In the first of a weekly series, we ask one of our Global Engineering Congress speakers for their insight into why the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals should matter to the engineering community.
An engineer by trade, Rémi Kaupp is an Urban Sanitation Advisor with 12 years’ experience in international development. Currently working at WaterAid, he is a specialist in urban sanitation, urban planning, social housing and social enterprises, and the links between them. We asked him a series of questions about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Q. Why do you think the UN Sustainable Development Goals should matter to the engineering community?
Selfishly, so that engineers and their families don’t have to live in cities flooded by rising seas or suffer from an ever-changing climate and its many consequences. Morally, to alleviate the immense suffering caused by extreme inequalities. Intellectually to think of solutions that work for all and not just for a select few. Pragmatically, to reach the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ and provide products and services to a much wider audience.
Q. How practically do you think civil engineers can incorporate the UN SDGs into their work?
Start with sustainable development in mind for any project: whose point of view am I really considering, and am I especially considering excluded groups? Which negative consequences will my project have for such groups, for the environment? Can I suggest different approaches that bring more benefits to all?
Q. The UN has recently warned that the world’s progress is uneven and too slow to meet the 2030 targets, how can we drive faster progress?
Have actual environmental and social policies; consider such impacts explicitly in the bottom line. Have better whistleblowing arrangements when things go wrong; reward teams and projects that incorporate sustainable development, even at the expense of the financial bottom line.
Q. Do you think enough attention is paid to sustainable development by project designers and commissioners?
Not at all. Sustainable Development is called “regulations”, “optics”, “giving back” – it’s mostly about what is imposed rather than what is best. We have to go beyond tokenistic actions and show what is truly durable.
Q. How and why could the finance community make the difference on sustainable development?
If the ‘finance community’ can provide real incentives to work on the long-term, that would be a fantastic start. Quarterly reports and shareholders watching over your shoulder do not encourage better behaviours. How about rewarding positive changes and explicitly considering the SDGs?
Q. What three words spring to mind when you think of engineering and the sustainable development goals?
Inequalities, sanitation, power.
Q. What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the engineering sector right now?
Short-termism and the ever-increasing focus on pleasing shareholders at the expense of considering ‘externalities’ – how our work affects those most vulnerable and the environment.
You can hear more from Rémi at this years’ Global Engineering Congress. His session, ‘Leap Frogging: The Case for non-sewered sanitation’ is on Day Three and looks at the economic case for decentralised sanitation as part of achieving UNSDG 6.