Several new initiatives have been inspired by the global discussions on climate change, while the virtual format gained record-breaking attendance. 

The engineering sector is ready to make the changes needed to tackle climate change, according to Seth Schultz, CEO of The Resilience Shift and ICE Brunel lecturer.

The 13th Brunel lecture series has travelled virtually around the world over the past 12 months. The series featured eight regional lectures and panel debates, as well as the opening and closing lectures, and pre-lecture discussions between key people and organisations in engineering in those regions.

Engineers are ready for change

Speaking at the closing lecture, Schultz admitted that he had previously been sceptical that the engineering community was willing to make changes in order to deal with the climate emergency. But the profession has shown that it is, and this response was consistent around the world, and from very senior or retired engineers, right down to new graduates.

“There was a uniformity and consistency, and the awareness of the need to do something different – I was absolutely struck by it. This is a massive opportunity,” he said.

Schultz admitted to having been “very, very worried” that change was not happening fast enough, but this had also been proved wrong as several initiatives were catalysed through the discussions alongside the lecture series.

Throughout the series, Schultz had stressed the importance of collaboration, both internally in the engineering community, and externally with other professions and organisations. Engineers should also become more involved in shaping policy, rather than just responding to contracts, and should be more innovative, as opposed to sticking within the constraints of complying with codes, he said.

Climate collaborations

Changes so far include ICE joining the International Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure (ICSI) which comprises organisations including the Resilience Shift, the American Society of Civil Engineering and the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

ICE fellow and KPMG global head of infrastructure, Richard Threlfall, is now chair of the ICSI board. The organisation is recruiting staff and engaging with governments, including at the UN COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.

ICSI is bringing about connection into cities all over the world, Threlfall said. “We’re starting to create the opportunity for engineers to be at the table with other stakeholders, being part of trying to drive the solution.”

Guidance has been launched to support engineers in developing climate resilient infrastructure. Known as Infrastructure Pathway, the resource was developed by the Resilience Shift and launched at COP26.

Using it would foster “more informed decision making, improved coordination and better collective impact for practitioners across the infrastructure lifecycle to better manage climate risk and embed climate resilience and adaptation,” Schultz said.

The voice of engineering

Another new development is the launch of the Engineering Leadership Group to improve collaboration between engineering organisations, and ensure the voice of the profession is heard more clearly in strategic conversations.

The group will include the world’s top engineering firms, who will engage with international institutions such as the G7 and G20 group of nations, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It will work to agree joint positions related to sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and the future of engineering.

The group is one of the first industry-specific business networks created by global business network Resilience First, which has 600 members across nearly 20 sectors, including engineering.

Resilience resolve

Lastly, a new global consortium of non-governmental organisations will be launched. Resilience Rising will act as an accelerator, and use “radical collaboration” across business, engineering, finance, workforce development, government, infrastructure, and research and innovation to ensure resilience, Schultz said.

“All these things have happened in the last 12 months. This is moving and moving fast – it’s an incredibly exciting time to be in this profession,” he added.

Waste not

Also speaking at the closing lecture was Ed McCann, who took over as ICE president from Rachel Skinner in November 2021. Following on from Skinner’s push during her presidential year on climate change action, McCann’s theme will be productivity.

This includes boosting skills, but also reducing waste in terms of materials, finance and human resources. “We have accidentally developed very wasteful practices in the way that we design and deliver infrastructure,” McCann said.

“The commercial models that we use more or less encourage waste in materials, energy and human capital. These are all really contributing to the problems we face in relation to climate change and carbon,” he added.

For example, typically 10-25% of the cost of materials used in construction are associated with errors, he said. “This is both a gross challenge and opportunity to improve,” he said.

Brunel’s future

Threlfall spoke of ICE’s innovation in changing the format of the lecture series, which was not only held virtually, but also featured a lecturer who challenged the profession, and turned the series into more of a discussion than a lecture.

The result was far higher engagement, with some 3,000 people tuning into the lectures. ICE seeks to continue to evolve the Brunel lecture series, away from being “one-off conversations”. ICE and ICSI are to use the series as a way of opening up conversations with a handful of cities each year to see how engineers could help solve challenges that the cities are facing, he said.

“This could be really, really powerful because if we do that for a few years, then we will have started to talk to a significant proportion of the population all over the world,” he said.

“Kudos to Seth for challenging us, and for leading a really great series of lectures – or rather dialogues – this year. I think he’s created a foundation for something that could be even more impactful in the coming years.”

The 13th Brunel lecture series visited the following regions:

Published first on the ICE website, with thanks to Catherine Early.

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