A top U.S. engineer has called for building codes to include limits on carbon dioxide released by the production of construction materials to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. The call came at a London conference earlier this month on resilience and future cities organized by U.S., U.K. and Canadian civil engineers’ groups to coincide with the U.N. summit on climate change in Paris.

“Our codes should be based on more than high safety performance,” Mark Sarkisian, a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, said at the event. Algorithms developed by SOM calculate whole-life carbon emissions of buildings based on size, location, materials and design life, among other factors, he said. SOM’s efforts to curb emissions include specifying used plastic bottles as void formers in concrete floor slabs at a 27-floor San Francisco high-rise, due to open next spring. The recycling plan was technically viable, but “they couldn’t get the materials fast enough,” said Sarkisian.

While big planned investments in urbanization are “a great market” for engineers, traditional planning and design methods can’t keep pace with environmental changes, said Keith Clarke, vice chair of Future Cities Catapult Ltd. Noting that swollen rivers in north England this month topped new flood barriers by 0.5 meter, he suggested it was better to design for fast recovery from environmental damage than invest in larger defenses.

Engineers also should assume more leadership in shaping global infrastructure policies to avoid “policy by sound bite,” said Sir John Armitt, president of the U.K. Institution of Civil Engineers.

Clarke said climate change impacts must be made part of future engineers’ education. Not doing so is “the equivalent of not telling them about wind loading,” he noted.