Engineers Australia commits to a low-carbon future

First published in the Fifth EstateWillow Aliento | 27 November 2014

Engineers Australia has put sustainability and climate change mitigation at the core of the profession, with the formal adoption of two new policies and a series of events on opportunities and challenges of living within our planetary boundaries at its recent 2014 convention.

The new sustainability and climate change policies were developed by a working group including incoming national president Dr David Cruikshanks-Boyd, chair of the Sustainable Engineering Society Alice Howeand chair of the College of Environmental Engineering Erik Maranik. The policies were also peer-reviewed by 25 external bodies.

Dr Cruikshanks-Boyd told The Fifth Estate the new policies bound members of Engineers Australia to put sustainability front and centre in how they practise, and further, when they engage with clients to promote the business case.

“As engineers we have a role to play not just in innovating, but in selling the business case,” he said.

Regarding the property sector, he said engineers must make clear to clients there is a market for sustainable buildings, and use lifecycle cost analysis to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of taking a more sustainable approach and gaining “market edge”.

“This is a positive step forward for the profession,” Dr Cruikshanks-Boyd said.

While the policies were passed unanimously, there was robust debate, he said, particularly around the climate change policy, with a significant minority of members opposing the climate change policy on principle initially. He said given the organisation has about 100,000 members, all of whom were consulted on numerous drafts, a percentage of sceptics was to be expected.

On an organisational level, the policies mean Engineers Australia is throwing its combined weight and expertise behind efforts to transition to a low-carbon energy future, reduce fossil fuel dependence, design within a lifecycle costing framework, look for industrial ecology opportunities in managing waste, and prioritise renewable resources wherever possible.

“There are a lot of engineers associated with the fossil fuel industries, and I thought we would strike problems with them during the debate [on the climate change policy]. But the more balanced members in that industry recognise it must be dealt with, so we resolved that through the simple addition of a statement that there would need to be a transition from fossil fuels,” Dr Cruikshanks-Boyd said.

He said that while the policies would be used as a lobbying and advocacy tool for the profession in engaging with government, the real impact would be on individual practice. Sustainability has been one of the four pillars of the organisation’s binding code of ethics for members since 2010; the new policies give this commitment specific practical directions and measurable principles.

“The next step through 2015 will be to create more comprehensive guidance documents for the membership on how [the policies] play out in practice,” Dr Cruikshanks-Boyd said.

He is hoping the policies will be used both for educating the membership and its client base, and also to educate the universities that are teaching engineering to ensure they properly embed sustainability throughout the curriculum. There were still courses, he said, where sustainability was not being taught as part of standard engineering practice, and that this needed to change.

While Dr Cruikshanks-Boyd is disappointed in the current “entrenched situation” regarding government policies on climate change and sustainability, he said Engineers Australia would ensure the new policies and the views they represent were well known to government.

He also said that the profession was in a position to leverage enormous positive change regardless of government policy through placing its focus on achieving sustainable outcomes in all they do. Just as there are negative tipping points that lead to collapse, there are positive tipping points that lead to exponential progress, he said.

“My view is politicians come and go, governments come and go, but professions live longer,” he said.

“At the end of the day the solutions to climate change will come from applying technical expertise towards mitigation and adaptation.

“We engineers are practical people. I think we will look back in 20 years time and be amazed at the progress that will have been made.

“We get stupidly stuck in this political debate when the focus should be on the actions we can take. The science is unequivocal; we’ve just got to get on and apply our skills and creativity to the problem. And by addressing climate change, we will be driving innovation and that is good for the economy.”

Some of the key statements in the Climate Change policy include:

“Building upon a long history of Engineers Australia policy development, and as the largest technically informed professional body in Australia, Engineers Australia advocates that Engineers must act proactively to address climate change as an ecological, social and economic risk.

“Engineers Australia is committed to natural resources policy reform to adopt full life-cycle analysis, including the pricing of resource use externalities, to ensure responsible resource allocation decisions.

“Engineers Australia will work to facilitate statutory, regulatory and policy reform such as progressive Renewable Energy Targets, incentives to promote renewable and sustainable energy technologies, energy efficiency standards, transport emission limits, and incentives/disincentives to reduce dependence on fossil fuel sources. It is recognised this is part of a transitional process.

“Engineers have an ethical responsibility for, and play a key role in, limiting atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, through transformative change and innovation in engineering education, and practice.

“Reduction of the emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere associated with engineering activities should be accorded urgent priority in engineering endeavours.”

Some of the core statements in the sustainability policy include:

“Our Code of Ethics requires us to develop engineering solutions that repair and regenerate both natural and social capital, while maintaining economic health.

“Engineers Australia acknowledges that to achieve sustainability outcomes requires transformative change in business practices, lifestyles, and in the way resource allocation decisions are made.

“Fundamental to this change is the recognition that a healthy economy is underpinned by a healthy environment and respect for all life on earth.

“Engineers Australia and its members commit to ensuring all relevant stakeholders are consulted, and that open and regular reporting of progress towards delivering sustainability outcomes forms a fundamental component of engineering practice.

“This Sustainability Policy is supported by an Implementation Plan, which articulates specific changes to engineering practice that arise from adoption of this Policy.

“Specific sustainability considerations to be applied to engineering practice (policy and projects) include (not in priority order):

  1. The use of resources should not exceed the limits of regeneration.
  2. The use of non-renewable resources should create enduring asset value (everlasting and/or fully recyclable), and be limited to applications where substitution with renewable resources is not practical.
  3. Engineering design, including product design, should be whole system based, with consideration of all impacts from product inception to reuse/repurposing.
  4. Product and project design should consider longevity, component re-use, repair and recyclability.
  5. Eliminating waste should be a primary design consideration. Unavoidable waste from any one process should be examined for recycling potential as input to another productive process.
  6. The rate of release of any substances to the environment should do no net harm, and be limited to the capacity of the environment to absorb or assimilate the substances, and maintain continuity of ecosystem services. In all instances, such releases should be lifecycle-costed and attributed.
  7. Proactive and integrated solutions are preferable to reactive, linear, “end of pipe” solutions, such that there is a net sustainability benefit.
  8. In circumstances where scientific information is inconclusive, or incomplete, the precautionary principle and risk management practices should be applied to ensure irreversible negative consequences are avoided and not passed as a liability to future generations.”

To view the article on the Fifth Estate website or to leave comment, please click on the URL below:

More like this

Victoria DivisionTasmania DivisionWestern Australia DivisionQueensland DivisionNorthern DivisionSouth Australia DivisionCanberra DivisionSydney Division,Environmental CollegeSociety for Sustainability and Environmental EngineeringSustainability