Tony Juniper, formerly a director of Friends of the Earth, told an audience at Civils 2008 in Earls Court that "the civil engineering sector could be one of the most dynamic and exciting sectors at the sharp end going forward."
"Normally in a downturn, environmental issues get sidelined, this time, we don't have the opportunity to do that. We can’t trade short-term economic goals against environmental ones, we have to tackle them both together. Otherwise, we’re storing up some real problems for the future."
Juniper is one of the contributors to the Green New Deal, an initiative launched by think tank the New Economics Foundation in response to the credit crunch and wider energy and food crises, and to the lack of comprehensive, joined-up action from politicians.
It calls for massive investment in renewable energy and wider environmental transformation in the UK. This they maintain will lead to the creation of thousands of new 'green collar' jobs.
"It’s a breakthrough in thinking to see this [economic downturn] as an opportunity as well as a threat," said Juniper.
Juniper warned however that engineers have to decide to be in that vanguard "rather than be dragged along by events".