Canadian Consulting Engineer

The greening of government by quality engineering

For almost a year now federal government departments have been charged with the responsibility of introducing policies and procedures that support the practice of sustainable development within their ...

January 1, 2001  By Timothy I. Page President, ACEC

For almost a year now federal government departments have been charged with the responsibility of introducing policies and procedures that support the practice of sustainable development within their departments and agencies. This approach is designed to apply to the government’s contracting practices with external goods and services providers, as well as to its own internal operations. In response, some federal departments are talking about the introduction of “points for sustainability” in the evaluation process of its external contracts.

FIDIC’s recently released strategy paper on “Sustainable Development in the Consulting Engineering Industry” contains good advice for the federal government on how it can better achieve its sustainability objectives through a more effective use of its own procurement process. The federal government’s objectives and the FIDIC strategy paper provide ACEC with an opportunity to reiterate our long-standing positions on how to improve federal procurement procedures.

For instance, the FIDIC paper talks about the need for our industry to contribute to sustainable business solutions by developing new technologies and management practices to improve the eco-efficiency of projects. ACEC has been lobbying the federal government to encourage technical and management innovation within our industry by discouraging the retention of our services based on price. We know that if technical evaluations all receive roughly the same ratings, then price is going to play a determining factor.

The FIDIC paper also underlines the importance of life-cycle costing as a cornerstone of achieving sustainable project or program results. ACEC has been lobbying the federal government to retain its professional service providers based on best value. Best value means the best available outcomes when all relevant costs and benefits over the life of the project are considered. Let me give you an example. Design fees represent let’s say 2% of the life-cycle cost of a building while construction and operating costs are in the order of 80% of the life cycle cost. A variation of 20% in the design fee equates to a change in the life cycle cost of about 0.4%. An additional fee of this order could be the difference between an ordinary design and one that reduces the life cycle cost by 5%-10% or more in energy savings and other operating efficiencies.

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The FIDIC paper also recommends that consulting engineers participate at the earliest stages of a project or program’s development to maximize our professional role in addressing sustainable outcomes. And it introduces the idea of “sustainability impact assessments” as an element in the decision-making process — an element that would logically be provided by our industry.

ACEC’s message to the federal government is consistent with these suggestions — sustainability ultimately depends on the soundness of the initial decision on an investment when all relevant factors are considered. A real asset to our clients is the engineer’s assistance from the conceptual stage forward on all aspects of the project, including life-cycle costing, an issue with which contractors are not typically concerned. The design engineer is looking for the optimal way of using materials, technology, designs, equipment etc. to meet a functional requirement while providing savings over the life of the equipment or property.

ACEC believes that a procurement process that encourages price competition is counter-intuitive to sustainability. We have argued that the best way to promote sustainable procurement practices would be to eliminate price as a variable in the selection process of design professionals. We will continue to advocate on these issues because they are not only good for our clients but they are also appropriate remedies to address the government’s objectives on sustainable development.

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