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Brown Future

Consultants like White Young Green are adopting a more holistic approach to the ground engineering services they offer.

The future is brown, at least according to White Young Green regional director Adam Marshall.

The growing trend for development on brownfield sites will play a crucial role in the ongoing evolution of geotechnics and this requires joined-up thinking on the part of geotechnics professionals.

"We are taking an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to ground engineering," said Marshall.

At WYG, "ground engineering" covers three areas – design, site investigation and contaminants – which have traditionally tended to be separate but factors such as rising costs in the development of brownfield sites, have necessitated a rethink.

"Government initiatives priviledging brownfield development over greenfield; a tightening of waste regulations and more stringent environmental risk assessment and the rising costs that go with them have all prompted the adoption of a more holistic ethos in geotechnics," says Marshall. Previously, geotechnical investigation of underground structures was usually conducted in isolation from an investigation to determine the presence and nature of contaminants even though both would be carried out using largely the same equipment. With these two disciplines working together more closely and pooling their resources at the investigation stage, a more cost-effective approach is ensured.

WYG's approach however seems rather more far-reaching than the cost-cutting achieved by combining site visits. What is being aimed for is a real hybridisation of disciplines according to Marshall.

"Geo-environmentalism is a term that is being used increasingly to describe this mix of skills," said Marshall. "We want to provide a one-stop-shop for our clients," he added. But while the consultant is keen to train and hold onto multi-skilled engineers, Marshall is does not see this as creating a firm of jacks of all trades and master of none.

"We want our engineers to have a strong speciality in one area and good degree of competency in other disciplines but we still have skills leaders in each discipline, that notwithstanding."

In a profession notoriously suffering the vagaries of a skills shortage, training engineers with more than one string to their bow makes a good deal of sense.

Marshall feels that the challenge of rising costs in the burgeoning field of brownfield development will need to be met.

This in effect means more sustainability and working towards the aim of increasing the number of zero-waste sites which will undoubtedly require more innovation in the areas of soil clean-up and treatment.

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