How to Build a New Legion of Sustainability Engineers

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Most of us feel like we live in a fantasy world with how technology keeps progressing. Any kind of food and drink is available with just a short trip to the store; clothing is cheap; any item we can imagine could be on our doorsteps in a matter of hours or days; and we are connected to nearly everyone in the world through glowing screens. For this enchanted life, we must thank the ceaseless efforts of engineers.

Yet, the work is not over ― if anything, it has just begun. Humankind will never stop advancing, but it is becoming ever-more apparent that we direct our advancement toward environmentally friendly outcomes. Therefore, the more green engineers we have working in the field, the better. Sustainability must become a primary focus for the engineers of tomorrow, which means we must work today to educate engineering students to keep environmental impact in mind. To ensure that the future of engineering is a green one, we must cultivate a legion of sustainability engineers.

Establish Values of Sustainability in Engineering Curriculum

The sooner an engineer learns about the importance of sustainability, the more likely that they will be to integrate environmentally friendly practices into their work. Therefore, engineering programs at colleges and universities should compel emerging engineers (or, at least, offer the option) to take one or more classes on sustainability. The knowledge that sustainable materials are available, sustainable practices are achievable, and sustainable engineering does exist will encourage future generations of engineers to consider green options whenever possible.

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    Established engineers can gain a sense of sustainability by returning to school, perhaps for an online master’s in engineering. Because advanced engineering programs provide training in more than engineering practices, engineers who seek additional education are more likely to receive a firm foundation in sustainable practices. Furthermore, with this credential, engineers can proceed into leadership positions, where they will have more influence in fostering a sustainable engineering mindset.

    Encourage Conscientious Thought in Project Development

    Most engineers have a simple goal: to complete a project on-time, under-budget, and to the client’s specifications. As a result, not all engineers consider how their projects will impact anyone or anything other than users; as long as the customers are happy, the engineers should be happy, too. There is little reason for engineers to fret about greater responsibilities, perhaps to the economy, society, or the environment.

    Yet, as recent history has shown, technological advances are not without broader impact. Every vehicle on the road adds pollutants to the air; every home appliance drawing energy from the grid contributes to climate change. Energy inefficient designs, toxic materials, and other harmful processes are degrading the planet, so lack of foresight is to blame.

    Engineers, engineer leaders, and engineering firms in general must consider the impact of their designs before producing them and releasing them to the public. Being aware of potential dangers to public health goes beyond checking for immediate user injury; any creation that can damage the environment will eventually contribute to human suffering.

    Promote Critical Thinking for Alternative Methods

    Most engineers pride themselves on their critical thinking prowess. It is difficult to be an effective engineer without the ability to problem-solve and evaluate quickly. However, it might be beneficial to tweak how engineers think critically. For example, rather than searching for the cheapest, easiest solution, engineers should consider solutions that offer higher energy efficiency, alternative materials, and are more sustainable ― while remaining cost effective for producers and consumers. After a brief period of cognitive reprogramming, generating alternative, sustainable technologies will be second-nature for engineers.

    Compare Industrial and Sustainable Engineering Practices

    It is important to note that modern engineers are not at all evil, and past engineers did not actively work to destroy the environment. Still, it is undeniable that left unchecked, current inefficient engineering processes will burn our precious natural resources cause damage to the planet. It is imperative that more engineers modify their methods to become sustainable ― and view this change not as a burdensome pivot away from historical engineering practice but rather a new development in the evolution of engineering knowledge. Future engineers must be O-shaped, concerned not only with client satisfaction but with the relationships their creations make to environments, cultures, and more.