Sustainable development is one of the United Nations’ Global Goals that it would like to achieve by 2030. As a part of this strategy, it has developed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Engineering will play a key role in helping the UN as it strives to make progress towards these objectives. But how can organisations integrate the SDGs into their engineering strategy? And how can engineering be used more effectively to improve efficiency, productivity and profitability whilst also promoting sustainable development and helping to solve global challenges?
The 17 SDGs are wide-ranging, and to start responding to them, organisations will need to invest more heavily in the skills of their engineers and will also need to call on a wide array of skill sets from many different disciplines. There needs to be a new mindset and a new approach if we are all to make progress towards these important goals, which represent a shared and universal set of aspirations. As a result, we believe that every company should start to examine its business, its capabilities, and its customers and suppliers through the lens of the SDGs.
A new mindset
To align ourselves with the UN objectives, all companies – and especially engineering-based organisations – need to start thinking differently. We each need to look at the entire ecosystem of which we are a part. This includes looking at the needs of our customers, our employees and the environment more carefully. For instance, many employees want to know that their companies have a wider purpose than just their commercial aims. Meanwhile, investors and stakeholders are looking for greater transparency and productivity. Successful companies will be those that have enhanced their profitability whilst also helping society to address some of its most challenging problems.
This new approach will mean meeting the needs of the world’s peoples whilst conserving the Earth’s precious resources. This will involve the creation of new engineering solutions that are sustainable and effective, ranging from reducing waste at a local level through to major topics such as tackling climate change.
As engineers, it can be easy to think that we are already delivering items such as safe transport, safe water, clean energy and better sanitation. However, we need to do more , so that our work isn’t just focused on today’s needs but also looks to the future. The world is still battling against huge poverty, unemployment and health issues (such as Covid-19) and we need to be part of that battle.
A new approach
Innovation is going to be one of the key areas of focus that will enable companies to progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This includes continuing to explore the potential of topics that could have a powerful and positive impact on society – such as clean energy. It also means making better use of both new and existing technologies. There needs to be a focus on the complete lifecycle of products so that we look at the circular economy. This will involve using engineering to drive innovation throughout the whole of the supply chain. This in turn will help engineers to think more creatively about areas they’ve never even considered before.
At the same time, we need to make sure that our engineering solutions meet real needs. There are many exciting challenges ahead – and we should be using technology and new scientific findings to help sectors such as the healthcare industry, whilst safeguarding the environment.
Meanwhile, there is a pressing need to train and recruit engineers throughout the world. At the moment, there is a real dearth of skills, and a lack of both young people and women entering our profession. They need to be encouraged to see that engineering is key to a brighter future – for them, for others and for the world in general.
Engineering needs to be an intrinsic part of sustainable development – and sustainable development needs to be an intrinsic part of our engineering training in the future. And we all need to remember that engineering is a team effort. In the future, we must work even more closely with each other, with other professionals and with private and public organisations, including government organisations worldwide. We must take a more active role in the governance and management of our communities, our organisations, our countries and even our homes. By working together, we can start to win the fight against the many worrying challenges facing our world.