Sustainability engineers 'trapped in nightmare' Saturday, 29 December 2018

The world needs to "massively accelerate the take-up" of a common sense engineering approach to resource productivity if humans are to stand any chance of managing the Earth's climate, an eminent sustainability engineer says.

Making more while using less is at the forefront of Professor Steve Evans' mind, being the manufacturing policy panel chair at the Institution of Engineering and Technology in the UK.

"Achieve even 3-4% across all industries and we begin to start taking significant strides towards keeping our planet liveable," Evans has written in an opinion piece for Raconteur. "[It] advances the prospect of higher productivity and profits too. So, it makes sound financial as well as environmental sense."

Evans cited car manufacturers, Nissan and Toyota, that regularly achieve 8% year-on-year resource productivity gains, as the type of companies as experts in resource efficiency. He warned that the issue of climate change represents "urgent and substantial challenges that engineering can either ignore or choose to be at the heart of".

Professor Evans, who is also the director of research in industrial sustainability in the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge, went on to say sustainability engineers are "trapped in a nightmare".

"The fact is we simply can’t carry on burying our heads in the sand when it comes to climate change, hoping this will all just blow away or that someone else will come along and avert catastrophe," he emphasised. "We have the technology, ingenuity and tenacity to sort this. But, does the political will, leadership and machinery exist to inspire the global action needed and make things happen?"

Professor Evans described new solutions for farming and resource efficiency as "crucial".

"The United Nations tells us the world has barely 30 years of fertile soil remaining, such is the level to which we are over-farming the land," he said. "This time scale coincides with anticipated increase in global population from today’s 7.5 billion people to 9.8 billion by 2050."

Evans believes many engineers around the world are already working on technological solutions – from energy grids to refrigeration, and cars to geo-engineering - and that these "are a key part of the jigsaw of activities that will form a solution" along with other moves such as government policy and changes to consumer behaviour.

"We firmly believe that engineers have a more direct and more urgent duty to ensure that the systems they work on are as resource-efficient as they can be," he said, adding that global industry generates more than 30% of climate change impacts.

To find out more about sustainability and Engineers Australia, read about EA's Environmental College; visit the Sustainable Engineering Society (SENG), or the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC).