The path to net-zero carbon: the civil engineers’ contribution

Engineers as individuals need to examine their thinking and behaviours towards the sustainability agenda.

Civil engineers can contribute to creating a more sustainable future.
Civil engineers can contribute to creating a more sustainable future.

Civil engineers need to look at what changes can be made to day-to-day operations and behaviours to make society more sustainable.

According to the recent ICE Northern Ireland Graduate and Student (G&S) 2021 conference, Engineering Sustainable Futures, solutions to many challenges are already available.

However, speakers at the conference challenged delegates to take a different approach to existing solutions.

The contribution civil engineers can make to creating a more sustainable future was a central discussion of the conference, referencing the Shaping Zero theme from ICE President Rachel Skinner's 2020 Presidential Address.

Throughout the day, a range of speakers explored the key theme of ‘Engineering Sustainable Futures’, sharing a wealth of experience and best practice for engineering projects.

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Engineers were challenged, not just as civil engineers, but as individuals to examine their thinking and behaviours towards the sustainability agenda.

ICE NI G&S chair, Daryl Marshall explained:

“We wanted to continue to raise the profile of sustainability amongst ICE members. The conference offered a great way to share ideas and experiences from our fantastic speakers, who were from different parts of the civil engineering industry.

“We also wanted to showcase some best practice engineering projects and use these to promote the ways that we, as civil engineers, can help to contribute to creating a more sustainable future.”

Jenny Green, regional director ICE Northern Ireland said:

“We have a fantastic cohort of ICE early career professionals here in Northern Ireland and, indeed, internationally. The enthusiasm and passion of our own NI Graduate and Student committee members is well-known. They put together what has been a first-class conference on the key role civil engineers have to play in solving the most pressing issues facing global society today.”

Key themes

Daryl Marshall's welcome speech was followed by Professor John Barr, co-chair Belfast Climate Commission and professor of green political economy, Queen’s University Belfast.

He posed the question: ‘How do we decarbonise and reduce our impact on the planet?’ suggesting that the action we need is not happening as quickly as it's needed, emphasising the importance of ‘build back better’.

The current pandemic has brought with it an opportunity for change rather than a simple return to normal, he said , adding that "Normal was the problem. Challenging attendees to do their part in engaging with the conversation is a first step towards the change that needs to happen," he said.

The topic of individual engineers' ‘personal’ responsibility to drive change was also echoed by the final speaker of the day, Paddy Brow FICE, head of the Living With Water Programme (LWWP) at NI Water. He emphasised a theme of ‘Protect, Enhance, Grow’ as part of the LWWP and the role we have in how we use all aspects of the infrastructure – not least the wastewater systems.

" Our collective behaviours can and do have a huge and detrimental impact on the environment. We must take time to think sustainably about how we live and respect the infrastructure that supports that." he explained.

Professional development and qualification

Jen Hopkins, membership development officer for ICE NI and Republic of Ireland led a highly informative session on the role of professional development for civil engineers and future industry leaders, discussing professional qualification, membership streamlining and recent changes to IPD online and the Professional Review.

The role of ‘active travel’

Jodie Allan, Chris Ellis and Jasmine O’Garro of Arup, joined the conference from Scotland, Wales and England, providing an engaging round-up of key ‘active travel’ projects throughout the UK. The projects, SEStran Strategic Network, Greener Grangetown, Cycling for Everyone and inclusive walking, showcased the impact and outcomes that can be achieved through ‘bigger picture thinking’ and the fantastic benefits that can be realised through collaboration and stakeholder engagement.

The active travel showcase raised the importance of the full project and design team taking the time to think and plan for the wider benefits and long-term sustainability that projects could deliver.

Similarly, Ross Jenner from VU.City highlighted the current reality: today’s cities are almost at capacity and are already in a situation where they require better planning, decision making and investment. A collaborative approach to design and planning will lay the foundations for longer term sustainability for how we use, work, and live in our spaces going forward.

Event recording

The ICE Northern Ireland Graduate and Student (G&S) 2021 conference, Engineering Sustainable Futures, took place online on 28 May with over 100 ICE members, including a number of international members, attending. A recording of this year's conference will be available as part of the ICE event archive.

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