Engineering a sustainable world at WEC2019

This year’s World Engineers Convention 2019 focused on ‘Engineering a Sustainable World: The next 100 years’. We report on highlights with reflections from Kara Brussen.

The WFEO UNESCO Joint Declaration published in March 2018 spoke about “Advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through Engineering”. At this year’s World Engineers Convention 2019 in Melbourne, Australia on 20-22 November 2019, this theme and wider concerns around climate change were very much in evidence across the packed programme.

Engineers present were strongly aware of the climate emergency with a poll of those in the audience, asking ‘Do you think we are in a climate emergency?’, resulted in 88% replying YES.

This session also asked those present to estimate acceptable risk for a failure scenario and discussed how engineers normally work to keep the risks of catastrophic failure below a certain level. The question was asked what risk is acceptable in a world of dangerous climate change. Those present co-created a statement about the risk of dangerous climate change being higher than engineers can accept, with the WEC further calling for a coordinated professional response.

President of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), Dr Marlene Kanga, also announced that, starting next year, 4 March will be celebrated annually as World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development.

Kara Brussen, Sustainability Consultant at Arup, attended and participated in the World Engineers Convention. We asked her for some reflections on what was discussed.

The theme of the conference was Engineering a Sustainable World: The next 100 years’ and Kara said, “It exceeded my expectations, but it left me with a thought in the back of my mind. Could engineering take a more holistic approach to sustainability?”

She continued, “For example, Lydia Gentle AO shared some of the ways that BHP have automated their sites to improve the diversity of their workforce with great success. However, she failed to address that the operation of their coal mines is inherently unsustainable for the planet.”

“As a counterpoint, MACE Director of Innovation, Matt Gough’s plenary emphasised the role engineers must take in addressing the climate emergency. Yet when he shared the videos of the impressive technical solutions Mace have piloted to drive transformation in construction, it did not reflect a bigger or diversity of voices.”

“While impressive and inspirational, these keynotes highlighted that as an engineering profession we tend to focus on one aspect of sustainability while ignoring others.

As noted in many talks and conversations during the event, if we consider each of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in isolation, we risk having blind spots and achieving suboptimal outcomes. Instead, we can and should use the SDGs as an integrated and intersectional framework for delivering a sustainable built environment.”

“The country of Wales in the United Kingdom is leading in this space with the Well-being of Future Generations Act.

I was delighted to talk to a packed room about how the Welsh well-being goals and ways of working have led to sustainable outcomes on Arup’s projects with clients. It is a piece of legislation and implementation approach that I think others can learn a lot from, including Australia.”

 

With thanks to Kara Brussen.

 

 

 

 

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