Sustainable development, especially since the 1992 United Nations Conference on
Environment & Development at Rio de Janeiro, has become an increasingly important
theme in local, national and world politics, and increasingly a central theme for the
engineering professions around the world. The sustainable development concept
requires of all of us – as engineers and citizens – to consider much more widely than
before the impact of our own lives and of the infrastructure and products we produce,
both geographically and temporally.
With infrastructure and engineering products and processes becoming increasingly
complex, engineers need to integrate consideration of whole-life environmental and social
impacts – positive as well as negative – with the mainstream and commercial aspects
of their work.Wise use of natural resources, minimum adverse impact and maximum
positive impact on people and the environment are the targets. As the Introduction to
this Guide makes clear, time is not on our side to make the necessary changes in our
way of life if we are to live within the limited carrying capacity of Planet Earth.
The practice of design has also concerned the Academy for many years. In keeping with
its mission of encouraging excellence in the practice of engineering, The Royal
Academy of Engineering has, since 1998, operated a scheme for the appointment of
Visiting Professors in Engineering Design for Sustainable Development at universities in
the UK, with a total of 26 appointments made so far. The principal aims of the Scheme
are to assist – across all engineering teaching, not just design – in the generation of
teaching materials for the undergraduate curriculum based on real-life case studies, and
to enhance the understanding of sustainability and sustainable development amongst
academic staff and students alike.
The result we seek is that graduates leave their courses inspired by, and with
understanding of, both the concept of sustainable development and the place of their
chosen engineering specialism in delivering it, and with relevant knowledge and skills
to apply in the engineering profession.
One of the Scheme’s objectives has therefore been to create a set of case studies from
the practical experience of the Visiting Professors and to distil a set of general Guiding
Principles that are encapsulated in or illustrated by the case studies. This Guide fulfils
that objective and I hope that it inspires you to make a difference to the world through
sustainable development based upon wise practice of engineering.
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