” I am left with pride and responsibility to make the most of the momentum we have collectively generated.”
In August 2019 I was walking along the street near my home and my good friend Lizzie Webb called. She shared how she had been in discussion with Danny Almagor and others on the challenge that is the 63% contribution the Australian Engineering Industry makes to national emissions.
I am passionate about leaving the planet in a better state than I was born onto it. This philosophy comes from camping as a child with my parents who believed it was our responsibility to leave a site cleaner than when we found it. Liz described how she believed the engineering industry needed to collectively declare a climate and biodiversity emergency as a first step to acknowledging both the scale of the problem and need for collective and urgent action. And so, my reply was ‘I guess we’ll be building that movement then? You realise I have no idea where to start right?”
Through conversations with activists, individual practitioners, business leaders, influencers, and fellow movement builders our thinking as looped, spiralled, coalesced and continues to evolve. Some of the many questions we have grappled with are:
- The use of the word emergency, knowing that it is associated with a perception of rash, out of control action despite its definition being founded on two principles: Is the risk material? Is the timing urgent? Both of which climate change is doing a wonderful job of demonstrating a resounding ‘yes!’ too
- Why would businesses sign? We developed and refined a paper to support communicating this.
- Why is it important to generate? And continue to generate signatories? This is something we continue to grapple with. My thinking is that the collective intention of a large group of people with clarity in that which they are contributing toward mean that we can have conversations that transcend day to day competitive behaviours and philosophies. We can advocate and communicate to other stakeholders as a united collective with the understanding that the goals toward which we are working are shared despite the method or language varying. For this reason and many others, I believe the declaration will continue to play a role.
- What is ‘missing’ from the voice of the engineering profession? With our professional roots in the engineering roles, myself in commercial aerospace and Liz in water, we know that it is full of logical, intelligent, rational, passionate and determined people. Indeed, it delivers the infrastructure, products and services that provide many if not all of our basic needs, transport, energy, mass food production and distribution, shelter, information technology, water et al. And yet if you ask my engineering colleagues why they do what they do most cannot connect their jobs to improving people’s physical health, enabling social connection and therefore improving mental health, or any of the other Sustainable Development Goals. Their roles are far too narrowly and immediately defined as solving the technical problem as it is presented to them. Not challenging the boundaries of that problem, reframing them and connecting them back to the broader environmental or social outcome that is so often just below the surface. Not only is that connection infinitely more satisfying from a professional level but it would ‘level’ up the creativity required to deliver the same project outcome. You could think of this as focussing on outcomes not outputs. Not a skill that is taught in engineering degrees nor a muscle that is flexed in most practice. But one that is desperately needed to accelerate and amplify the amazing technical solutions that exist and the work that is already occurring.
I have spoken to 100’s of businesses and industry leaders and equal numbers of individuals at project level; I am generally excited for the next part of the journey which will be working at a transdisciplinary level to define, unite, accelerate, amplify and celebrate a rapid and just transition to a new economy, new business models and new products and services. No small goal which if I stop to dwell on it too long seems faintly ridiculous and unattainable. So, for me the key is not too stop too long, not too think too hard about the scale of the change but to press forward. Make the next introduction. Test the next idea. Have the next conversation. Our brains become easily overwhelmed at things bigger than we have influence or control over.
One of my core skills is sense making, or the ability to put together disparate experiences, information, people and draw insight from these connections. I see an opportunity to connect greater levels of entrepreneurial thinking, values-based outcomes to iterate not the outcome but the technical solution and business model used to deliver it. This will over time, change behaviours, likely change the type of skills which are valued and regenerate our society and the planet on which we depend.
I am slightly embarrassed when others remind me, I was a fast follower to the dancing woman who so quietly and collaboratively started the Engineers Declare movement. But in the midst of the experience that is a global pandemic and off the back of a shocking bushfire season, I am left with pride and responsibility to make the most of the momentum we have collectively generated. So, the campsite my children inherit is not just cleaner but stronger and more resilient.References:
Climate Emergency Defined by Paul Gilding
Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/@karsten_wuerth