'Civil engineering is constantly evolving, and so must our institution'

There is an opportunity to future-proof the Institution of Civil Engineers, which we should not miss, says ICE Fellow and trustee, Andy Alder.

  • Updated: 04 January, 2022
  • Author: Andy Alder, ICE Fellow and trustee

As we look ahead to another year of uncertainty and opportunity, we can be certain of one thing: issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and infrastructure resilience will still be amongst the biggest challenges facing society, and our industry needs to redouble its efforts to tackle them.

In his famous quote of 1828, civil engineering was defined by Thomas Tredgold as “the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man.”

But engineers 200 years ago would not have foreseen the detrimental effect that the industrial scale development which started with the Industrial Revolution would have on our planet.

And in 2022, I’m sure that Tredgold would have approved of the ICE's purpose of ensuring the world has the engineering capacity and infrastructure systems it needs to allow our planet and those who live on it, to thrive.

'We must innovate'

As past President Rachel Skinner explained in her Shaping Zero: The Big Questions film, around 70% of carbon emissions can be traced in one way or another to infrastructure. If civil engineers are to ensure that our planet and those who live on it are to thrive, we must innovate and find solutions to drastically reduce these carbon emissions.

We must ensure that we develop, use, operate and maintain our infrastructure systems in a way that gets most benefit with least impact. Just like the civil engineers that came before us, harnessing new technologies and materials will be crucial in our mission, and so will embracing those with the skills to deploy them.

We know that concrete is an important material, but it is also a major contributor to carbon emissions. It is really encouraging that new materials technologies are being developed to offer huge carbon savings.

Equally important is the work that engineers are doing to develop and deploy computer systems and data algorithms to better plan, monitor and control our infrastructure safely and effectively. Innovations like this will help us to reduce our carbon emissions and improve the way we build and operate infrastructure.

But currently many of those engineers working on doing just this are not eligible to become members of the institution. It will be crucial for materials engineers, data engineers and systems engineers to work side-by-side with civil engineers as we tackle the issues facing society today and tomorrow.

Chartered Infrastructure Engineer title

That is why trustees have recommended the introduction of a new Chartered Infrastructure Engineer title to sit alongside the existing Chartered Civil Engineer title.

It is vital that ICE evolves to be able to bring together, and offer a professional home, to all those technically qualified engineers working in infrastructure who do not necessarily work in traditional civil engineering fields but whose work is vital to the infrastructure challenges we face.

The proposal would future-proof our institution and help it to continue to fulfil its purpose. It would help ensure that the ICE’s work, such as knowledge and policy, remains relevant and timely by drawing on the necessary expertise.

It would also help us to fulfil our duty to the public by professionally qualifying, to the same gold standard as Chartered Civil Engineers, the broader group of engineers who will need to work on infrastructure in the future.

I urge you to take this opportunity and vote in favour of it at the ballot which will take place from 1st February.

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