Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Doing the right thing

Last month, it was almost exactly a year since The Edge published their ‘Collaboration for Change’ report; something that CIBSE has been heavily involved in under my predecessor Nick Mead, Vice-President Paddy Conaghan and now myself. The report, written by Paul Morrell, was an insightful look at the areas of Ethics, Research, Education, the Performance Gap, Industry reform and Climate Change – and how collaboration between professional bodies can advance the whole industry in these areas.

For me, the report was particularly eye-opening in the way it discussed the effect that the industry could have on Government policy and the wider community if only we can maximise the potential of working together. He should know: He’s the former Government Chief Construction Advisor, and what he had to say in the report was a big influence on my own theme for my Presidency – raising the voice of Engineering in society.

The ‘performance gap’ side of the report was thrown into focus last month by some interesting work by the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP), but it also raised no small amount of ethical questions too. They are launching an 18 month pilot along with Verco, BSRIA, Arup and UBT mirroring the Australian NABERS Commitment Agreement that was discussed at our Technical Symposium in April, and commits those involved in delivering a building to minimum levels of in-use performance.

Mirvac Group won the Facilities Management Award at the 2016
Building Performance Awards for their 6 Star NABERS performance
The BBP have said that it’s about designing for performance rather than designing for compliance which, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head. We shouldn’t just be doing this to tick the requisite boxes and avoid getting into trouble, we should be doing it out of a commitment to make buildings perform better environmentally and for their occupants.

To me, this is where the ethics comes in. If we are going to achieve the goal I set out earlier this year, and take our place as engineers at the top table on sustainability issues, we need to be as sustainable as we can because it’s the right thing to do, not just because we have to. Getting involved in a scheme where we can promise a certain standard – and then go out and deliver it – would show that we have both the commitment and the technical skill to make a difference in the world. Something not many other professions can claim.

From a similar standpoint, another event I attended in May gave similar pause on the subject of women engineers and their place in the industry. Very kindly hosted by Lord O’Neill, the CIBSE patrons briefing and dinner at the House of Lords was a great success yet again. Our keynote speaker, former ‘Tomorrow’s World’ presenter Kate Bellingham gave a rousing talk on the importance of STEM education in raising the next generation of engineers – and also focussed on the appallingly low percentage of women in the industry – quoted as 6% of chartered Engineers.

                         Fiona Cousins covers the ethical question in the 2016 Annual Lecture

Here again, there are both practical and ethical reasons why we simply must do better. STEM subjects are naturally areas from which engineers are likely to emerge, but the profession must also cope with the lure of high-wage City firms picking off the cream of the talent, whilst engineering is all too often seen as a dull alternative without the same potential for excitement and reward. This again is another area where engineers need a bigger voice – we make the modern world work, and the answer to some of the world’s most pressing problems from overcrowding to climate change lie firmly within our remit.

We can inspire future generations to take on these challenges in our industry - the best equipped to deal with them – but it requires influential voices to make the case for engineering as a world-changing job with real solutions to make a better future. And this cause isn’t helped when we fail to appeal to more than half of the population, but inspiration is a great start. National Women in Engineering Day run by the Women’s Engineering Society is a brilliant effort that is held this year on 23 June, and brings together hundreds of national initiatives from events in schools to national media work.

We’re helping out this year with our survey on inspiring women engineers, but we all need to do more. This is another area in which our leadership can play a big part in showing young women and girls what is possible through an engineering career, whether that’s through higher education or apprenticeships, and dispelling the myths around the industry that it’s ‘just for boys’. As with a lot of what we do, true leadership will only be achieved when we make change because it is right, not just because it is necessary.

Only 6% of Chartered Engineers are women


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