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Engineers apathetic about sustainability goals

UN Sustainable development goals

Apathy and lack of knowledge of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are holding back engineers from working towards them, according to an exclusive survey carried out by New Civil Engineer.

More than 100 engineers and related professionals were asked what they thought were the biggest barriers to engineers contributing to achieving the SDGs - the list of 17 goals launched by the UN in 2015 with a vision to ‘end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all’ by 2030.

Many said apathy and a lack of interest were to blame while others said clients and financial constraints represented hurdles.

“Lack of awareness of SDGs, lack of resourcing, lack of willingness from client, heavy focus on financial gain,” wrote one respondent.

”Apathy and inertia,” said another.

“Lack of awareness especially in higher management,” read another response.

Some 85% of respondents said they were very or extremely interested in sustainable development, and nine out of 10 believed engineers had a pivotal role to play in achieving SDGs.

Yet only a third rated themselves as well informed on the topic.

One said there was a perception the goals were only relevant to those involved with aid work or international development rather than being viewed as something that could be applied to any project.

“As a consulting engineer, there is an ever increasing push to be more efficient and to do work at the lowest cost,” said another. “This reduces the time and budget available to consider these. If clients are not interested in these, it is difficult to push them, albeit I think we should.”

Asked which of the 17 goals engineers felt they coud have most impact on, the most common answer was goal 9 - Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation.

The second highest chosen was goal 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Engineers were also asked to say how they thought the goals could be achieved.

“Keeping clients informed of the options they can take, and the positive reasons behind why they should be doing it,” said one. “Keeping solutions we present practical and achievable. Placing emphasis on sustainable goals at a project conception stage, rather than as a form of mitigation further down the design process.”

Another suggested stricter regulation to stop projects being undercut by ”less environmentally conscious consultancies”.

“Engineers have a pivotal role to play in achieving the global goals, however the greatest perceived barriers to achieving them are financial, political and apathy,” said BuroHappold Engineering graduate engineer and New Civil Engineer graduate of the year Brittany Harris.

“We need to raise awareness and build cameraderie to overcome apathy and engage more engineers, and to support legislative and cultural change to encourage greater accounting of sustainability in projects.”

ICE president Tim Broyd said: “The UN SDGs are an important reminder to civil engineers throughout the world that our work has the ability to touch and improve all of the world’s population.

“I am delighted that New Civil Engineer has raised this topic. The survey results show that we all need to increase our efforts in explaining to the various stakeholders in infrastructure schemes that global issues can and do affect all that we do. To quote Donne, ‘no man is an island, entire of itself’.”

To help boost awareness of the SDGs, NCE will feature several projects in the coming months where the goals have played a significant role in shaping the outcome.

We’ll also be hosting a round table event to further explore how to raise awareness further. If you would like to take part, please email with SDG Debate in the subject line.

The sustainable goals are:

Goal 1 – End poverty in all its forms everywhere

Goal 2 – End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Goal 4 – Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Goal 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

Goal 6 – Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

Goal 7 – Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Goal 8 – Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Goal 9 – Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

Goal 10 – Reduce inequality within and among countries

Goal 11 – Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

Goal 12 – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

Goal 13 – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*

Goal 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

Goal 15 – Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

Goal 16 – Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Goal 17 – Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

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