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  • You are here:ICE

Viewpoint | Engineers’ vital environmental role

On 1 August this year, the world’s population had used more of the Earth’s natural resources than the planet has the capacity to regenerate.

Sara thiam crop

Sara thiam crop

Sara Thiam

Earth Overshoot Day is the day the planet maxes its credit card for another year.

The Global Footprint Network calculates the date, which gets earlier each year, to help us understand that what we are doing is like spending our income for the whole year by 1 August and living off debt for the rest of the year. As with debt, eventually we have to start paying back and effects like climate change are the evidence that the systems are starting to pay back for our overuse of the planet.

Rather than engaging in doom and gloom scenarios, Scotland’s environmental regulator is leading efforts to move the date. Its take? “We’ve had the ingenuity to create the lifestyle, which means we’re using the planet by 1 August so we have the ingenuity to turn it around.”

In her Brunel lecture this year, Linda Miller argued that civil engineers have a duty to use their skills and knowledge to “do the right thing”. Professionally qualified civil engineers sign up to this when they become members of the Institution, which is bound to act in the public interest.

Bad for business?

But doing the right thing does not have to be bad for business as we demonstrated with our partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage earlier this year. We held an event on sustainable environmental management and good construction, showcasing the role of the Environmental Clerk of Works.

The construction industry creates about 50% of Scotland’s “three earths” rating while transport impact only contributes around 5%. Therefore, it is vital that civil engineers inform, shape and lead this debate.

Improving the way the construction industry works could lead to significant gains. A range of Scottish organisations including Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), Zero Waste Scotland and Low Carbon Scotland have joined forces with the Herald newspaper under a Climate for Change banner to push this forward.

They are working with businesses to support innovation in a range of areas. As well as asking businesses to be innovative, they are working to innovate themselves. Sepa has partnered with Entrepreneurial Scotland and Babson College Boston to get young entrepreneurs to look at problem plastics. Last year’s project looked at solutions to enable businesses to earn more from handling and processing waste tyres.

Lowering our environmental impact while ensuring people continue to enjoy a high quality of life – going about things in a way which mean we can begin to push back Earth Overshoot Day – is quite simply what good civil engineers do.

The ICE’s Project 13 business model – based on an enterprise not on traditional transactional arrangements – is an excellent platform to take this work forward. In boosting certainty and productivity in delivery, improving whole life outcomes and supporting a more sustainable, innovative, skilled industry, we must also ensure that we are keeping our eye on “moving the date”.

  • Sara Thiam is ICE Scotland regional director

 

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