Day four at GEC
‘Together, we can make a difference’
A joint statement of intent to take action on climate change was signed this morning by ICE, the ASCE, and the CSCE.
The statement outlines the three organisations’ intentions to raise the standards of civil engineering and require their members to demonstrate a sound knowledge of sustainable development and the SDGs.
Professor Lord Robert Mair, ICE President, said the three institutions hold a huge amount of knowledge and power. It was important to use that power effectively, and this can be done by showing strong leadership, demonstrating knowledge of sustainable development, the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda.
“We are all here because we want to make a difference. By using the SDGs as the focus and the GEC as the forum, we will advocate the benefits of taking a sustainable approach through our public voice and policy work,” he said.
To achieve this, collaboration is key – with global respective institutions, those both in ‘typical’ engineering professions and those in multi-disciplinary solutions.
“We cannot do this alone. After this week’s Congress, we must focus on ensuring the engineering bodies collectively address the SDGs – by demonstrating strong leadership, advocacy and collaboration. Together, we can make a difference.”
3 global engineering institutions pledge to work together to achieve the UN SDGs
ICE recognised as historic civil engineering landmark
‘It’s our future – so let’s make it bright’
Robin Kemper, President of ASCE, used her morning’s keynote speech to discuss the importance of moving towards a sustainable future.
She said that engineers can take responsibility for creating the necessary change and transformation needed in society to make us more sustainable.
Kemper also recognised that engineers, as a profession, are risk-averse, but challenged them to take a leap of faith in helping to address climate change:
“We need to do the right project and do the project right.”
To do this, she said, we need to take a step back and ask what the societal need is, what the community need is.
Once these needs were clear, engineers would be able to come up with the right projects to meet those needs.’
‘We need engineers to take their place at the table’
She said that while engineers won’t be the sole factor in making our world more sustainable, they play an important role.
“We need them to take their place at the table. We will have significant and unique input into creating infrastructure that will serve the purpose of sustainable and resilient needs.”
She ended with a call to engineers to step up and help make a brighter future for all.
“It’s our future – so let’s make it bright. Together, we can lead the way to create a sustainable world and enhance the global quality of life.”
‘We need to decarbonise our economy’
Energy and sustainability consultant Diana Guzmán-Barraza expanded on this by calling for urgent action from engineers working in the built environment, in her session at GEC.
"We're heading towards an uninhabitable earth. This is real. We need to prepare," she said.
"We need to decarbonise our economy. The way we generate and use energy needs to change."
There needs to be more renewable energy "in all of our infrastructure projects", she added.
Project 13’s ‘huge’ opportunity
The morning’s Inspire session was a panel discussion around transforming infrastructure with Project 13.
Dale Evans, Chair of the Infrastructure Client Group, outlined that Project 13 is about defining a new approach to delivering infrastructure, enabling organisations to make the shift from a transactional to enterprise model.
Alan Cox, Preconstruction Manger at BAM Nuttall, said that Project 13 offered a huge opportunity for contractors:
“Construction productivity needs to improve if we’re to become sustainable as an industry, so organisations need to be responsive and proactive, they need to look for change and create something from it.”
He said it was important that the industry responds to the challenges the SDGs present and work together to speak with a single voice.
'Sustainability has to be at the heart of infrastructure'
Mark Enzer, Chief Technical Officer at Mott MacDonald, talked about how digital transformation is helping engineers to make better decisions.
“Better decisions, based on better data, leads to better outcomes,” he said.
It was important to understand infrastructure as an interconnected system-of-systems that provides the foundations for our society, he said.
“It’s more than just providing power or energy or transport. Infrastructure helps make cities livable, it boosts quality of life, fuels growth and prosperity – it goes beyond delivery of service.
We need to concentrate on infrastructure as a service and a system.”
He also talked about how engineers need to think about the value of the infrastructure they’e building and designing in order to drive the very best outcomes for customers.
If we view infrastructure in this way, he said, understanding that it effectively has to last as long as society, then we realise infrastructure must be sustainable:
“Sustainability has to be at the heart of infrastructure.”
HS2 station highlights the importance of thinking about sustainability at construction level
For Claire Gott, UK Head of Corporate Social Responsbility at WSP, this means projects like HS2 need to consider the SDGs.
As project manager at HS2’s Curzon Street Station, said they were very aware of the need for the new station to be sustainable.
“There’s a recognition that the lifespan of HS2 is 120 years. If we don’t look at the SDGs at the construction level, [the station] won’t be fit for purpose in 120 years,” she said.
"We know it’s the right thing to do. We recognise we need to do it – and I think we have a responsibility as engineers to make a difference in the projects we are involved with.”
She described how the project had been built with challenges such as changing demographics and new technologies in mind.
“We are thinking about future trends, hybrid vehicles and how these might fit into the design [of the station] further down the line,” she said.
Engineers need to engage politicians in their language
Also speaking in the afternoon plenary was CEO and founder of IAND, Elspeth Finch.
She said that to drive important change and improve sustainability, engineers need to be able to engage properly with politicians.
“We need to remember politicians think about what the impact will be to the people who will vote. So we, as engineers, need to ask what do we want the politicians to do?” she said.
“We must remember most politicians don’t have engineering or architectural or urban planning backgrounds. If we’re serious about maximising the impact, then it is up to us to understand their background and influence them in their language, not ours.”
A challenge for professional engineering institutions
She said the engineers are great at doing one-off solutions – but to maximise the impact, they need to be good at learning, adapting and refining, too.
Elspeth also had challenge for professional engineering institutions, following a question from the audience as to what one thing could professional engineering institutions do to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs.
“As engineers, by nature, we all want to lead, but we can’t. Which institution is going to be the first to say, ‘we will be a follower’?
“It’s a brave and tough leadership move, but the reality is, we can’t have everyone leading on this. We need a single leader, and with collective responsibility we will make a lot of good things happen,” she said.