From water management to diversity to sustainable design, Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering conference will bring together a variety of disciplines and perspectives to respond to the challenge of global warming.
The final few months of 2021 will be pivotal ones as the world attempts to stave off the disastrous consequences of climate change.
Last month, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference began in Glasgow, United Kingdom. There, the 197 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change sought to commit to ambitious carbon reduction goals.
This comes in the wake of warnings more dire than ever from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The body declared in its most recent assessment report that massive and immediate cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would be needed if the world is to keep temperature rises to no more than 1.5°C.
Engineers will be pivotal in mitigating and adapting to the challenges posed by climate change, which is why Engineers Australia is hosting the inaugural Climate Smart Engineering conference next week.
This conference will allow engineers to explore the relevant risks and opportunities, to network and to hear firsthand from business, finance, government and engineering leaders.
And because climate change will affect every facet of our lives, the conference’s purview is wide- ranging, incorporating everything from water management to sustainable construction to diversity and inclusion.
When CSE speaker Penny Joseph, Head of Resilience and Climate Change Adaptation at Sydney Water, considers how a changing climate is shaping her decisions around water management in Sydney, three major factors stand out.
One is climate change itself, and its ongoing effects on weather events and human behaviours. Another is the growth of populations, particularly in Sydney’s west. The third is asset lifecycle.
The solutions and opportunities explored by Sydney Water’s team all have customers at the heart and are enabled through engineering, she said.
Joseph will give a presentation called “Utilising the whole organisation to mitigate and adapt to Climate Change” at CSE.
“Our climate change programs include mitigation and adaptation aspects,” Joseph said.
“Mitigation programs such as our Net-Carbon Zero Program are actions that will reduce emissions. Adaptation aspects are actions we will take to manage the risks of climate change.”
Each of the programs require the entire Sydney Water organisation to contribute.
Most importantly, they also involve stakeholder consultation and education.
“Water will be an essential element for reducing heat in the Western Parkland City,” Joseph said, referring to the Greater Sydney Commission’s vision for a cluster of developed urban centres in western Sydney anchored by the new Badgerys Creek Aerotropolis.
“We worked with urban planning and architecture experts on the Western Parkland City: Urban Typologies and Stormwater Solutions report. It revealed how smart water planning can help guide development across Western Sydney to maintain waterway health and reduce the urban heat island effect.”
The report includes suggested templates that can be applied to developments and projects, with full scale implementation resulting in a reduction in the average temperature of an extreme heat day by 4.6°C.
“This can be achieved by implementing cooling actions such as using permeable materials to create surfaces, planting trees, increasing vegetation and irrigating green spaces,” she said.
“This strategy could decrease the average number of extreme heat-stress days [a measure of human response to high temperatures] in summer from 47 to 19 by 2055, ensuring Western Sydney remains an enjoyable place to live, work and play.”
For Arup Civil Engineers Roshini Sriram and Salma Hussein, who will both be speaking at CSE, the conference themes of diversity and inclusion speak directly to their work.
“At CSE we’ll be focusing on workforce and leadership diversity and retaining women of colour,” Sriram said. “We’ll be drawing on research and personal experience to clearly illustrate how that broadly contributes to sustainable development.”
Diversity brings innovation through a noticeably wider variety of ideas, experiences and potential outcomes, Sriram said. It leads to better solutions.
An example, Hussein said, is a discussion she recently had with another engineer about the design of a skateboard park. The lighting originally proposed for the park didn’t take into account the needs of women.
“Generally, women use a space differently to men,” Hussein explained.
“They navigate spaces differently and consider things like lighting, safe routes and access.”
In the past, Hussein said, skateboarding was seen as a largely male sport, and historically most skate parks didn’t account for the needs of females and less able-bodied people.
But this skate park project took these requirements into account, with additions such as secure lighting so that girls and women feel safe to participate, enabling positive behaviour change.
Engineers’ work, Hussein said, is about the end user. It is designed specifically for the people who are going to be using the infrastructure.
“If you’re looking at a project in a specific community, particularly in multicultural cities like Melbourne or Sydney, when the engineer is able to identify with the demographic it helps enormously,” Sriram said.
When stakeholders realise the engineers understand them personally, it also helps to build trust between engineering and construction teams, members of the relevant communities and other stakeholders.
“In our presentation we will also discuss what research says about how capable leadership in engineering facilitates diversity,” Sriram said.
“Inclusive-capable leadership attracts great people, including women of colour. Why do some women choose to leave the industry and why do some choose to stay? That’s often down to the impact of having a strong leadership team.”
Also speaking at CSE is Chartered engineer Ari Hammerschlag CPEng, who leads the Sustainability Team in Built Environment at GHD in Victoria.
One of his latest projects is the Australian Academy of Science’s Shine Dome in Canberra.
Hammerschlag was involved in developing a sustainability plan for the heritage-listed landmark.
This scope includes ensuring its conservation by assessing the building’s internal and external fabric, building systems, operational profiles and forecasting future uses to determine how best to replace old equipment and apply new technology without changing the design.
“What we’ve shown as part of this study is that implementing sustainability is possible and practical and can be done almost anywhere — even on a heritage building,” Hammerschlag told create.
Hammerschlag initially led an energy performance review of the building to understand how it is currently performing, looking at the mechanical services and the building fabric.
“Then we undertook modelling to determine if we implemented certain different design moves, such as changing mechanical services, changing building fabric, changing lighting and other initiatives, how that would impact the energy efficiency of the building,” he said.
“Finally, we undertook a multi-criteria analysis of all the different initiatives that were tested, as well as other sustainable initiatives, to create a sustainable action plan.”
Hammerschlag said there was always an underlying concern about the sustainability measures that could be implemented in a heritage building. While the team found it was quite constrained by the heritage status in terms of what they could actually change about the building fabric, their modelling returned interesting results regarding energy performance.
“The final multi-area criteria analysis that we did looked at all the different options and weighted them against criteria like heritage, energy efficiency, cost,” he said.
“It was clear that a lot of the effective initiatives didn’t actually involve impacting the building fabric. There are a lot of other ways that you could improve building performance from a sustainability perspective without actually touching the building structure itself.”