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Sponsored: The Great Engineering Challenge of Tomorrow

Engineers have been designing with sustainability in mind for generations. The sustainable acquisition of resource has always been a factor in the making of things but recent years have seen sustainability increase its presence in public conscience and discourse.

As a consequence, governments and businesses are signing up to climate change agreements, compounding an acceleration of legislation. In turn, brands will need to accelerate their response in order to maintain the level of commitment that is legally required of them.

Change has been continuous and manageable over the years, with only specific sectors needing to move more abruptly due to competition or stark changes in industry regulation. Transportation – most notably aerospace and automotive – has been the focus of enormous scrutiny for years and has been responding with investment in energy efficiency, and particulate and carbon reduction technologies. Certain consumer goods have also been the focus of scrutiny with some brands taking measures against excessive packaging, CO2 output, and making use of recycled or biodegradable material.

These changes are all well documented, and many design engineers live and breathe sustainability, but generally knowledge and attitudes are far from reflecting the more stimulated change we can expect over the decade ahead.

And that change is coming. Through the Paris Climate Agreement, in December last year the European Union updated its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels. That same month the UK government announced its plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% within the same timeframe. This most ambitious target is backed by a ten point ‘green industrial revolution’ plan that includes a significant increase in R&D investment.

Waste reduction is also a key factor in sustainability. Not only is a circular economy vital in the fight against plastic waste, so too is changing the way designers design plastic products. Producers will be obliged to ‘clean up’ plastic waste and consumers will be limited through reductions in plastics consumption. The EU’s Plastics Strategy and the UK government’s Waste Strategy are designed to tackle wasteful and damaging litter through legislative action. The measures will not be restricted to single-use plastics and they will contribute to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The ambitions of governments will lean more heavily on manufacturers and on those designing the products, creating the great engineering challenge of tomorrow.

Preparation by sharing knowledge

For design engineers who need to develop their knowledge and skills in preparation for the challenge ahead, support should be forthcoming. Engineering expertise in the area of sustainability is confined to a relative few, so it’s important that provision is made to help share this knowledge.

It’s vital not only to design engineers but also to the companies and brands who employ them. Recycled plastics, bioplastics, production efficiencies are specific examples of what many companies are already engaged in, but a comprehensive approach to sustainability, such as life-cycle analysis (LCA), will become a necessity everywhere in order to sufficiently respond to consumer demand and legislation around sustainable development goals.

The InspirON Sustainability Training Hackathon is precisely the support needed to help meet this challenge. It’s an online training event, in partnership with the Institution of Engineering and Technology (The IET) and Wevolver, that will comprise training seminars conducted by a number of industry experts such as Dr Simon Lockrey and Dr Vannessa Goodship. It will cover a variety of topics including common mistakes made, best practice – now and in the future, sustainable materials advancements and much more besides. There will also be an exciting and engaging team challenge that will help put these learnings into practice.

The design engineers who currently live and breathe sustainability are in a position to share their knowledge and insight to prepare others for this challenge.

Dr Simon Lockrey bridges the gap between technical, commercial, creative, and sustainability fields. He is currently a Senior Lecturer at RMIT, Australia, in sustainability and design, Executive Director of Glowpear and sits on the board of International Sustainable Development Research Society.

"We face grand challenges this century, such as climate change, resource limits, food security issues and water shortage. Increasingly, designers and engineers need to be cognizant of the impact the products and services they create have on the world in light of such problems. Life cycle assessment is one way to understand these issues, and the upcoming InspirON event will help illuminate this world's best practice method so that it can be applied on projects of the future.”

Dr Vannessa Goodship is an accomplished plastic and recycling professional with a wide field of expert knowledge and experience in both industry and academia. She is currently Associate Professor at University of Warwick, UK.

“Sustainability: Leaving it to somebody else is no longer an option. The time to act is now. The time to learn is now. The person to do it is you. The upcoming InspirON event is an opportunity to share in the design of the future, meet the community, make the connections, make a difference! Yes – I mean you!”

With a suitable framework in place, such as the InspirON event, design engineers will be better placed to meet the regulatory and consumer demands of the future – for themselves, for their employers and for their customers.

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