We began by exploring the responsible principle, which we define as, meeting the needs of all people within the limits of our planet, which should be at the heart of engineering. To unpack the realities of this principle we invited panellists, Wiebke Toussaint, a PhD candidate at the Technical University of Delft, Jonathan Fashanu a Structural Engineer, Dr Muaaz Wright-Syed a Geo-environmental Engineer and Chris Hughes a Senior Mechanical Engineer, to interrogate the successes and challenges they have faced when implementing this principle in practice.
The panellists were invited to define what globally responsible engineering means to them. Dr Muaaz Wright-Syed stated;
“[…] for me it means […] meeting the needs and necessities of everyone, but without exceeding our planetary boundaries and where we have exceeded them to actively come back to acceptable levels. One example of that might be, biogeochemical flows and nitrogen and phosphorus so working together to do that, but in doing so, not to disadvantage any sort of communities that […] are on earth.”
Wiebke suggested that responsibility is relational, pointing out that you can never be responsible in a vacuum and that you must consider two things, who are you being responsible for and being aware of the consequences of your actions. Chris similarly, interrogated the meaning of responsibility, stating that responsibility doesn’t equate to sole accountability, but rather an opportunity to choose different realities and outcomes.
We have created these Constructive conversation sessions to deepen the understanding of what these principles mean and how to use them in practice. We will do this by hearing from professionals, in and out of the engineering sector, as well as providing the attendees, with space to discuss how to use these principles in day-to-day practice.
Muaaz, reflected on how he has embedded this principle in practice, referencing his work on a water purification project in Vietnam. During this project, he embedded a multidisciplinary approach working with engineers, bioscientists and social scientists to achieve the most sustainable and long-lasting outcome. Jonathon agreed, highlighting the importance of co-design and engaging local workforces to avoid parachuting in solutions, and ensure infrastructure is maintained in the long run.
Jonathan continued by pointing out the ongoing challenge of price and client satisfaction, suggesting that engineers need to feel empowered to suggest how we can ‘do better’ and still be affordable.
“[Engineers] have a responsibility to find a solution that works and that is less detrimental to the environment.”
When asked about this accountability, Chris spoke about the long term consequences of making cost cutting decisions. For example, the impact of choosing gas boilers now may have a negative impact in the long run, with prices and taxes undeniably rising in the future. To encourage change Chris’ team has been trying to implement a more holistic approach by making the client aware of their impact, through reporting models and providing alternative approaches such as suggesting the client becomes their own energy provider, recouping their investment through their residents whilst lowering carbon emissions.
Wiebke went on to point out the importance of responsibility throughout the design process and not just during implementation. She referenced an example of a PV panel project implemented in South Africa that hadn’t considered altering the installation manual from the original location, resulting in the panels facing South instead of North. This error impacted thousands of people. The intention may have been globally responsible, but without consistent commitment throughout, the project failed to deliver.
Jonathan expanded on this, touching on the joint responsibility of clients, contractors and designers to ensure a more responsible outcome. He reflected on the current status of the construction sector, seeing two clear camps; those who have seen how responsible design can be implemented and achieved affordably and those who are more comfortable with the status quo.
The panellist all contributed their closing remarks, with Muaaz considering a wider commitment to the planet outside of engineering, bringing into question our consumption of food and clothing. Wiebke concluded by asking;
“What if global responsibility is not actually an attribute of engineers but is actually an outcome that we are trying to achieve? So if we’re trying to achieve globally responsible engineering, what are the skills that are required in order to be able to do that?”
Alongside joining our movement, we believe our competencies provide a fantastic basis to begin the global responsible journey. To learn more about our remaining principles, why not sign up to attend our next Constructive conversation when we will be discussing our purposeful principle.