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Man with a mission

Working lives - ICE vice president Paul Jowitt was beating the drum for sustainability long before it became fashionable.

Sporting a 'make poverty history' wristband, ICE vice president, Paul Jowitt cuts an unusual figure at the ICE.

But his customary academic's scruffiness and modest disposition belie an energetic and positive campaigner who is almost single-handedly leading ICE initiatives on how engineers can help turn the slogan into action.

Jowitt is chair of Engineers Without Frontiers (EWF), a presidential commission set up in 2003 to shape a consensus among engineers on how to take the engineering and millennium development goals (MDGs) forward. Brainchild of past ICE president Doug Oakervee, the commission has forged a set of engineering principles for development and poverty reduction to be presented to the G8 summit in July (NCE 5 May).

Jowitt is under no illusions about the scale of the problem to be tackled.

'There is a frightening worldwide water problem, and current water projects only scratch the surface, ' he says.

As water systems specialist and professor of civil engineering systems at Heriot Watt University, Jowitt sees improving water supply as key to achieving almost all the MDGs. EWF literature sums up his view: 'The health of the nation should be measured by the number of taps, not hospital beds, ' it states.

And Jowitt firmly believes that engineers have the right mentality and skills to deliver concrete solutions.

'If you take the millennium development goals as an engineering project, engineers will have an approach to that, ' he says. 'They will consider timelines, the needs of the client, partnerships, the mechanics and procurement system. It is perfectly doable. But until recently there hasn't been the will.' The will is growing, says Jowitt. But the most powerful potential for change is coming from young engineers, he says.

'Young engineers do not just want to make 'things', they want to make things for a purpose. They connect values to engineering, ' he says.

Engineers need to make sustainable development and a holistic approach integral to engineering practice, he says.

When he began researching water systems analysis at Imperial College in the 1970s, the word holistic was regarded with 'massive suspicion', Jowitt says. 'It was viewed as being off the wall.' 'When I started it was about hard systems, mathematical algorithms and so on, but by the 1990s it had got to soft systems. We were dealing with complexity rather than complex ideas, ' he explains. 'Systems became the language of sustainable development.' Jowitt got into the sustainable development field 'almost by accident' when he was asked to head up the Scottish Institute of Sustainable Technology in 1999.

And his involvement with the ICE began when the then president Mark Whitby asked him to 'look at guidelines for including sustainable development in engineering degrees'.

Rather than 'imposing a load of new content', he set out simply to change the way engineering students thought about what they were doing. This involved paying closer attention to engineering activities that had previously been pushed to the margins - the economic, social and environmental aspects of schemes. This process is, he says, 'still in the testing phase'.

As the forthcoming G8 summit competes with Wimbledon for the media's and the public's attention, Jowitt is frantically issuing communiques to ensure engineers' voices are heard by the politicians.

'The task for me is to try and articulate the views of engineers to Number 10, the Department for International Development and the press, ' he explains, and to make sure 'engineers don't become the technical handmaidens of politicians'.

For further information on EWF go to www. sistech. co. uk/ SISTechICEonlineprojects. htm

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