1.7 The Engineer's Role in Sustainability



1.7 The Engineer's Role in Sustainability

Engineering: The art of directing the great sources of power and Nature to the use and benefit of Man. -Thomas Tredgold, 1818 [see reference 16]

Engineering is defined as the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, economic, social and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. (dictionary.com)

Development can be called the sum of our products and projects, i.e. our application of technology. In these applications engineers carry out, influence or decide the options evaluated, the decision-making criteria, the decision and the detailed design and implementation/production.

For development to becomesustainable, engineers must incorporatesustainabilityinto all our planning and engineering of products and projects. Technology is neither good nor bad in itself - how we choose to apply it determines whether a good balance is achieved.

Engineering integrates with all aspects of society; it takes concepts from maths and sciences and puts them into context through social and economic considerations before implementing them as tangible outcomes in society. It is essential that engineering understands social and environmental constraints and does not just conform to economic necessities. The purely business influence has been the paradigm norm of engineering, which has led to the problems outlined above.

Bill Kelly describes how social responsibility is key to an engineers role:

Social responsibility is not a new issue for the engineering profession. It is fundamental to defining engineering as a profession. Following the concept that the outward part of an engineer's social responsibility is affecting public policy, the engineering profession is challenged today to help define social responsibly as part of defining the principles and practices of sustainable development.[see reference 17]

Above text sourced from cnx.org (Author: Bill Kelly) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 United States

This module will consider an engineers role in society and how that relates to aspects of sustainability. An engineer has a duty to implement their knowledge of how the world works to design systems, processes and technology that will benefit humanity. As explained in this chapter, humanity faces grave challenges in survival, and as such a knowledge of these challenges and a willingness to solve them these must be reflected in an engineers duty to society.

In making the world sustainable a key concept is design; we need to design how society, the economy and the environment can all function as one holistically and symbiotically, without one detrimentally affecting the other. A fundamental part of engineering is design and as such it will be engineers, integrated and embedded in society that can use their skills to steer humanity away from collapse to a bright and optimistic future.

Follow this slide show from Cambridge University which is entitledWhat do engineers need to know about sustainable development?


The Engineering Council in the UK has produces a guidance on sustainability, which defines 6 principles that engineers should adhere to:

  • Contribute to building a sustainable society, present and future
  • Apply professional and responsible judgement and take a leadership role
  • Do more than just comply with legislation and codes
  • Use resources efficiently and effectively
  • Seek multiple views to solve sustainability challenges