The concept of "environmental constraints" has been broadly used in the biological literature, but there are meaningful reasons to extend it to non-living materials such as rocks. In essence, it concerns the environmental limitations confronting contemporary Engineering practice in the domain of Rock Mechanics, namely in the mining, petroleum, construction and environment sectors. There is a consensus on the need for new approaches in the design, operation and decommissioning of workings made on, or within, rock masses, so nowadays geologists, engineers, designers, constructors, operators and others involved with geomechanical projects must be prepared to accept, to understand and to implement environmental protection standards, in order to proceed with their endeavors. Furthermore, they must learn how to profit from obeying environmental rules, not only in economic terms, but also using innovation for helping their projects to succeed under the sustainable development principles. Thus, several innovative technologies are briefly presented. This approach is essential in the global competition world we are living and will be living on.
Nowadays, because of the large costs of most engineering works and the expenses of rehabilitation, it is becoming essential to design and build them with balanced criteria of optimization in the domains of safety, economy and environmental quality. As far as the last one is concerned, for improving the effectiveness of planning by providing objective information related to the effects on the environment of a project or course of action is the purpose of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) that are to be performed in all relevant engineering workings. This involves data gathering relevant to environmental impact prediction so that design solutions may be developed as a result of interactions between the environment and project characteristics. In general, environmental evaluation must include comparative analyses of reasonable alternatives, so the corresponding plans should be analyzed in order that benefits and costs of each one may be fully evaluated. The diagram of Fig. 1 summarizes the main phases involved in the EIA of a typical engineering project, which is a remarkable planning tool that must be implemented as soon as possible in those activities. The following objectives are sought in most EIA applications:
Developing a clear evaluation of potential impacts that a project may have on the overall environmental quality.
Creating a methodology which may evaluate and predict environmental impacts, including their prevention and mitigation, in order to enhance project benefits as well as minimizing their long-term effects.
Providing a specialized forum for consultation to all interested parties and allowing stakeholders to have direct information on the environmental management practice. The trend today is moving away from traditional engineering schemes towards those that incorporate natural processes and their interactions with the main features of the engineering projects.
Back in 1970, the U.S. Environmental Policy Act was the first legal set of requirements to be followed by most engineering activities, from those in the domain of mineral resource mining to building and construction industry.