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Guidance on Sustainability

Professionally registered engineers and technicians are required to carry out their work in a way that contributes to sustainable development, as outlined in the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC).

The six principles set out by the Engineering Council to support professional engineers and technicians when making decisions for clients, employers and society that affect sustainability are as follows:

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. This is not only about doing less harm but also about actively restoring and regenerating, where possible. They should:

  • recognise that though their activity may be local and immediate, its potential impacts may be global and long-lasting and may span several supply chains

  • understand the full range of sustainability implications across the life cycle of products, processes or systems

  • understand other relevant social and cultural structures outside their own normal community of practice

  • be proactive, contribute and positively influence the sustainable development of communities, local or global

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

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

  • consider the broad context for their work

  • be aware that there are inherently conflicting and un-measurable aspects of sustainability

  • adopt a systems thinking approach wherever appropriate

  • keep their sustainable development knowledge up-to-date

  • provide issues, options and solutions to decision-makers enabling sound decisions, congruent with sustainable development principles

  • lead by example, influencing others to improve their engineering sustainability performance, including non-engineers and those in the supply chain

  • include lessons learnt as part of the engineering process

3. Do more than just comply with legislation and codes: be prepared to challenge the status quo

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

  • strive to go beyond the minimum wherever possible, anticipating future legislation which may be more stringent

  • question current standards and seek improvement

  • drive the development of future legislation and regulations in line with sustainable development principles

  • alert the relevant authorities if proposed regulatory change could give rise to fresh issues which endanger sustainable engineering practice

4. Use resources efficiently and effectively

Those working in engineering have a stewardship role with respect to the planet’s finite resources. This brings a responsibility to use resources efficiently and effectively, and to take account of the whole life cycle from the design phase to  manufacturing and use, and to end-of-life waste management. Engineering professionals should:

  • minimise any adverse sustainability impacts at the design stage

  • design and use products, processes and services with the lowest possible consumption of raw materials, water, energy and other resources

  • adopt life cycle assessment as normal practice, including in the supply chain, to quantify the environmental implications of projects

  • apply the principles of circularity (circular economy), promoting the elimination of waste and pollution, and the continued safe use of resources for as long as possible

  • adopt strategies for re-use, recycling, decommissioning and safe disposal of components and materials

  • seek regenerative outcomes to redress damage and past harm

5. Seek multiple views to solve sustainability challenges

Solving increasingly complex and interconnected sustainability challenges will require working in multi-disciplinary teams, across geographical boundaries, and with greater inclusivity of communities. Engineering professionals should:

  • proactively engage with all those who may be impacted, positively or negatively, by proposed solutions

  • seek to involve those who traditionally may not have had a voice in the development of engineering solutions

  • listen to and recognise the value of the perspectives of others

  • utilise cross-disciplinary knowledge and expertise, and diverse skills at all stages of a project

  • consider the potential impacts for future generations

  • seek a balanced approach

6. Manage risk to minimise adverse impact and maximise benefit to people and the environment

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

  • undertake a comprehensive risk and benefit assessment before a project begins and after completion

  • strive to ensure responsible and ethical sourcing

  • include the risks and benefits of environmental, economic and social impacts beyond the lifetime of the engineering project, product or service

  • consider the potential risks of how the product or service will be used, to enable mitigation at the design stage

  • prioritise sustainability goals including where scientific knowledge is not conclusive, applying the precautionary principle

  • instigate monitoring systems so that all impacts of engineering projects are identified at an early stage

Sustainability tools

Please see our press release on the January 2021 update to this Guidance on Sustainability. The guidance document and a handy wallet card listing the six sustainability principles can be downloaded from the links below. This guidance should be read alongside sustainability related information from your institution, such as codes, policy statements and technical guidance.

Download the Guidance on Sustainability leaflet

Guidance on Sustainability has been designed to be read alongside sustainability related information from your institution, such as codes, policy statements and technical guidance

… (Read more)

Download the Guidance on Sustainability wallet card

A handy wallet card listing the six sustainability principles, designed to be used alongside sustainability related information from your institution, such as codes, policy statements and technical guidance.

… (Read more)

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