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How Can Engineers Resolve Conflicts Management Essay

Oxford dictionary defines engineering as the branch of science and technology concerned with the design, building, and use of engines, machines, and structures, while The Brundtland Report states sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987). Hence, “sustainable engineering” could be inferred as processes of designing and/or operating systems that they use energy and natural resources at rate that does not compromise depletion of the environment and the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Although this new generation of sustainable engineers can be able to meet requirements of sustainable development, how they can resolve conflicts with the requirements of their clients and employers, considering that often they do not share same interesest?.

This report presents the need to reframe engineering as a sociotechnical and sustainable profession able to resolve conflicts how question above. The basis for this is acknowledgement of the role of engineers as mediators between technology, nature, society and culture (The Honest Broker). The Engineers’ role will be analysed in three key stages of sustainability: (1) Society, (2) Clients, business and economy and (3) Environment and ethic. Finally, analysis will be summarized to give an answer from a holistic framework in the section Engineers and Sustainable Development.

Engineers’ role with.

Society

Through of History, development of societies has been based on economic progress. Population has grown uncontrolled around the world. Although people have had access to the benefits of a modern society such as health, education and food, unfortunately it has been unequal and disproportionate. For example, in developing countries, overpopulation, poverty, health, water and food crisis are critical issues.

Despite of the fact historical efforts of international organizations such as United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO) or International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to alleviate crisis, they are not been enough. Engineers could give a huge support for some key activities for crisis alleviation. As epistemology of engineering says: “an engineer can be heuristic, collecting experience, apply science and mathematics, solve problems and what work these solutions”. (REFERENCE)

Indeed, access to drinking water, sanitation improvement, irrigation systems, building livelihoods and providing basic needs; they are some key activities where engineering can be useful to support communities. However, engineers could develop other skills to support societies and deliver an value-added product?. It could be possible. It seems, engineering has been historically in a boundary as technical career. However, as Bell (2011) points out, from an ecological modernization framework “engineering can be usefully seen as hybrid socio-technical profession that breaks these boundaries”.

Bell (2011) in her report highlights a case-study of indirect potable water reuse demonstrating that mixture of technical and social knowledge is an important skill to increase engineer relationships with societies enhancing the profession role to sustainable development. Hence, from ecological modernization point of view, engineers could be able to develop integral solutions such as poverty alleviation, health and safety strategies, development of energy systems, etcetera; becoming in hybrid professionals, multi-tasks, with a more sustainable role rather than technical.

Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, when professionals are working together with communities, it goes growing a relationship between parts and naturally people go by trusting in them. Engineers are not exception. In this case, “it raises questions of responsible leadership given the trust placed in engineers by society” (Royal Academy, 2011). As leaders, engineers might to take the best decision, from a social point of view, considering and deciding on an appropriate course of action.

Despite of engineers having these responsibilities to society, also it is true they do not work alone (except whether voluntary) and commonly they have to meet the requirements from their clients, who not necessarily have the same interest as communities. This leads other issues related with engineers’ role: clients and business and economy.

Clients, business and economy

Beder (1995) mentions that despite of the fact that engineering activities have been perceived as synonymous of human progress through time, business and engineering interests have always been associated between them, and often there has been conflict between engineering interests and the public interest. For example, engineers who are employed by large firms have to meet requirements by him employer (or client) whose interests may differ considerably from the public interest. Indeed, the immediate goal of him employer will be to acquire approval for a project to go ahead even though that project may have an adverse impact, for example on the environment and society.

On the other hand, engineers, at least in the Occidental world, have been readily aligned themselves with capitalist values and business issues. They have accepted without question the system, power, and basic ideological principles of business. Beder (2011) describes that “engineers were born to serve the purposes of capitalism”. In a capitalist society, who guides ways of technology development as well as business models strategies is determined by the market. And engineering is seen as a means, not an end. The cost-benefit relations in projects are maximized increasing profitability. From a tough economic point of view, society welfare is not included and often environmental impacts associated, neither.

Nonetheless, basing on sustainable concepts such as ecological modernization, industrial ecology or corporate social responsibility, among others; business models could shift towards more sustainable strategies and engineers support identifying bets ways to implement proposal solutions.

For example, in an interesting essay Zerriifi (2011) describes innovative business models for the scale up of energy access effort for the poorest. He mentions that with current business models, prior solutions such as subsidies and centralized service delivery of energy are not feasible in the long term. As a result, it is not an attractive business for investors.

His proposal is based on to include all stakeholders related with these constraints. From producer and consumer side solutions to role of governments and donors, subsidy reform, venture capital, financing options, leasing and rental models are some examples where it is possible to forward towards business models more sustainable.

Hence, modern engineers are able to implement and suggest these kinds of sustainable solutions to clients and employers. As The Royal Academy of Engineering (2011) says “professional engineers should act for each employer or client in a reliable and trustworthy manner”. It could be added in this phrase “in sustainable way with the society and the environment”.

But precisely, what is engineers’ role the environment with?. In the next part of these report it will treated in more detail.

Environment and ethic (400 words)

Conflicts between engineering activities and their associated environmental impacts have lived together for long time. There are several examples around the world where it is possible to show how in the past, and even in the present, engineering’s large projects have affected the environment with negative consequences such as Exxon Valdez oil spill, Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the great smoke of 1952 in London, the Bhopal gas leak and depletion of forest in Amazon area resources, among others. Even though engineering itself has been seen as a profession harmful to environment by society, in the last time there has been a growing concern among engineering societies around the world about environmental care and sustainable development.

For example, CIWEM (2011) in its environmental ethics codes mentions that engineers have to use their influences to the fullest extent and to behave to the best of their ability to maintain a sustainable environment in different ways such as ensure that the uses of natural resources from a sustainable point of view, avoiding over exploiting, respect for native wildlife, serve as an example to others for responsible environmental behaviour, etcetera. Both American Society of Civil Engineers (2012) and Engineers Australia (2009) address engineers’ role in the same way.

However, the most important part in these statements is that these environmental ethic codes can apply in the practice and do not remain only in rhetoric aspects. Engineers have decision in their hands. Through last decades, several tools, mechanisms and methodologies have been developed for identifying, measuring and managing environmental impacts of projects such as environmental assessments, social impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments, cleaner production and life cycle assessment, among most important.

However, the most important part in these statements is that these environmental ethic codes can apply in the practice and do not remain only in rhetoric aspects. Engineers have decision in their hands. Through last decades, several tools, mechanisms and methodologies have been developed for identifying, measuring and managing environmental impacts of projects such as environmental assessments, social impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments, cleaner production and life cycle assessment, among most important.

Currently, engineers have knowledge about these environmental tools, also they have ethic codes in their societies that committing them to develop their projects more friendly with the environment. Thus, applying consciously these tools, engineer’s role with the environment could becoming more feasible towards sustainable development. This last topic will be treated in the last section of this report.

Engineers and sustainable development (400 words)

Several engineering societies around the world such as ASCE (2012), the institution of civil engineer-ICE (2011) and Canadian society for civil engineering state that the current approach to development is unsustainable. Population are consuming the earth’s natural resources beyond its ability to regenerate them. People are living beyond their means. This, along with security and stability, is the most critical issue facing our profession and the societies we serve.

Furthermore, ICE (2011) points out in addition to the environmental impacts of our actions, the needs of societies around the world are not being met. The engineering´s role is the creation of sustainable communities in harmony with their natural environment.

Despite of the fact there have been several statements about engineers’ role and sustainable development and how they can address social, economic and environmental issues, many of them have not shown clear proposals to achieve these goals. However, there are other good examples where it has been created guidelines for engineers where it is possible to address key components for sustainable development. One case is the guideline created by The Royal Academy of Engineering (2011) where address complex cases of studies and how engineers can make decisions in based on ethics, environmental, economic, social and client interests.

Another good example is given by Mitchell et al (2004), she delivers an interesting point of view how engineering has a particular role in sustainable development in devising, designing and implementing ways to use the means represented by natural resources to meet the ends of satisfying humans needs and improving the quality of life. However, this requires the technical expert to step away from the familiar roles of “objective decision-maker” and take on the role of honest broker - defined in introduction section - and technical information in deliberative decision processes.

This kind of process, needed when the decision is very significant and the uncertain in the scientific information is high, is known as post-normal science. The role of Honest Broker implies a new model of professional practice: based on a social contract rather than business imperatives. It should equip engineers to participate in the kind of process which is emerging as an important approach to managing sustainable development: fore sighting and back casting.

Finally and how Segalás et at (2010) has pointed out in his report, to achieve a better relation between engineer’s role and sustainable development, it is compulsory to develop pedagogical strategies on to engineer students to increase cognitive learning of sustainability.

Conclusion

In the present report, different approaches have been discussed to identify how engineers can resolve conflicts between their clients and sustainable development requirements. From a society point of view, engineers play an important role with communities. Ecological modernization concept applied to engineers could be and interesting point of starting to approach them with society becoming them in hybrid and multitask professionals.

In relation with engineers and business, industrial ecological and new innovate business models development could give support to accomplish clients or employers requirements keeping and equilibrium with sustainable development. However, it is a huge challenge and all stakeholders might be involved to achieve this though task: governments, donor, producers and consumers.

On the other hand, engineers and ethic codes have to work together to care environment. To achieve these goals, engineers have to cross the boundary about technical aspects and becoming a new model of professional practice as honest broker, which is based on social aspects more than business imperatives.

Finally, with the objective to achieve successfully the development of new engineers able to resolve conflicts between clients and sustainability, suggestions are intended to develop pedagogical strategies on engineer students with the objective to involved team early in the whole concept about sustainability.

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