Engineers have an extremely influential role in shaping and ensuring our sustainable future, writes WSP Sustainability Design Consultant Elise Brown ahead of her appearance at Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering conference.
In A Sustainable City: How Engineers Will Ensure Long-term Sustainable Prosperity, a paper I co-authored with James Gleeson from Marvel Engineers, we examined how innovative infrastructure has begun to influence our ability to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are aimed at creating enduring value for an ever-evolving society.
We explored advances in digital technology and green infrastructure, solutions that cater for our shifting society and that potentially offer infinite capability and potential, thanks to the scalability of technology.
Our stance is that smart innovations and smart technology provide good alternatives to our current behaviours.
For example, there’s an opportunity, which we’re seeing in action in some places, to integrate things like artificial intelligence and big data to create a more sustainable agricultural system.
Smart technology allows farmers and policymakers to create strategies based on real-time feedback about climate conditions, weather patterns, soil quality, moisture, fertilisers and more.
Smart tech can optimise the use of fertilisers and pesticides and identify accurate irrigation levels for crops in a specific field and a specific geography. This replaces the current, typically unsustainable methods of irrigation and fertilisation.
By integrating data, processes are optimised and new opportunities are presented. Vertical farming is a good example. It brings agriculture into the areas that consume most of its produce
Engineers implement these designs. They’re innovators and they educate policymakers and others on opportunities. They are influential in planning, design and construction — in every facet of the building of our cities.
And we’ll require engineers to come up with new solutions in every facet of our cities.
This is what we’ll be discussing at the Climate Smart Engineering conference.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the breadth of opportunity is to quote from the abstract of our paper, which I think sums it up quite nicely.
“Picture a sustainable city: net-zero carbon emissions, interconnectivity, digital networks, and existing infrastructure proactively maintained for optimal performance. Energy is centred around clean and renewable sources such as wind and solar, and waste is valuable capital for circular and regenerative systems. As a service, transport prioritises inclusivity and accessibility, with well-connected high-capacity mass transit corridors. As society grows, new infrastructure is adaptable, flexible and regenerative.
“For our current society, changing climates and outdated infrastructure, unable to keep up with demand, have forced a rethink of how our cities operate. With the risks of climate change intertwined with our societal desire for continual growth, is our infrastructure capable of meeting the challenges that lie ahead?”
Only engineers can provide the answer.