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Professional engineers are increasingly required to play a leadership role in sustainable development, overcoming global challenges, such as depletion of resources, environmental pollution, rapid population growth and damage to ecosystems.

The goal of sustainable development is to enable all people throughout the world to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, without compromising quality of life for future generations.

Engineering Council Guidance on Sustainability

The Engineering Council's guidance describes the role of engineers in relation to sustainability. Six principles have been developed, to guide and motivate you to achieve sustainable development in your work, and help you to meet your professional obligations to seek to achieve sustainability.

Fully compatible with UK-SPEC and the UK Government Sustainable Strategy: Securing the Future, the principles are:

1. Contribute to building a sustainable society, present and future

Engineers have a responsibility to maximise the value of their activity towards building a sustainable world. This requires an understanding of what society demands and what is achievable, and a recognition that these change over time. They should:

  • recognise that though their activity may be local and immediate, the potential impacts of their work may be global and long-lasting
  • have an understanding of other relevant social and cultural structures outside their own normal community of practice
  • understand the important potential role for engineers in the sustainable development of communities
  • recognise the impacts of an engineering project on communities, global or local, and consider the views of the community
  • understand the important potential role for engineers

2. Apply professional and responsible judgement and take a leadership role

Engineering is a profession with a strong ethical dimension, with engineers having an important role in providing solutions for issues such as poverty, under-development and environmental degradation. In making a sound judgement, the professional engineer should:

  • look at the broad picture
  • ensure that their knowledge about sustainable development is up-to-date
  • be prepared to influence the decision-maker for a project
  • identify all the issues and options to the decision-maker for a project so that decisions are soundly based
  • identify options that take account of global, economic, social and environmental outcomes
  • ensure that solutions and options are offered that will contribute to sustainability
  • be aware that there are inherently conflicting and un-measurable aspects of sustainability

3. Do more than just comply with legislation and codes

In seeking sustainable solutions, complying with current legislation, codes and environmental protection regulations may not be sufficient and engineers should:

  • strive to go beyond the minimum wherever possible, anticipating future legislation which may be stronger
  • by their example, help others improve their performance
  • drive future legislation
  • alert the relevant authorities if there are deficiencies in legislation and if sustainable solutions and outcomes could be endangered by regulatory change
  • use their technical expertise to influence the development of new legislation and codes

4. Use resources efficiently and effectively

Engineers have a stewardship role with respect to planetary resources, and a responsibility to society to create more useful products and services with the lowest possible consumption of raw materials, water and energy. This requires them to:

  • understand that there are environmental limits and finite resources
  • reduce resource demand by using less in the first place
  • reduce waste production by being efficient with resources that are used
  • use systems and products that reduce embedded carbon, energy and water use, waste and pollution
  • adopt full life cycle assessment as normal practice, including in the supply chain
  • adopt strategies for re-use, recycling, decommissioning and disposal of components and materials
  • minimise any adverse impacts on sustainability at the design stage
  • work to repair any damage

5. Seek multiple views to solve sustainability challenges

The increasing complexity of sustainability challenges means that engineers working alone cannot solve all the challenges that we face. It is important for engineers to be inclusive and:

  • engage with stakeholders, listening and recognising the value of the perspectives of others, including non-specialists
  • avoid working in isolation, involving other professionals at all stages of a project
  • utilise cross-disciplinary knowledge and diverse skills
  • promote the important leadership role of the engineer in finding solutions to sustainability challenges for the benefit of society
  • seek a balanced approach

6. Manage risk to minimise adverse impact to people or the environment

Engineers are routinely involved in planning and managing projects, where they should:

  • harness their skills to minimise damage to people or the environment from engineering processes and products
  • undertake a comprehensive risk assessment before a project begins
  • ensure that the risk assessment includes the potential environmental, economic and social impacts, beyond the lifetime of the engineering project or product
  • recognise the potential long-term aspect of risk
  • give sustainability the benefit of any doubt, adopting a precautionary approach where scientific knowledge is not conclusive
  • instigate monitoring systems so that any environmental and social impacts of engineering projects are identified at an early stage

The full guidance document can be downloaded from the useful link on the right.  This should be read alongside sustainability related information produced by Professional Engineering Institutions, such as codes, policy statements or guidance of a technical nature.

The full guidance document can be downloaded from the useful link on the right. This should be read alongside sustainability related information produced by Professional Engineering Institutions, such as codes, policy statements or guidance of a technical nature.

Sustainability Wallet Card

Background information

Some of the materials referred to in the preparation of the Guidance on Sustainability can be found in the useful links on the right.

Issued by the Engineering Council's Registration Standards Committee, the guidance replaces and updates the code of practice Engineers and the Environment published in 1993.