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Sustainable Development and Environmental Stewardship - Part 1

This week we launched our “Learn with Me” program were we take a course together.

The course we decided to start with is Sustainable Development (SD) and Environmental Stewardship (ES) provided for free by Polytechnique Montreal. This 4-week course introduces the topic and walks through 10 guidelines of sustainable development and environmental stewardship for Professional Engineers created by Engineers Canada in 2016.

Oxfam Doughnut

The first session began with us hearing from a variety of engineers, city planners, and others involved in sustainable engineering efforts. This provided the context of why this topic is so important. It also introduced us to important definitions:

Sustainable Development - “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Brundtland Commission)

Environmental Stewardship - “the wisest use of the finite resources in nature to produce the greatest benefit while maintaining a healthy environment for the foreseeable future” (The World Federation of Engineering Organizations)

Together, environmental stewardship is about keeping what we have, whereas sustainable development is about getting what we need.

These definitions are intended to be practical and operational. They shape an objective to maintain a healthy environment at a cost but not at all costs recognizing that the environment will adapt and evolve.

Sustainable engineering defines an approach to engineering to meet the challenges of sustainable development and environmental stewardship. Sustainable engineering assumes a broadened responsibility across the pillars of environmental, social and economic development. These pillars must be balanced to achieve a world that is livable, viable, and fair.

Pillars of Sustainable Development

The technical challenges alone that face sustainable engineering are immense. We learned using the IPAT equation that technologies will have to improve their efficiencies and emit up to 87% less green house gas for each unit of goods and service produced to achieve greenhouse emission targets. Clearly, there is much work to be done and considered.

In many ways, in Canada, we have not done as much engineering as we used to. However, we now have an opportunity for that to change. Engineering needs to take on a more significant, broader, and intentional role if we are to achieve sustainable development and environmental stewardship objectives.

To put all this into practice the national guideline on sustainable development and environmental stewardship for professional engineers outlines 10 guidelines for engineers:


  1. Should maintain and continuously improve awareness and understanding of environmental stewardship, sustainability principles and issues related to their field of practice.

  2. Should use expertise of others to adequately address environmental and sustainability issues and enhance understanding and improve practices.

  3. Should incorporate global, regional and local societal values applicable to their work.

  4. Should establish mutually agreed sustainability indicators and criteria for environmental stewardship at the earliest possible stage in projects, and evaluate these periodically against performance targets.

  5. Should assess the costs and benefits of environmental protection, eco-system components, and sustainability in evaluating the economic viability of the work.

  6. Should integrate environmental stewardship and sustainability planning into the life- cycle planning and management of activities that impact the environment, and should implement efficient, sustainable solutions.

  7. Should seek and disseminate innovations that achieve a balance between environmental, social and economic factors while contributing to healthy surroundings in the built and natural environment.

  8. Should become engaged in a leadership role in the ongoing discussion of sustainability and environmental stewardship and solicit input from stakeholders and accredited experts in an open and transparent manner.

  9. Should assure that projects comply with regulatory and legal requirements by the application of best available, economically viable technologies and procedures.

  10. Should implement risk mitigation measures in time to minimize environmental degradation where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage but a lack of scientific certainty.

Today these are voluntary for the most part. However, it is conceivable that in the near future “should” may be replaced with “shall” as governments strengthen their environmental commitment.

Accepting responsibility is alway better when done voluntarily so now is the time for engineers to do just that. This after all is what engineers have always been good at –accepting responsibility – which is embedded in our code of ethics:

The primary duty of engineers is to hold paramount the protection of public safety and welfare with due regard for the environment and societal values - Engineers Canada Code of Ethics

I look forward to the weeks ahead as we continue to explore the topic of sustainable development (SD) and environmental stewardship (ES).



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