Part 4: Relating Sustainability to Environmental Engineering
I like to describe environmental engineering (ENE), my primary major, as: problem solving at the interface of people/society and the environment. What happens if a drinking water source gets contaminated? How would it affect the community that relays on said source of water? How can it be remedied, and at what cost? These are just some of the questions and issues that my profession faces. Environmental injustices like the drinking water epidemic in Flint, MI is a devastating example of what happens when environmental engineers do not perform their job correctly. Economics and money play a huge role in my career as well. The rate of raw material, land and resources dramatically affect a company’s or municipalities budget. Additionally, in the consultant realm of ENE, engineers can be selective with clients and projects, meaning there is opportunity of promoting equity when it comes to access of engineering services. I can also choose the type of communities I impact by careful selection of projects.
Additionally, to become an engineer, one must uphold and abide by the American Society of Civil Engineer’s (ASCE) Ethical Canons and Principles of Sustainable Development. ASCE’s Canons include, upholding the “safety, health and welfare of the public” and the environment, “being honest and impartial when serving the public, their employers and clients” and treat all persons fairly (Code of Ethics). The ASCE Principles of Sustainable Development state that engineers shall be committed to “Do[ing] the Right Project” and “Do[ing] the Project Right” (Policy Statement 418). This includes performing life cycle assessments (LCA), planning or resiliency and minimizing the use on non-renewable resources. These are common themes and concepts in the sustainability field and in sustainability projects.
Promoting and performing sustainable engineering has been a topic/concept that every one of my senior-level courses. There even is a specific course called Introduction to Sustainable Engineering that I am required to take. While I have been introduced to sustainability topics through my engineering courses, my background in Sustainability (from the dual major) made my comprehension of these topics easier. Also, because of my dual major, I am required to take more social science or soft science classes. This makes me a more critical thinker when compared to my engineering counterparts as I have a better understanding of an individual’s or community’s thinking and decision process. This is extremely helpful because if I understand my client’s or the public’s point of view, I can design an alternative better or be able to communicate my ideas more efficiently.
While it obvious how sustainability fits within my profession, however, I do have concerns when it comes to finding sustainable engineering jobs. Unless you are a project manager, or higher, it is impossible to make impactful sustainability choices. Or unless your career is specifically in LCA or Sustainability Advisory Services.
“Code of Ethics.” American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), www.asce.org/codeofethics/.
“Policy Statement 418 - The Role of the Civil Engineer in Sustainable Development.” American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), www.asce.org/issues-and-advocacy/public-policy/policy-statement-418---th....