engineering, Ground Improvement, Life Cycle Analysis, Embodied Energy, CO2 Emissions, Uncertainty