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We must work in harmony with nature, says ICE’s 159th president

08 November 2023

Professor Anusha Shah outlined her presidential theme at her inaugural address.

We must work in harmony with nature, says ICE’s 159th president
Professor Anusha Shah gave her Presidential Address at One Great George Street in London.

Working in harmony with nature in rural and urban areas is vital if we’re to reach our net zero goals, according to the new president of the ICE.

Professor Anusha Shah, the institution’s 159th President, shared the theme for her presidential year at her first official address at ICE's HQ in London last night.

"My presidential year will be about how we become a nature and people-positive profession at heart," she said in her speech.

"We have failed to understand the interrelationship between infrastructure and nature.

"We are implementing nature-based and green solutions globally, but in pockets. It’s not the norm yet."

According to Professor Shah, construction is responsible for 30% of biodiversity loss around the world.

But, adopting a nature- and people-positive approach will enable engineers to reverse the environmental decline, she said.

"Not only will we reach net zero faster, we’ll also improve climate resilience and reap multiple benefits for our society and the planet."

Watch President Anusha Shah's video

'Stay curious'

Professor Shah said that members should "stay curious" and ask if every single project is needed.

They should also make sure they've ruled out all nature-based and repurposed solutions before going ahead.

Other questions she thought that members should be thinking about include:

  • Are we designing in an inclusive manner?
  • Are we considering circularity?
  • Are we leveraging the power of data and artificial intelligence?

Building connections

Professor Shah encouraged members to collaborate internationally and across industries.

"I want to bring the global north and global south closer together," she said.

"I want us to learn from indigenous populations, who’ve drawn resilience from nature for centuries.

"And I want the governance, planning, and strategic thinking in wealthier nations to be available for the benefit of all."

Understanding the infrastructure and nature relationship

In a film accompanying her speech, Professor Shah said that it was time for civil engineers to better understand the inter-relationship between infrastructure and nature – and do more.

"Building assets which do less harm to our natural world is not good enough anymore. To put it simply, we don’t have an option but to be nature-positive,” she said in the video.

"Our infrastructure needs to interact with nature in a way which is restorative and regenerative, rather than extractive.

She added: "A net zero and a nature-positive future is impossible without being people-positive."

Anusha Shah's President's Future Leaders

Each ICE president chooses a group of the brightest graduate and technician members to be Future Leaders to support them during their presidency.

They will work on projects that are integral to the ICE's Plan and have an effect on the industry.

This year's President's Future Leaders are:

  • Aimee Jones, civil engineer apprentice at Mott MacDonald
  • Alexis Solomou, graduate civil engineer at Arcadis
  • Elena Lindsey, lead civil engineer and project manager at the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands
  • Evita Widjaja, engineer at AtkinsRealis
  • Marcus Rodin, assistant structural engineer at AtkinsRealis
  • Nusayba Abaas, civil engineer apprentice at Balfour Beatty
  • Ramsha Saleem, graduate civil engineer at WSP
  • Sayid Salim, geotechnical engineer at Arup

Who is Professor Anusha Shah?

Professor Anusha Shah is a senior director for resilient cities and the UK climate adaptation lead at Arcadis.

She’s currently seconded to Effiage, Kier, Ferrovial and BAM Nuttall joint venture on High Speed 2 as senior director of environmental consents.

Shah’s also a non-executive director at the Met Office, UK, and is a Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) visiting professor at King’s College London on climate adaptation, sustainability and inclusive design.

In 2021, the University of Wolverhampton gave her an honorary professorship for knowledge transfer and the University of East London gave her a doctorate for her services to climate change in engineering.

Professor Shah is also a visiting professor at the University of Edinburgh and has been invited for lectures at Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cambridge.

She specialises in water and environmental engineering with over 22 years’ experience in designing, managing and leading projects and programmes in the UK and internationally.

She's a past chair of the Thames Estuary Partnership Board (2017-20).

She has received several awards, including the 2020 Top 50 UK Women Engineers Sustainability Award and CECA FIR (Fairness, Inclusion and Respect) Inspiring Engineers Award 2019.

Climate Reframe recognised her as one of the UK’s leading BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) voices on climate change.

  • Anh Nguyen, digital content lead at ICE