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Smeaton Lecture 2023 - sustainable development: from Smeaton to the 21st century

Event organised by ICE

11 December 2023

This event has now ended


The term ‘sustainable development’ entered the policy lexicon with the 1987 report Our Common Future, by the World Commission on Environment and Development. Historically, civil engineers have always held the future of their work and its wider societal impact as a central tenet of their profession, and this consideration has become even more important against today’s background of climate change.  

The engineers that shaped the Industrial Revolution also faced unprecedented challenges. Among the most influential of these was John Smeaton (1724-92), who was responsible for a series of bridges, canals, harbours and lighthouses, beginning with Cornwall’s Eddystone lighthouse in 1759. Twelve years later, Smeaton and six fellow practitioners of the new profession of civil engineering formed the Smeatonian Society to discuss matters of common interest.  

This lecture will explore the basis on which Smeaton and his contemporaries made their decisions, and considers the very different and more complex environment in which today’s engineers operate. Sustainable development now demands the explicit consideration of the impact of schemes on the environment, society and the economy, as well as an assessment of the effects on climate change. Today’s civil engineers require a broad range of expertise, reflecting the holistic approach of engineers in the 18th and 19th centuries.  

Peter Guthrie, professor of engineering for sustainable development at the University of Cambridge, will draw on the lessons from Smeaton’s era, as well as developments of the past 50 years, to propose what civil engineers must address as the global target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 approaches. He will also reflect on the need for the engineering profession to show leadership in sustainable development and will address the question of what it means to be a civil engineer. 


18:00 - 18:10

Chair's introduction

18:10 - 19:10

Presentation by Professor Peter Guthrie, professor of engineering for sustainable development, University of Cambridge

19:10 - 19:30

Q&A session


Event closed


Prof. Peter Guthrie OBE FREng

Prof. Peter Guthrie OBE FREng

University of Cambridge

professor of engineering for sustainable development

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Prof. Peter Guthrie OBE FREng

Peter is professor of engineering for sustainable development at the University of Cambridge. A civil engineer with geotechnical specialisation by background, Peter was a practising engineer on infrastructure projects before coming to Cambridge in 2000, and has worked extensively in Africa and Asia.  

He developed approaches to integrating social and environmental considerations into engineering design on projects such as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, international airports, nuclear decommissioning, the London 2012 Olympic Park, Orange County Great Park in California and new cities in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. His research is focused on energy efficiency and sustainable development in infrastructure projects internationally.  

In 1980, Peter founded RedR Engineers for Disaster Relief, of which he is now a vice-president. He is a non-executive director of Buro Happold. Previously, he was a member of the UK Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Science Advisory Council from 2004 to 2011, and was a member of the UK government’s project board for the Severn tidal power study. He is a member of the Global Agenda Council on Catastrophic Risks in the World Economic Forum. 

Prof. Anusha Shah

Prof. Anusha Shah

Institution of Civil Engineers

president 2023/24

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Prof. Anusha Shah

Anusha Shah is a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and its president for the 2023-24 session. She’s the third woman and first person of colour to be elected as president in over 200 years of ICE history.

She’s a senior director for resilient cities and UK climate change adaptation lead at Arcadis, a global sustainability, design, engineering and management consulting firm.

She’s also a non-executive director at the Met Office, a trustee at the Green Alliance and a visiting professor at Edinburgh University. She was awarded honorary professorship by the University of Wolverhampton for knowledge transfer and an honorary doctorate of engineering by the University of East London for her services to address climate change.

Anusha specialises in water and environmental engineering and has over 22 years of experience in designing, managing and leading projects and programmes in the UK and internationally.

Anusha sits on various industry climate change groups. She represents Arcadis at the London Climate Change Partnership and the 50L Home Initiative of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. She’s a past chair of the Thames Estuary Partnership Board.

Anusha is the recipient of several awards, including the 2020 Top 50 UK Women Engineers Sustainability Award and the CECA Inspiring Change Award. She was recognised by Climate Reframe as one of the UK’s leading Black, Asian and minority ethnic voices on climate change.