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Engineers Australia commits to a low-carbon future

David Cruickshanks-Boyd

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 Howe and 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.”

Comments

13 Responses to “Engineers Australia commits to a low-carbon future”

  • Steve Hennessy says:

    I for one am very pleased with the policies – a great positive step forward – whilst some might say this has been a long time coming – Engineers Australia should be congratulated for taking a stand.

    I note that in recent discussions some would like the policy re-edited to include a reference to economic viability – which then opens up a whole new can of worms (valuing externalities and future weather related calamities etc) – but I think there is an even more interesting issue – should engineers now work on projects which promote or are linked to the continued use of fossil fuels?

    This is taken from the EA Climate Change Policy

    Engineers Australia’s members acknowledge:
    • 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.

    Engineers could limit atmospheric greenhouse gasses by no longer building coal fired power stations, or coal loaders, or oil rigs…. – refusing on ethical grounds to work on such new projects would certainly be ‘transformative’

    Just an idea…..

  • Terry P. Spiro MEM, FIEAust, CPEng, NPER, Life Member ASHRAE says:

    My congratulations to Engineers Australia for preparing and releasing these properly considered, up to date, widely circulated and relevant policy statements as a guide to EA members and advice to the general public, that these topics are important and worthwhile. This in my opinion is not about agreeing or disagreeing with climate change, BUT remembering as Engineers we play a part in what happens in the world, For example, as a Building Services Engineer, it is feasible for me to accept we have a responsibility to design sustainably, promote the use of materials that are the least harmful to the environment, then assist contractors to construct and also assist building owners to maintain “buildings” to be as environmentally friendly as possible, within the available resources. This requires an ongoing promotion of awareness to present and future planners, developers and elected Government representatives.

  • Ian Borthwick says:

    Dr Cruikshanks-Boyd is disappointed in the current “entrenched situation” regarding government policies on climate change and sustainability. I take the view that, while climate change is undoubtedly real, we are not yet in a position that there is anything economic we can do about it just now and there may never be. Ultimately the market will decide and the government is quite right not be swayed from their fundamental job, which is to govern. The eternal struggle between state regulation and private ownership will continue and as the situation deteriorates changes will be made. Just now for the poor of the world, the most important thing for them is the cheapest possible energy they can get – plus good strong buildings.

  • Tina Perinotto says:

    We’ve received a few climate sceptic comments on this article, which we have chosen not to publish.

    The Fifth Estate accepts the consensus of the world’s leading scientists that the climate is warming and that we need to take action as a matter of urgency.

    We encourage vigorous discussion on the best and fastest ways to achieve this but we will not provide a platform for those who question the consensus of scientists.

  • Prof David Hood AM says:

    That website that seemed to drop off in my earlier comment above is:
    https://www.longfuture.org
    And, as for the suggestion of establishing a committee [by engineers to decide on the science] …. Why? Engineers are not climatologists. They have advised us of the situation, and it is unethical of engineers to comment on anything outside their competence. How would [the commentator] like a committee of climatologists forming to decide if his bridge design was safe, or them suggesting it is OK to grab a 66,000 volt power line? We must accept the expert’s advice, and work seriously to mitigate the causes, and adapt to the changes now locked in by humankind’s stupidity.

    • Tina Perinotto says:

      This is a reply to a comment containing climate scepticism that we have removed in line with our policy that this publication had been established because it accepts the climate science consensus and is concerned to find ways to tackle the challenge as a matter of urgency. David Hood’s comment has been edited to remove reference to the previous commentator.

  • Raymond F Butler FIEAust says:

    The words “or economically feasible” should be added to section 2 of the policy summary as shown in capitals below
    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 OR ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE.

  • James says:

    Congratulations EA on this courageous and overdue initiative. Up with the game, relevant, and essential. The best news in ages.

  • Dr Len Walker says:

    I have previously offered comments on aspects of the policy relating to climate change at the time it was proposed. Many (most?)of the principles of sustainability all engineers would support. However making it an “ethical responsibility” to limit greenhouse gas emissions, when there has been no proper or public review of the facts currently at play, is in my view what is unethical. Declining global temperatures over 17 years, increasing Antarctic ice, no change in rates of sea level rise in the past century are a few of the items which should be properly reviewed by the profession even it is too hard for the politicians. Reliance on the so-called “95% of scientists” slogan is inadequate.

    This policy would presumably make it unethical to enthusiastically support the development of coal-fired power stations of improved efficiency, or the construction of new coal mines, and to design and build them. To attribute so-called scepticism from members on this issue to their “association with the fossil fuel industry” is demeaning and is an insult to their critical thinking capability.

    If the Engineers Australia leadership wishes to adopt and force on its membership a political agenda, so be it. This member, having served on one of its committees many years ago, wants no part of it and will be tendering his resignation from membership immediately.

    A voice in the wilderness perhaps (although I suspect not) but one hoping to honour the responsibilities of true professionalism, and of open and honest scientific enquiry.
    Kind Regards. Dr Len Walker, BE, MEng Sci, PhD(Cantab), MBA

  • Helen Millicer says:

    Congratulations EA. This step shows that EA and it’s members recognise they have a key role as part of the solution. Indeed, to have no policy on CC and sustainability would mean engineers remain passive and an impediment to the essential transformation.
    I look forward to seeing this translate to changed advice to clients, changes to material, product and design selection on the basis of life cycle impacts (not only financial and aesthetics), and so much more.
    This will help position EA members who implement these policies as our leaders into the future.
    Helen Millicer
    One Planet Consulting

  • Congratulations Engineers Australia. At last engineers have taken a strong stand for the future of society, and all life on this planet. It is engineers working with all other professions and disciplines that will find the solutions for the survival of humanity. If you are really interested in supporting strong action for a long future, check out

  • Great list of objectives.

  • “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”.

    Shouldn’t that read “eliminate fossil fuel dependence” My invention converts deep pelagic wave power – in your case from the Southern Ocean – into heat as per my patent description at

    https://register.epo.org/application?number=EP09764565&tab=main

    Also you can take a look at this link

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0asXlozKFg

    to give you some idea of scale. This Scottish invention, Gentec WaTS, in Australia will provide ALL of your electricity 24-7-52 in the TWh range and trillions of tonnes of (flash) desalinated water as a by-product of the generating process. You could irrigate the internal deserts of Australia with this 100% renewable water.

    You can, however plug away with intermittent dribs and drabs of electricity that relies on fossil fuels to keep the lights on 24-7-52.

    I can offer you a free licence to develop my simple invention because I want to actually save our planet for our children and grandchildren without burning anything at all.

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