This year’s World Engineers Convention (WEC) in Melbourne coincides with many major milestones and events that celebrate the value that engineers bring to many industries.
It is an especially important moment as nation leaders, dynamic entrepreneurs and philanthropists are looking more and more to engineers to solve the world’s biggest problems.
The themes for this year’s WEC don’t shy away from these serious challenges. Climate change, fostering more diversity within the profession, and making technology more human-centric all feature as part of the six key themes of the convention.
For this year’s event the themes tie into the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
According to the United Nations, the SDGs “address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice”.
With WEC bringing together engineers from around the world to share knowledge and experiences, it is an opportune time to redefine how engineers can work towards a more sustainable future.
SDGs: how engineers can influence goals
In a recent Insight piece, former Engineers Australia National President and President Elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), Dr Marlene Kanga says engineering skills will be vital to achieve the SDGs.
Goals where engineering skills will be in demand include clean water and sanitation for all (Goal 6), availability of sustainable energy sources (Goal 7), creating strong and resilient infrastructure (Goal 9) and liveable cities (Goal 11).
Former Chair of the College of Environmental Engineers, Engineers Australia, and the current Chief Engineer of the Australian Capital Territory Adrian Piani agrees, saying many engineering leaders are aware of how engineers are vital in achieving the SDGs.
“There are other goals on the list that have a definite, if not immediately obvious, need for engineering. Number 12 — responsible consumption and production — will need improved methods of recycling and processing if things like food waste are to be reduced.
“Then consider number 2: zero hunger. The production of more – and more nutritious – food will be aided by factors that include pest outbreak and climate modelling, safe and sustainable herbicides and fertilisers, and the development of different strains of crops and animals.”
WEC: great minds to solve great problems
While nothing is stopping engineers and engineering organisations from starting to solve these issues right now, WEC serves as an important opportunity for engineers to get aligned in how they go about reaching major sustainability goals.
The convention will also bring some of Australia’s and the world’s leading innovative technologies to the forefront that deserve more attention.
This includes mechanical engineer Darren Lomman’s project to stop plastic waste ending up in our oceans by converting it into 3D printer filament.
Darren is the mind behind GreenBatch, an organisation that collects plastic bottles from a network of secondary schools in Western Australia and converts the plastic into useable filament to be returned to the schools for their 3D printing projects.
Darren works with about 50 schools across Western Australia and hopes to increase that number to 300 next year.
Automation can also play a significant role in transforming future systems to become more sustainable and efficient.
University of Melbourne’s Australian Integrated Multimodal EcoSystem (AIMES) is using automation to help solve congestion in some of the world’s busiest roads.
The project involves developing infrastructure to allow all road users (drivers, cyclists and pedestrians) to “connect with each other and sense their greater environment for distributed cooperative cognition”.
This will allow road users to detect congestion hot spots faster and keep traffic flowing better.
Delegates of WEC will get to see the project first hand as one of the convention’s offsite tours.
These case studies and projects not only help inform audiences, but also inspire them to think about how their skills can be translated into working towards a more sustainable world.