Today is World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development – The Resilience Shift explores the work behind this day of action and looks at how the engineering community is collaborating to contribute to the global agenda with insights from Davide Stronati and Kancheepuram N Gunalan.
The role and contribution of engineers to the world’s challenges is never far from our thoughts at The Resilience Shift.
With Seth Schultz, our Executive Director, and this year’s Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)’s Brunel lecturer, talking about a step change for the world’s engineers, we are aiming high. Seth is, region by region, putting a challenge to the world’s engineering community to step up and deliver a safer, more sustainable and more resilient future for us all.
Being hosted too by the global built environment consultancy Arup has also shaped our development as a technical initiative as much as one that is focused on behaviour change that accelerates resilience in practice.
We firmly believe that engineers must be a part of the solution in delivering action on the climate crisis, in shaping the roadmap to Net Zero and Resilience, and in advising on the decisions and investments needed for our infrastructure systems.
To this end we are also a founding partner of the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI), set up less than 18 months ago to engineer action on the world’s challenges. Our partners in the engineering-led Coalition include ICE, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and its ASCE Foundation, the Global Covenant of Mayors (GCoM), along with WSP the global consultancy.
Major Engineering Report published today by UNESCO
We are delighted to see that today, on World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, the 2nd UNESCO Engineering Report “Engineering for Sustainable Development: Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals” is published, ten years after the first one.
This report highlights the crucial role of engineering in delivering the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, shows how inclusive and gender equitable engineering profession can bring about new perspectives and thus respond to the shortage of engineers, showcases engineering innovations for implementation of the SDGs, analyses the progresses in and challenges in engineering education and capacity building, and summarizes the regional trends of engineering development. Finally, it gives recommendations for developing engineering for the SDGs, and calls for global cooperation with multiple stakeholders to promote development of engineering for the SDGs.
These are all very familiar themes for The Resilience Shift as we consider the role of engineers in building resilience also.
Global collaboration through WFEO
The World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at its 40th General Conference in 2019. Previously known simply as Engineers’ Day it was observed in several countries on various dates of the year. On 20 November 2019 the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) proposed that it be celebrated annually as March 4th and it is now celebrated worldwide each year since 2020.
The day offers an opportunity to highlight engineers and engineering’s achievements in our modern world and improve public understanding of how engineering and technology are central to modern life and for sustainable development.
WFEO is the international organisation for the engineering profession, founded in 1968 under the auspices of UNESCO, it brings together national engineering institutions from some 102 members (of 193 states) – 10 supra national members, and represents more than 30 million engineers.
The Resilience Shift’s partners, ICE is the UK country representiative and ASCE is an Affiliate member of WFEO.
ASCE – hosting WFEO UN Relations Committee
The ASCE was recently invited to host the WFEO UN Relations Committee and the immediate past president of ASCE, Kancheepuram N Gunalan, PhD., P.E., known as Guna, is now the current Chair of the Committee. WFEO is also a Co-Chair with the International Science Council of the Science & Technology Major Group of the United Nations. Science and technology, including engineering, are woven through all 17 SDGs with direct impacts on 13 of them.
Its a full-on commitment with many committee meetings over the year, and engagement in May and July with the UN High-level Political Forum and the EcoSoc economic and social group, leading to the UN General Assembly, and as Voluntary National Reports (VNRs) are submitted to the UN from the various countries.
The WFEO is involved in many major campaigns – both top down and bottom up and Guna says that their goal is to demonstrate to national and supra national bodies how they need to be working with engineers who can help them implement their strategy on the ground.
“That’s what engineers are good at. We need to get more engaged so that we can ensure progress on these goals”.
The WFEO also acts as a facilitator and knowledge sharing hub for country-led initiatives – for examples ASCE is currently developing its new Standard For Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure and it will encourage implementation of that Code in the US. In sharing it too with WFEO it can be explored by other nations as an opportunity to adapt or adopt it in place of creating something from scratch nationally. This can support the spread of best practice, while enabling national and local solutions as appropriate and where one uniform Code would not be appropriate.
Guna is a Senior VP at Aecom, managing large programmes and projects around the world, providing technical expertise. His first love is geotechnics – the “foundations of everything” and a discipline requiring “a mix of art and science skills to do well” so they have many skills transferable to leadership and politics. He believes that WFEO must play a role in providing information and knowledge to politicians and it is a knowledge enabler too for many countries. For example, the ASCE Future World Vision project developed in the US has been exported via WFEO to Spain, Australia, India, and to Scandinavian countries.
It also works with national bodies to take forward the body of knowledge and basic capabilities that civil engineers need to possess to practice in today’s environment.
He is concerned that at a local level, sustainability and resilience awareness and understanding for the engineering profession can be limited whether through issues of cost, of avoidance, or a lack of acceptance.
He says, “WFEO must maintain progress on a roadmap of awareness building, education, best practice, lessons learned and advocacy. And above all in bridging the gap with non-engineering audiences to help them understand how the engineering community can support them.”
He believes there is some confusion about language and terminology in the profession, relating to key concepts around sustainability and resilience, adaptation and mitigation. He believes that engineers must be able to explain these to people, along with concepts such as smart cities and social equity.
ICE – hosting the WFEO Committee on Engineering and the Environment
We spoke with Davide Stronati about ICE’s connections with WFEO. Davide is Director of Sustainability at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), with previously a long career at Mott MacDonald as global head of sustainability and climate change. He has been Committee Chair since November 2019 of the WFEO Committee on Engineering and the Environment (CEE) (hosted by ICE from 2019-2023) and calls attention to the important Declaration on Climate Emergency from the WFEO in 2019 and to its work on the 2nd UNESCO Engineering Report published today.
He says, “As an engineering community, we can make a fundamental contribution to achieve the SDGs, and we have a great responsibility for action. The work of the Committee on Engineering and the Environment (CEE) is aimed at enabling WFEO and the global engineering profession to support the achievement of these goals, addressing in particular SDG13 on Climate Action.”
David also highlights some of the other strategic work of the WFEO such as webinar campaigns, topical reports, and campaigns on codes, skills transfer and equity, capability and capacity. He believes that much more work is needed to educate others about engineering.
“As citizens, we don’t appreciate engineering in general, we take it for granted, and this is not just a UK attitude, but is global.”
“Engineering is not recognised enough as an important and essential profession, especially in developed countries”, he adds, noting that the WFEO represents 30 million engineers globally.
He also points out how the profession needs to feel empowered to take action for adaption as well as mitigation, collectively as well as individually. It can’t wait for the next natural disaster to focus the attention but must be more on the front foot about taking action.
He is concerned that engineers do ‘what they are asked to do’, and that the pace of change in civil engineering is not fast enough, despite significant technological advances such as BIM, or digital twins.
As with Guna, he believes that there is still a limited understanding of the terminology and of net zero.
“Engineers are not being honest enough with their clients about net zero. Consultants have a great responsibility in saying to their clients that none of them can be net zero in isolation – a system of systems approach is needed, and it’s about transforming complexity”.
Valuing engineering-led collaboration
All our interviewees believe firmly in the value of bringing the engineering community together, overcoming silo thinking and boundaries, to create a force multiplier effect on transformative change for the engineering community.
And on World Engineering Day we celebrate that together.
Sharing climate stories from the world of engineering
Note: Davide Stronati has authored a piece for World Engineering Day that highlights the engineering contribution to climate action through 7 global climate stories from the WFEO community, as curated by ICE. We’ll be sharing these Climate Stories over the next few weeks as we all work together on the roadmap for 2021 toward a safe, sustainable and resilient future.