Just a drop in the ocean or a lot of hot air?

UK Context

This post is not about the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, which is an excellent professional body, with which I am associated and to which links to new reports are provided below.

The fact is, however that our reductionist approach to problems has led to the fracture of the professions in the UK into specialisms (silos?) where each is vying to demonstrate leadership in ‘sustainabilty’, when in reality any progress in reducing the resource intensity of products and services is likely to come from ‘lateral thinking’ across sectors, rather than ‘vertically’ within a sector.

In 1999 I was asked by a cross-sector grouping of Engineering Institutions, part of a national initiative, named the PEI; in the North West of England to coordinate a ‘Sustainability Joint Venture’ but unfortunately the PEI folded and the Institutions went their own way. In the North West we produced a Professional Engineers’ Handbook for many years and in 1999 it included this short article of mine.


Sustainability – A Role for Engineers?


All of us trying to maintain our competence in today’s industry and society are aware of the incessant and ever increasing pace of change. To this has been added something that is barely visible at the moment, a drive for sustainability in the economic, social and environmental components of life.


A realisation that the resources of the planet are finite, especially the Global Commons- the things that are largely free to us all, but the responsibility of no one.


Many things are happening, driven by legislation, research and public pressure, which engineers need to be ware of, and by their education and abilities can make a positive contribution to.


There now exists a Regional Development Strategy and a Regional Sustainability Framework, both arrived at through wide consultation. The Region now has to deliver on these if we are to prosper as part of a sustainable world community.


More importunately it is doubtful if we can attain prosperity, social and environmental well-being without leading this transition to more sustainable products, processes and services. Engineers individually and collectively have the means to contribute most to this move to a sustainable community. This is not a debate, it is already taking place!


            Engineers by engaging in this vital task can attain the respect they deserve- engineers led the first industrial revolution and we can lead the second,.



Not just a drop in the ocean or a lot of hot air:  IMechE Energises the Renewables Debate

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers is setting the pace when it comes to campaigning for renewable sources of energy. We are committed to highlighting the complex challenges raised by climate change and the depletion of natural resources, and the innovative, world-class, practical solutions which are being created by our members.

In the past three weeks, we have published two new reports on renewable energy in the UK which have hit the national headlines, and have been picked up by government:

Marine Energy

Looking at the enormous untapped potential for marine and tidal power, the Marine Energy report argues that with its abundant natural resources, innovative funding proposals, political consensus, and world-class engineers, Scotland could pioneer commercial marine energy and become a global leader in this emerging source of renewable energy.

Read more about the marine energy report

Download the full report (PDF, 4Mb)

Energy from Waste

With the UK producing over 300 million tonnes of waste a year, and the impact of rising global energy prices kicking in, the Energy from Waste report advocates revolutionising the way we look at waste, reading it not as a problem to be ‘dealt with’ but as a valuable resource which could help us meet our national and regional environmental targets and commitments.

Read more about the energy from waste report

Download the full report (PDF, 2Mb)


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