Introduction to Sustainable Development for Engineering and Built Environment Professionals
Unit 3 - Preparing to Walk the Talk
9: Rethinking the Application of Engineering Principles
discuss the need to rethink the way engineering
principles are applied to solve problems. This need
is being increasingly recognised by engineering
institutions, scientific communities, the corporate
sector and government organisations around the world.
For sustainable engineering solutions to occur,
we need to reconsider engineering curricula, problem
scoping methodologies and role descriptions in the
Brief Background Information for this Lecture (2
1. Although engineering achievements such as the
development of automobiles, have solved one problem
(i.e. shortened time to travel a particular distance),
they have unfortunately created several others (i.e.
air, land and water pollution, congested cities
and urban sprawl). (We will focus on this in
the breakout group exercise).
2. The World Federation of Engineering Organisations
(WFEO) recognises the role of engineers in creating
a sustainable future, describing their role as contributing
to a ‘closed-loop human system’. The
engineering profession globally needs to become
part of the solution, finding answers with multiple
benefits rather than multiple negative consequences.
The theme for the 2004 World Engineering Congress
- currently the largest international engineering
conference - was ‘Engineers Shape the Sustainable
3. Companies are now realising the benefits and
opportunities of ‘sustainable business practice’,
and are calling for sustainable engineering solutions
to remain competitive. The World Business Council
for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) comprises 170
of the world’s leading businesses who are
all in pursuit of sustainable business practice.
4. Government bodies also recognise the significance
of the engineering profession to sustain national
economies and regional relations, by confronting
pressing issues associated with energy, water, biodiversity,
global diseases (such as AIDS), agriculture, education,
and others highlighted by the 2002 World Summit
for Sustainable Development.
Federation of Engineering Organisations –
Engineering for Sustainable Development
The World Federation of Engineering
Organisations (WFEO) is publicly calling for engineers
internationally to focus their minds and abilities
on sustainable development.
The world’s engineering population of approximately
15 million professionals can influence sustainable
outcomes throughout the entire production and consumption
chain, through: natural resource extraction; resources
and chemicals processing; product and infrastructure
design; meeting consumer needs; resource recovery/recycle/reuse;
and energy provision. The combination of engineering
expertise with scientific discoveries can greatly
assist less-developed countries in overcoming their
challenges for meeting basic needs in the most sustainable
By applying their skills and experience in the following
areas, WFEO is confident that much can be done to
achieve the objectives set by the Millennium Development
exchange: Information exchange: Creating
initiatives to identify and provide necessary
information to engineers in developing countries
to improve health, food, water, access to energy
and other basic needs. An example is the UNESCO-sponsored
Sudan Virtual Engineering Library – Sustainability
Knowledge Network (SudVEL/SKN). The SudVEL/SKN
is an engineering database, providing Sudanese
students, researchers, academic staff and professionals
access to both offline and online information
for sustainable engineering solutions.
Engineering Programs: Global Engineering
Programs: Universities are mostly developing
independent educational programs for sustainable
development – courses could be disseminated
and improved if steps were taken to implement
global education programs for sustainability,
through media such as the Internet. Engineering
educators and practicing engineers should assist
in developing education materials for introduction
at secondary and primary schooling level. As
an example, ‘Discover Engineering Online’
is an Internet resource for youth willing to
learn about the engineering profession.
as Environmental Generalists: Encouraging
engineers to become ‘environmental generalists’
will broaden engineering perspectives about
the impact a solution might have on the surrounding
environment, and incorporate such awareness
into the engineering solution. Suggestions to
encourage ‘environmental generalism’
include curriculum reform; engineering students
could be exposed to a wide range of multidisciplinary
subjects – biology, law, history, political
science and leadership training – early
in their studies to understand the environmental,
social and economic context within which their
engineering solution will be placed.
Engineers in Decision Making: Encouraging
engineers to become actively engaged in the
full range of decision-making processes, as
well as project management and development,
can improve the effectiveness of engineering
solutions. Engineers can provide sound advice
in local and regional civic activities; identify
and maintain stakeholder relationships; and
resolve disputes or controversy regarding the
project of which they are part. Involving engineers
early in the project – at the decision
making stage before project development begins
– is critical to determining the suitability
and sustainability of any engineering project.
Impacts and Costs: Environmental Impacts
and Costs: The adverse impacts of engineering
projects on the environment can be significantly
reduced by improving methods for considering
the costs and environmental impacts throughout
a project’s lifecycle. By starting environmental
impact assessments sooner in a project, areas
of concern can be resolved (particularly with
concerned citizens and environmental organisations)
at a flexible stage of development and therefore
less time, money and effort will be required
to correct the problem. Project engineers should
further consider all the direct and indirect
environmental, social, and cultural impacts
at the ‘cost-benefits analysis’
with Local or National Strategic Planning:
The engineering project should be compatible
with the local or national strategic plan and
achieve a balance of serving the community and
respecting the environment. Environmental studies
should include as much input from stakeholders
as possible, to avoid time/money/energy spent
in confrontation and legal action. Environmental
monitoring, where applicable, should be conducted
before and after project development.
Assistance Programs: CCreating programs
to share knowledge and provide assistance with
projects in developing countries. Direct assistance
programs include: networks of expert volunteers
willing to assist in advising, planning and
financing projects in developing countries (e.g.
Engineers Without Borders);
programs to form teams of participants from
engineering firms in developed countries with
engineers in less-developed countries to enhance
skill-sets (e.g. Water for People Program);
and creating regional development centres in
developing countries that would coordinate regional
teams of consulting engineers.
Principles and Partnerships: Supporting
well-crafted policies, applying engineering
principles, and forming new partnerships will
improve the effectiveness of engineering projects
for sustainable development. Engineers must
understand the multidisciplinary nature of any
project, developing partnerships with other
professionals such as economists, scientists,
lawyers, and medical experts to ensure the evaluation
and decision framework will achieve sustainable
Johnston, S., Gostelow, P., Jones, E. and Fourikis,
R. (1995) Engineering and Society: An Australian
Perspective, Harper Educational, Sydney, Australia.
- WFEO (n.d) Engineering for Sustainable Development,
WFEO. Available at www.unesco.org/wfeo/engineeringforsd.html.
Accessed 26 November 2006.
Additional information at: World Engineering Congress
(2004) World Engineering Congress Homepage.
Available at www.wec2004.org.
Accessed 26 November 2006. (Back)
Text paraphrased from WFEO-ComTech (n.d.) Engineering
for Sustainable Development. Available at www.unesco.org/wfeo/engineeringforsd.html.
Accessed 25 November 2006. (Back)
Additional information at WFEO-ComTech (n.d.) Engineering
for Sustainable Development – Future Goals.
Available at www.ch2m.com/WFEO/main/future.htm.
Accessed 25 November 2006.
For additional information see Engineers Without Borders
USA at www.ewb-usa.org.
Accessed 26 November 2006. (Back)
For additional information see Water for People at
Accessed 26 November 2006. (Back)
Natural Edge Project Engineering Sustainable Solutions
Program is supported by the Australian National Commission
for UNESCO through the International Relations Grants
Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.