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Environment board makes a statement of intent

ENGINEERS' APATHY towards environmental issues is reflected by NCE's recent publishing of the first three ICE environmental policy statements which are yet to attract a single response.

But environment and sustainability board chairman Peter Braithwaite is determined that the six statements will come into regular use as guides for members when talking to the media.

Braithwaite said: 'The statements should enable members to give a quick response to the press on behalf of the ICE on what are often contentious environmental issues.'

Gaining approval for each statement in line with Council, Executive and the relevant boards' views has taken 12 months and now Braithwaite is puzzled at the lack of response to an initiative that will empower engineers to speak when once they were gagged.

He said: 'Future Framework identified that members did not have a proper voice on the issues of the day. It was felt that the ICE could not enter an argument and represent the breadth of members views. Issues like Twyford Down, for example, affected members who were contractors and local residents alike.'

Suggestions that Terry Mulroy's recent criticism of Lottery money for environmental improvements to the Stonehenge tunnel project were not representative of the ICE's official view spice the argument.

'It needs to be hammered home that these policy statements are Institution policy and should be followed,' said Braithwaite whose second batch of statements, due out in the spring, will cover areas such as urban, energy and transportation.

Braithwaite brushed aside disappointments, confident in the developing muscle of the board he has been chairman of since 1996. Having been upgraded from a panel to a board after a debate in Council last year, ESB is changing its personnel. The original membership from other technical boards is gradually being replaced by full time environmental specialists.

Braithwaite is particularly encouraged by reactions to his tour of the local associations over the last 18 months. 'I've found out that as time goes on there is a growing awareness among engineers about the environmental impact of our work. Engineers realise that they have a responsibility to use renewable materials and insulate buildings properly.'

Further motivation for engineers is offered via ESB's good practice case studies which highlight projects which are exemplars of energy efficiency and waste minimisation.

Braithwaite said: 'I hope we are getting the message across that the environmental option is not necessarily the more costly option. People get a mind set that environmental equals expensive because green foods and detergents in supermarkets are always more expensive. In engineering, improving the environment is about improving efficiency. It saves money in the long run.'

As head of the environmental division at Ove Arup in the Midlands, Braithwaite has first hand experience of the vital contribution engineers can make to the environment.

'In the environmental sphere, we as engineers are a key element in a multi-disciplinary team. We can make a massive contribution to environmental mitigation because we understand technical details about oil platforms or structures and that gives us a tremendous advantage over an environmental scientist.'

For the future, Braithwaite - who draws rainwater for everyday use from a wooden butt in the his garden - is hoping to persuade the ICE to make environmental strides closer to home. A draft plan for an environmental management system of Great George Street is being considered.

'We've come up with a template and then given it up to the people who work in the building because they have to produce their own statement and own it themselves,' he said.

The final plan will be produced after a survey of all Great George Street staff to glean their attitude to environmental action.

Improvements such as recycling paper, minimising other forms of waste and reducing energy used are within easy reach, but Braithwaite stressed that these measures will only succeed led from the top.

Pleas for full backing from the Executive have so far been met with a very cautious response. Braithwaite said he is eagerly looking forward to see whether Mike Casebourne's arrival as Chief Executive & Secretary will speed the plough. 'There's a new broom coming in and everything is up for grabs,' he said.

Ultimately ESB would like to see the environmental performance of Great George Street included in the annual report. 'It would make the ICE accountable, in its bid to reach environmental targets.

'It's easy for us to preach about environment and sustainability, but the acid test is whether we as an institution care enough to put our own house in order. I hope the ICE will rise to this challenge.'

Braithwaite flicked through one of the heavy tomes, typical of the papers produced by the boards and committees, and smiled: 'One of the main problems the board has is that we produce so much paper, it's not sustainable,' he laughed.

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