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Engineers need to design and act with both global and local needs and opportunities in mind in order to enable sustainability. Learning from projects all around the world is essential to do this well.
Sustainability is underpinned by an understanding of planetary constraints and global interdependencies. Some sustainability needs are shared across the globe (such as the need to increase energy efficiency) whereas others differ with local context. Engineers need to have a clear understanding of both the similarities and differences.
Sustainability engineering insights from different parts of the world are particularly helpful in revealing both globally frequent responses to sustainability needs in many different countries and specific local responses found only in particular locales. Four ahead-of-print articles from ICE Journal Engineering Sustainability demonstrate this well:
Shareef and Altan (2016) compare four new building sustainability rating systems developed in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Jordan respectively with the leading UK and USA based systems (BREEAM and Leed).
Comparing these assessment schemes for new construction for residential buildings revealed that while all schemes gave strong weighting to energy efficiency issues within buildings there were regional differences for other criteria. The most obvious regional difference was the stronger weighting given to water issues in the Middle Eastern schemes compared to those from the UK or USA, reflecting the limited or costly nature of water supplies in the region. It is really good to see such appropriate local adaptations being made to building sustainability rating systems.
Qays Oleiwi et al (2016) examine the opportunities for using industrialised building systems (IBS) as a means to solve both the shortage of good quality housing in Malaysia and the lack of buildings that meet sustainability criteria.
Both the opportunities and challenges reported will be familiar to many sustainability engineers working in the construction sector around the world. If IBS is used there are multiple benefits: higher quality buildings, time savings, cost savings, increased safety during construction, environmental advantages and reductions in the numbers of foreign workers. However, constraints limiting IBS implementation include (perceived) increased cost, skills shortages, technical issues and transport issues. These difficulties mean that the use of IBS is currently in its infancy. It is therefore hoped that future research that focuses on the sustainability benefits of IBS will help increase IBS adoption.
Siew' (2016) focus on the sustainability of communities. Noting the problems with existing tools, Siew develops a new assessment tool for neighbourhoods ('townships') based on a wide range of existing sustainability tools from around the world including the corporate responsibility tool Global Reporting Index, with 86 indicators in the three domains of people, planet and prosperity. These are tested in three different neighbourhoods in Malaysia.
Of particular interest is the fact that this tool is the first to include assessment of the sustainability performance of the companies involved in the neighbourhood's development.
Finally, Xue et al (2017) provide a summary of evidence of the harm to health from air pollution and a very useful historical overview of the repeated efforts by the Chinese government to develop air pollution legislation.
The concluding recommendations will sound familiar to those engaged in air pollution issues in other countries – increase public engagement in the issue and increase government ability to act.
These four studies show how sustainability engineers are grappling with similar issues across the globe, but also that they need to be able to adapt their work to the needs and opportunities of local contexts. ICE's journal Engineering Sustainability has a key role to play in enabling engineers to learn from current projects using this dual perspective.
The editorial advisory panel of ICE's international journal Engineering Sustainability is seeking new members.
The panel aims to:
If you are interested in joining the panel of Engineering Sustainability contact the Journals Editor directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.