Can We Engineer Our Way to a Sustainable Future?

Can We Engineer Our Way to a Sustainable Future?

Our Training Manager Rhodri Thomas was recently invited to give a talk to the Chartered Institution of Civil Engineers. He tilted the lecture “Can We Engineer Our Way to a Sustainable Future?” and use it to explore the tensions between what society needs, what it thinks it needs, the environmental limits to meeting these needs and how industry, science and technology is responding. He drew on his own learning journey from being a graduate and researcher in systems ecology to his present role of helping organisations make sense of the principles of sustainable development in their specific context. The crucial link he suggested was the way that energy transitions through systems: natural and sustainably designed systems such as those developed by Permaculture re-circulate energy while traditional engineered systems exploit a linear one-way flow of energy that is permanently lost to the system once the useful work has been done. He cited examples of modern design and engineering which used energy in a more organic way and blurred the boundaries between engineered and ecological systems. He concluded by echoing the late Dr. Steve Harris of the University of Glamorgan and the Schumacher Institute who believed that science and technology, if used responsibly, had a limitless capacity to deliver sustainable prosperity and social justice and should be elevated in the public and political mind as the means by which a sustainable future can be secured.

His talk was followed by a reflective discussion in which the engineering professionals in the audience recalled how their industry has embraced ecological concepts in recent decades. Civil engineering firms are now multi-disciplinary and many in the audience had a life sciences background. While all accepted that engineers have enormous capacity to invent sustainable solutions and employ technology in harmony with nature, the reality is that creativity in engineering is largely constrained by legislation and economic imperatives. All accepted that the industry has and continues to change and despite challenges offers some excellent examples of practical sustainability. There is no room for complacency however and civil engineering companies can learn from other large corporates and should embrace the networking opportunities offered by the newly established partnership between Cynnal Cymru and The Institution of Civil Engineers who have recently joined Cynnal Cymru as a corporate member.

Rhodri is educated to Masters level in Environmental Management and has worked for the Environment Agency and Forum For The Future among others. He has a Professional Graduate Certificate (PGCE) in Adult Education & Training. 

Cynnal Cymru offers a variety of tailored training and professional development packages for individuals and organisations. If you would require further information or would like to discuss your training needs, please contact Rhodri Thomas, Training Manager by emailing training@cynnalcymru.com or telephoning 029 20 192021.