SoN 2021: how civil engineers can get involved

This year’s ICE State of the Nation report will explore how civil engineers can influence the public and reduce the carbon emissions from our infrastructure in use. Mark Hansford explains how to take part.

How can civil engineers encourage end users to use low carbon infrastructure, such as the city tram in Birmingham? Image credit: Shutterstock
How can civil engineers encourage end users to use low carbon infrastructure, such as the city tram in Birmingham? Image credit: Shutterstock
  • Updated: 16 June, 2021
  • Author: Mark Hansford, ICE Director of Engineering Knowledge

This year’s ICE State of the Nation (SoN) evidence-gathering activities and report will build on SoN 2020’s recommendations by exploring how we civil engineers can change the way the public interact with infrastructure to reduce in-use carbon emissions.

This move builds on research published by ICE’s Carbon Project last autumn which shows that infrastructure still accounts for more than half of the UK’s carbon footprint, with 13% under our direct control (through capital and operational carbon associated with the construction, operation and maintenance of infrastructure assets) and a huge 41% under our influence.

These startling figures highlight that while it's clearly important for civil engineers to continue the drive to reduce capital and operational carbon (and through 2021 and 2022 the Carbon Project will be very much focused on that), we must also embrace the opportunity to tackle the in-use carbon under our influence – by persuading others (mainly the public) to use infrastructure differently.


ICE has published an annual SoN report since 2002, traditionally to stimulate debate and highlight the actions ICE believes are needed to improve the UK’s infrastructure services.

Often these actions have been directed at government, but this year is different. The ICE is keen that we, as civil engineers, take ownership of the challenge and look more inwardly at what we can do to help government in its quest to deliver a net zero UK by 2050.

This year’s report will explore where the biggest wins are, and how the civil engineering community might need to change its own behaviors to better influence the public’s. The report will be best practice-led and ICE is seeking to build a bank of great case studies that show how these behavioural changes can be made.

So how can you help?

Throughout the summer, the knowledge team will be working with ICE regions and with our community advisory boards to hold a series of online workshops to harvest regional expertise and perspectives into this landmark project.

We are seeking a broad diversity of thought, so we are keen for members of all grades across all areas, particularly those working directly in carbon reduction in their region, to sign up for the regional workshops.

ICE’s members are both creators of our infrastructure systems and users of them and thus have two valuable perspectives to offer. As infrastructure users we are keen to hear how you may have changed your own behaviour to choose lower carbon options – and what persuaded you to make the change.

Was it a clever, subtle civil engineering intervention? And what types of things are effective at influencing you, and what doesn’t work for you?

Then, as a civil engineer, what could you do to encourage end users to choose lower carbon options? We are looking for examples from every type of infrastructure – transport, water, energy, waste, structures, flood & coastal management.

Crucially, what (if anything) would have to change for civil engineers to have more influence on the choices end users make?

Look out for the workshop in your region and do get involved – we want to hear your thoughts!

If you have a great case study to share please sign up to your regional workshop or share with the knowledge team direct via [email protected]

The first regional event takes place with ICE South West on 10 June.

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