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Coffee with Lauren: Sustainability and Social Responsibility in the Engineering Curriculum

We sat down for a coffee and a chat with Lauren Scott, Project Engineer at Continuum Industries and engineering graduate of the University of Glasgow, to discuss the importance of sustainability in engineering education.

Q: Lauren, how crucial is training for sustainability and social responsibility as an Engineer?

A: There is a compelling business case for engineering firms and educational institutions to embrace sustainability. Sustainability training is now recognised as essential, whether for attracting top talent or equipping students and employees with the necessary knowledge and expertise to fulfill clients' requirements.

Q: What event did you recently attend to discuss this challenge?

A: In September 2022, I was invited to speak in a panel hosted by Engineering  without Borders Glasgow & Strathclyde. My fellow speakers were Joe Jarvis, a recent Strathcylde graduate, Adam Neil, a Senior Project Manager at Worley, Richard Jardine, Energy Sector Lead at WSP, Dr Scott Strachan of the University of Strathclyde and Dr Kevin Worrall of the University of Glasgow.

Q: What topics did the panel cover?

A: The purpose of the panel was to discuss how well sustainability and global responsibility are embedded within the engineering curriculum. As a former engineering student myself, I knew the answer: it’s not well incorporated. This is despite a substantial shift in the Engineering Accreditation Board (EAB) criteria for the ‘Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes’. The change, made in August 2020, now requires that courses encourage the promotion of equality, diversity and inclusion and encourage the use of both the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Engineering Council Guidance on Sustainability in programme design and delivery.

Engineering competency has long been defined as someone's technical abilities. The concept of adding social and sustainability issues to the curriculum reframes the profession of Engineering in a way far better suited to the challenges of today. The EAB has set the standards, but how this is executed will be critical in shaping future engineers. 

Q: How do we ensure that students and curricula are not remote from the reality of the engineering profession and its challenges?

A: During our discussion, a better link between industry and the student population was recognised as being tremendously beneficial. On one end, engineering students and researchers have access to information about equality, diversity and sustainability that companies can learn from. And on the other end, the industry could better prepare students for their careers by being more transparent about the challenges in the industry. 

Q: What role do Engineers have to play in slowing down global warming today?

A: Engineers have a critical role to play to help the world achieve sustainable development. In most sectors, it is no longer possible to be a professional engineer and ignore the challenges and opportunities that arise from needing to achieve sustainable development. Climate change is presenting the biggest challenges engineers have ever faced. And the acceptance that change is required in universities, in the industry, and their interdependence, was unanimous in the panel. Adam Neil made a comparison to the last ‘major shift’ in engineering within the energy sector. This was about thirty years ago post the Piper-Alpha disaster when the oil platform located northeast of Aberdeen exploded and sank. 

I was raised in Aberdeen, and this event has been discussed frequently throughout my education and personal life. The industry responded, and they responded fast with many of the prior standards being inconceivable today. A reminder that the ability to adapt is there.

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