The Sustainability Society asked the Engineering NZ Board nominees for their perspective on some issues we believe are important. See their answers below. We have 19 nominees, some have not yet answered so check back soon.
What are the critical tasks Engineering NZ need to undertake in the near-term to enable more sustainability-oriented practices across engineering sectors?
Geoff Hunt – As chairman of the Construction Strategy Group for 7 years, until resigning last year, I lead the effort to have government procurement tendering practice to focus on whole of life cost instead of cheapest price for construction (buildings and infrastructure). I also lead the effort to give consideration to the commitment to training by bidders when principals assess tenders. Both of these considerations are strongly about about two aspects sustainability and are now written into government procurement rules. I see the construction sector as wasteful with productivity much lower than it can be. For example about 40% of material going into landfill sites in Auckland is from demolition and new construction projects – there has to be room for improvement. The Construction Strategy Group promoted the idea that construction sector productivity could be improved by 5-10% over a 10 year period. At $40b spend per year in the sector this strategy has the possibility of annual savings of $2-4b annually which is huge. This would help fund accelerated investment in essential infrastructure. To achieve this, Projects have to be procured differently with more effort in design to realise lower construction costs etc.
My main reason reason for standing as VP is that I believe Engineering NZ has the gravitas to speak out and be heard on such fundamental issues but fails to do so effectively. The Engineering Profession can do a lot better for NZ. I have proven that with commitment we can drive change and make a difference.
Geoffrey Farquhar – The role of enabling more sustainability-oriented practices across engineering sectors rests not solely with ENZ but with relevant technical interest groups, especially the Sustainability Society. ENZ looks to its experts in the field for guidance on what should and can be done. ENZ will then work to see how to best implement that guidance. One constraint is the role and nature of ENZ as a membership organisation and professional body. The primary task for ENZ is communicating the need for change in practice and how this is best implemented by members given their wide ranging areas of work and interests.
Glen Cornelius – The critical tasks I believe ENZ should be doing in the near-term to enable more sustainability-orientated practices across engineering sector is firstly sign up to the Climate Leaders Coalition accord to demonstrate leadership in sustainability and secondly look at providing training programmes in Sustainability in Design as the biggest impact the engineering sector can have is in the whole of life design considerations.
Paul King – We, as Engineers, face several challenges to drive sustainable practices not only in our organisation, but in our projects and for the community. Engineering NZ has a primary function to support the adoption of these practices at all levels by:
– Providing the education, tools and resources to understand the potential impact client change will have now and in the future to our members.
– Lobby central government and equity firms to invest in more sustainable practices to address the impacts of client change to build resilience in our future infrastructure in particular around the three waters.
– Challenge local, central government and the community to build these practices into their day to day lives.
– Inspire the next generation of engineers who will carry the legacy of the work we do today now and into the future.
Steve Raynor – Building on initiatives already begun in transport systems reform and in resilience I think will return good results in the near term. NZ as a nation is beginning to hear and respond more positively to the changes in these areas and with continued effort we can make a few of these improvements actually stick.
Growing our engineering capacity into emerging energy technology and materials fields is another area that I would like to see accelerated. This is the beginning of a generation-long push to graduate more engineers and to keep our current engineering professionals developing and learning into the leading edge of these fields and others … A learning engineer is a problem solving engineer
Matt Harris – Thank you for sending this list of questions through, the Sustainability Society being the only Engineering NZ Society to do so.
As a current Sustainability Society member I am very aware of the urgent climate change issues facing us and that, as a global society as a whole, we are still far away from addressing even the minimum carbon reduction practices required to prevent excessive warming and catastrophic changes that this will entail.
Whilst Engineering New Zealand exists to support its members it also exists to inform and educate the general public, government and the like of our engineering risks and opportunities; not only specifically regarding climate change but also in the area of sustainability as a whole. As such I would like to see Engineering NZ take a much more vocal stand in increasing its members presence at discussions on these items; particularly in regard to policy review at government level.
We pride ourselves, as engineers, as being at the centre of many of the future sustainability solutions; yet we remain underrepresented as a profession at the NZ decision-making tables.
Sisira Jayanatha – Getting involved with regulatory, industry and special interest groups to lead discussions on sustainability.
– Promoting innovative practices to miimise social and enviornmental impacts.
– Request engineers to provide evidence for developing susttainable solutions as a part of the project portfolios for the competence assessment.
Tim Fisher – Engineering NZ has a purpose “Engineering better lives for New Zealanders” and key strategies for connection, credibility, influence and recognition. I support these strategies. Sustainability needs to feature in these strategies a lot more than it currently does.
Rene Bakx – As part of a top down exercise, to enter into dialogue with the senior executives of Consulting Practice’s in New Zealand. These executives tend to be the first point of contact with any new client and this often presents the one opportunity to influence the client as to what should and should not be considered as part of a project brief. This is not a simple exercise given;
* client driven pressure on cost;
* commercial tensions for the consultant to present the best proposal against stiff competition from other consultants;
* perception that sustainability criteria in project evaluation and design will add to project complexity and therefore cost ( as reflected in the Aotearoa Circle article from Chapman Tripp );
* expose the project to greater scrutiny to a wider range of stakeholders either during the consenting or design process;
Just as a similar set of issues are being dealt with by the government for the construction industry, it is appropriate for Engineering NZ to facilitate this debate amongst the decision makers representing the consultants.
The further effect of having this conversation with senior executives is that they tend to control the outputs of their engineering staff and how these staff discharge the practice obligations to the client. So often during my career I have seen the effect of the outputs being driven by commercial imperatives as opposed to sound technical judgement. one area where this is particularly evident is the fee offers on projects are set low to gain the project and the technicians are then limited as to the time and inputs they are able to dedicate to the task. Of necessity they will then spend most of their time delivering technical solutions with minimal time spent on what may currently be perceived as a distraction such as the question of sustainability within the context of the project.
Many infrastructure projects consume significant amounts of materials that have high embedded carbon emissions (steel, concrete etc). Do you think that Engineering NZ has a role to play in moving towards alternative low-carbon materials and if so, what is it?
Geoff Hunt – Yes. In too many areas it is regulations that prevents different approaches. For example why do we not use more structural timber. Engineering NZ has to take a more proactive role in working with the government agencies to build momentum for change. To do this the voice of Engineering NZ has to be heard with more gravitas and more respect.
Geoffrey Farquhar – ENZ has a role to play by promoting debate, education and leadership amongst it members. ENZ’s role depends on its relevant technical interest groups, especially the Sustainability Society. The answer to this question is tied to the answer to question 1.
Glen Cornelius – Yes ENZ does have a role to play and its in raising awareness. Again this should be by providing training programmes in Sustainability in Design to assist educating people on alternatives. I see that the biggest impact the engineering sector can have is in the whole of life design considerations.
Paul King – A key part of development of any Engineering Project is its carbon footprint. NZ has a significant aging asset infrastructure, across the country. The key change we need to make as an industry that will impact on our greenhouse gas emissions is the decision to renew or replace aging infrastructure. Engineering NZ has a leadership responsibility to promote carbon accounting as a critical element in any design and provide training to the industry to make this happen.
In addition, Engineering NZ has a wider responsibility to educate industry, clients, and community on the value of this. This in turn will drive the market demand not only with designers and clients but also with suppliers. This in turn will drive the paradigm shift on projects from purely commercial viewpoint to support a more holistic outcome for current and future generations. We, as industry leaders, need to show it’s not an optional extra or an either-or scenario but a critical part of the design process to consider the carbon footprint of the project.
Steve Raynor – Interesting that my masters was a part of this very topic – removing steel from construction methods in the Middle East. There is not an easy answer and therefore, yes, Engineers are the best suited profession to be at the centre of the change.
There is a reason steel and concrete are predominant construction materials – they work and are cheap – when it comes to replacing them the material options are few so the question becomes more along the lines of other ways to achieve the same outcome or possibly not build at all. This is where clear thinking Engineers can make the difference and come up with options and alternatives.
ENZ may be in a good position to influence the direction of university research towards creating and quantifying these alternative materials, and similarly influence government legislation that requires a sustainability analysis at design phase of projects – similar to how safety-in-design has become a standard practice now.
Matt Harris – Yes, a good example is the positive work completed by the Green Building Council to date, which showed so much promise when originally launched. Unfortunately, the opportunity to mandate this (or a version of this) as part of the NZ building code means that, often, developers will take the shortest construction cost route and omit valuable long-terms cost and energy saving systems. The result is construction methodologies that are based on short term monetary decisions alone, rather than whole-of-life costs in terms of money and carbon use.
Engineering NZ has a key role is leading the discussions on why this should change and in educating those that can make the change in how to do it. In short, we have the knowledge to show how low-carbon materials could be more readily used for a net benefit for all; we should be spreading this knowledge.
Sisira Jayanatha – the suitability and sustainability of a particular material is highly dependent on site- and project-specific factors. the lowest embodied carbon solution will vary across structures types and from project to project. Our goal should be to promote the most appropriate option for each particular project such as use of recycled materials (concrete waste, etc) for new construction.
– Encourage and initiate discussions for developing onsite energy solutions to minimise energy transportation.
Tim Fisher – Yes, but I want to hear from TSS about how we do this? Is it more training? Is it more guidelines and support material? You tell us as you know best. If this has proved hard to do, then tell me and we can do something about it.
Rene Bakx – Engineering NZ has an important role to play to continue to raise the awareness and education not just in relation to the low carbon alternatives, but also how their materials are subsequently used. Using a building by way of an example, the design may consider a multifunctional design where the building may be used for different purposes throughout its lifecycle and should be readily able to be adapted to accommodate its change of use. Modular design would be one way of achieving that outcome so that the end for end life of the building can be extended as opposed to demolishing the building and starting again. Opportunities for this need to be considered during the design process. The challenge will be to limit the up front cost to the client who may have no interest in the buildings use after they have moved on.
Last election, river water quality and climate change were two of the top three concerns for New Zealanders (the other being housing). What do you see as Engineering NZ’s role in promoting climate change adaptation and river water quality improvements?
Geoff Hunt – I am concerned that climate change misinformation will lead to wasted expenditure and that we are well behind other countries in making national (as distinct from gestures) policy changes that will make a real difference. For example it seems to me that the electricity market structure will prevent that best for future decisions on energy sources for generation. Engineering NZ membership needs to be engaged in getting to the fundamentals of the issues, and from these, decisions that will be best for NZ, and indeed NZ’s contribution globally.
For water quality we hold a lot of the expertise in dealing with water quality issues. Where is our voice in the discussion? We can do a lot better.
Geoffrey Farquhar – ENZ currently aims to create a bold and compelling thought leadership, policy and advocacy platform and has produced the Engineering a Better New Zealand series of thought pieces. Two of these cover water and cleaner energy. ENZ has a powerful voice but needs to reflect its membership. ENZ has a role to play by promoting debate, education and leadership amongst it members. ENZ’s role depends on its relevant technical interest groups, especially the Sustainability Society.
Glen Cornelius – Engineering NZ’s role in promoting climate change adaptation and river water quality improvements is about education and raising awareness with its members and the wider community. It also has a role as an advocate and supporter of sustainability-orientated practices.
Paul King – The three waters review is series of documents commissioned by Central Government highlighting the concerns around the freshwater health of NZ and the impact of climate change and growth on this. We are currently on the precipice of major change and reform for water management in NZ.
Climate change will make flooding more prevalent but ironically less water available. The key change is how we adapt our current infrastructure to cater for the increasing demand for clean water. This will look to both cleaning up our point source and diffuse discharge to freshwater sources like rivers and providing for more freshwater storage reduce our reliance on these freshwaters bodies by capturing the expected more intensive but less frequent rainfall events.
Engineering NZ needs to provide the impartial advice to support the change in water management for both central and local government and guide NZ through the changes necessary to make clean safe water more readily available in NZ.
Steve Raynor – One of the reasons I am proud of being an engineer is that we are generally well involved in the issues of our community and nation. We do things like fill surveys and vote. So it is likely that those three concerns already reflect the values of NZ engineers.
ENZ can continue to provide a platform where these engineers – who are already active (like you in the Sustainability Society) – can be heard at a higher political level. I think the technical groups are currently that platform, but maybe there is opportunity for more in that area?
Matt Harris – The previous government’s review of the river quality standards appears to have done little to encourage improved water quality; all the while nitrogen runoff and waterways maintenance is attended to on a local, piece-meal basis. Engineering NZ has a responsibility to continue to offer training and support to engineers, of best practice in these areas, whilst continuing to educate and discuss these issues (and their solutions) with the public and local/national government.
Sisira Jayanatha – Water NZ is initiating discussions with policy makers on fresh water quality and management. Engineering NZ should be to support WaterNZ with necessary resources to strengthen and achieve their goals.
Tim Fisher – Engineering New Zealand has strong influence especially when working with Technical Groups. We have been submitting on many policy develop areas over the last few years and will continue to do so. We have also provided though leadership in two areas “Seismic Resilience and Water Management” and “Cleaner Energy”. So I see that Engineering NZ must get involved in all issues that are important to New Zealand.
Rene Bakx – By promoting an interactive approach to managing and protecting the resources that the country has sensibly and sustainably. Included in that is the forward planning that needs to be underway now to accommodate the effects of climate change. This needs to involve engineers and scientists together with interest groups working in a way that creates a mutual respect and trust as opposed point scoring which tends to lead to extreme views and often an all or nothing outcome, the result of confrontation. Building trust is the crucial first step and does involve a change in attitude by many engineers.
As a Board Member, what would be your response to the Chapman Tripp opinion? https://www.chapmantripp.com/publications/is-climate-change-a-financial-and-investment-risk
Geoff Hunt – My reaction is ‘where are the engineers in this forum?’
Geoffrey Farquhar – I agree as an individual with Chapman Tripp’s opinion that that NZ company directors and investment scheme managers must assess and manage climate risk as they would any other financial risk. If the question being asked is how ENZ’s board should respond to the opinion, it must be understood that ENZ’s board is not board of commercial company directors. It is a governing board of a professional body and membership organisation. The board makes decisions and decides direction related to the profession and its members based on assessing risks including climate risk. ENZ’s activities and those of its members are governed by legislation. Thus the board works and will continue to work on submissions for development of legislation, and will work within the framework of climate change legislation.
Glen Cornelius – I agree that that climate change is now a potential financial risk and viewed as such. It needs to be considered by company directors in the same way as any other company risk.
Paul King – Funding is a key part of the development of any infrastructure development in NZ. The use of funding as a mechanism to drive more sustainable practices in the development is not only smart approach but is crucial to the success of changing the market paradigm to value sustainable practices and managing the risk from the impact of climate change.
As we move from funding solely derived from central government to other forms like private equity funds or public private partnerships the ability to provide direction and guidance to support the decision making process is a large step in the right direction and is summed up best by the statement ‘The Forum is exploring how New Zealand’s financial system can be re-designed to support the transition to a sustainable economy.’
Steve Raynor – I think a financial system that incentivises sustainability is positive.
This could tip the benefit/cost balance towards more carbon neutral or resilience focused solutions, but for now so many projects are funding limited and so, for example, a steel and concrete solution to provide water to 300 houses will be selected over a cleaner solution providing for only 150 houses at the same cost.
However everything needs to be paid for eventually by someone, so I like the Brundtland definition ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’ which goes well beyond greenhouse emissions.
Matt Harris – At a high level, I was impressed with this paper and congratulate those involved in moving this forward. Whilst it is still evolving, it is heartening to see that other professionals are looking to a future where zero carbon and sustainable economies could become a reality.
I would encourage Engineering NZ to actively engage in this process, perhaps by becoming a future interview participant or even better; also lead the creation of a similar paper for the New Zealand engineering community.
Sisira Jayanatha – I believe that Climate Change is a financial risk as more events are now occurring due to the climate change. The insurers, reinsurers and investors will be hesitant to participate in countries (or increase risk premiums or look elsewhere) or activities in countries exposed to high risks due to climate change. We need to be actively managing our activities to mitigate these effects otherwise no one will be left to cover the financial risks.
Tim Fisher – I have seen the opinion that “climate change is now (whether directly or indirectly) a potential financial risk; and viewed as such, it needs to be considered by company directors and fund managers in the same way as any other financial risk”. I agree and understand that, but consider it to be too narrow. I believe that board members also have responsibility to consider the risks (and opportunities) for our people including members and our community and our environment.
Rene Bakx – Planning for climate change should not be seen as a financial risk but as an opportunity to shape and secure the future of New Zealand. The article ignores the fact that climate change is a reality here and now. As well as considering options for reducing emissions the focus for the Aotearoa Circle should be on what is doing to promote the planning for the inevitable downstream effects of climate change.
What is the most important skill an engineer should acquire and why? How can Engineering NZ support this learning and development?
Geoff Hunt – We all get a good technical education and further technical specialisation is readily accessible. The most important skill is the ability to articulate and influence, from a basis of critical thinking, on the important issues at project, and society levels.
Geoffrey Farquhar – Engineering judgement is the most important skill for an engineer as it underpins all work and decision making for an engineer. As it is a skill that is learned by experience and not one that is easily taught, ENZ best supports development of judgement amongst it members by continuing to provide breadth of training and professional development (including CPD) for engineers, and promoting/focusing on its importance in assessment of members for CMEngNZ (and CPEng).
Glen Cornelius – Everyone that wants success in their career has to be able to communicate well. Being able to communicate effectively means an engineer can have their ideas, ideologies, world-views understood and accepted. Engineering NZ need to support training in communications skills.
Paul King – A key skill for engineers to develop and acquire is strength of leadership through communication of key practices around sustainability. Traditionally we have been content to let our work do the talking. However, as engineering practices can effect meaningful change for the community, both now and for generations to come, we have a responsibility to tell the success stories that promote sustainable practices.
Engineering NZ can assist with this development in two ways:
– Promote sustainable practices in engineering decisions and provide training and tools to support this; and
– Share and celebrate the success stories to the wider industry to inspire the next generation of engineers to continually raise the bar.
Steve Raynor – Without a doubt the most important is genuine problem solving, sounds easy but is not well supported in an environment that is driving increased specialisation which tends to focus on technical options rather than problem solutions.
Another is to constantly advance our skills through research and continued education and so advancing individual engineering capability towards the front edge of technology.
There are many demands on ENZ however I am aware that the first point is slightly at odds with the current direction. The second point is gathering momentum nicely within ENZ and I would like to be a part of moving it on towards higher levels of education.
Matt Harris – I believe engineers should aspire to having a range of project experience in their area of expertise so that sound, informed advice can be given. This experience should expose an engineer to various views and enable the development of excellent communication skills, ultimately so that complex solutions can be explained.
Further courses, best practice discussions and project examples could be increased. I would support greater opportunities for mixing with other professions and showcasing our unique specialist knowledge amongst the public, policy makers and the like.
Sisira Jayanatha – Skill to harvest and use the natural resources innovatively using the technical knowledge minimising impacts.
– Encouraging Universities to focus more on developing sustainable solutions in their curriculum.
– Provide support for interest groups to facilitate discussions and learning opportunities
Tim Fisher – I couldn’t say that there is a most important skill as multiple skills and experience and perspectives make a good engineer (or sustainability professional). Maybe the answer is the that next skill that you learn is the most important, as by learning it you have opened yourself to new knowledge and possibilities.
Rene Bakx – Engineers on the whole tend to be poor communicators often resorting to ” technobabble ” either to cover up this inadequacy or as a defence mechanism. Needless to say engineers are not alone in this with lawyers and medical practitioners masters at it. Being able to convey technical messages in plain english is the first step to building confidence and trust in the profession.