Rethinking the place of engineering in society

Environmental engineer Charlotte Wang believes we should consider the place of engineering in society, how technology affects culture and the environment, and the impact engineering advice and recommendations make in decision-making in large organisations and politics.
News Image
Rethinking the place of engineering in society

Environmental engineer Charlotte Wang believes we should consider the place of engineering in society, how technology affects culture and the environment, and the impact engineering advice and recommendations make in decision-making in large organisations and politics.

"I think this would go a long way to addressing our current sustainability problems," Charlotte explained. In her work as sustainability advisor at Edge Environment, this young engineer is modelling the life-cycle environmental impacts of products like concrete and trains to help manufacturers understand and communicate the environmental impact of their supply chain and processes.

She is also working on implementing sustainability on major infrastructure projects such as Sydney's Metro Northwest and Inland Rail, but Charlotte didn't start out in engineering focusing on the environment.

Charlotte left school with a background in humanities and was worried about finding a job with an environmental engineering degree because she felt it was such a new discipline. Fortunately one of her lecturers at The University of NSW (UNSW) helped her understand what it was all about and she was able to transfer from a civil engineering degree to environmental.

“Originally, I found environmental engineering so daunting because I hadn’t studied science past Year 10 and suddenly I needed to study physics, chemistry and biology/ecology at a university level,” Charlotte said.

“Looking back, I realise that it’s actually exciting to have an environmental engineering degree because it’s an emerging field and there isn’t really one definition for what it is. And you get to help define it by the way you choose to use it.”

Charlotte's ambitions include imagining new ways of engaging young engineers in the future.

“I would love to be an academic and introduce a more self-conscious strain to engineering education,” she said.

“As engineers, we work with models and modelling techniques all the time, yet we don’t seem to teach young engineers to be reflective about the ‘model’ or ‘system’ called society and the body politic that we’re a part of."

 

Image: Charlotte Wang, courtesy of Edge Environment via original source UNSW.