The Financial Times had an interesting book review yesterday by Edwin Heathcote (the architecture critic for FT) - - the book is Vitamin Green and the title of the review tells us a lot - - Enough Already. Heathcote raises the central question for engineering in the age of sustainability - - Can we submit our urge to build and still make claims of sustainability? I am not sure engineering yet understands the importance of addressing this question.
Heathcote writes the following:
"Part of the problem lies in the fuzziness of the future. The introduction suggests that 40 percent of carbon emissions are caused by buildings - ergo architecture is responsible for 40 percent of global warming. But what does this mean? If I boil a kettle in a house, is that me, is it the kettle or is it the house? Is it a moral problem or one of design?
If we don't live in houses and work in offices, presumably their carbon emissions would be lower. It is not the buildings, it is us and all the stuff that is the problem. And design is, by and large, about stuff. New stuff, better stuff, worthier stuff, greener stuff, more exclusive stuff. The greenest chair is a second-hand chair: no design involved."
Engineering is fundamentally about the stuff. But we should also guard against the idea that the greenest engineer is the one not working. Sustainability must be viewed positively - - design can and must become a way in which young people can participate in changing today. The thinking engineer of this century should be taking into account the effects of production, the social/economic impact and the recyclability of a new product, not as an add-on or a marketing trick. Sustainability must be viewed as a matter of course.