Today our society is facing many different kinds of problems such as the climate change or the refugee crisis. Companies typically are not aware of these problems since they do not affect their daily business so far. To shape our future in a sustainable way it is our responsibility as engineers to take care of these issues.
Today our society is facing many different kinds of problems in various economical, ecological and social fields. Think of the climate change for example or the refugee crisis, which gained public interest over the last two years. Let alone the great economic crisis in the year 2008 from which we are still suffering. So it is in our responsibility to find ways how to fight against these situations and to find ways how to possibly avoid them in the future. Since I am an engineer and hopefully soon hold an academic degree, I see it as my personal responsibility to think about solutions regarding these topics.
I think a lot of companies, especially in the so called industrial countries, are still not really aware of problems like the climate change for instance. Even if there are many studies available about its impact on our daily life. There are a lot of NGO`s like the WWF which are constantly publishing articles and reports since the last 20 years or more. On the homepage of the WWF you can find a lot of information about their ongoing projects like what are the problems with climate change or how to deal with limited resources.1 The WWF even became "NGO of the year 2014", a price awarded by the European Public Affairs Awards. This was the third time the World Wide Fund for Nature has won the price.2 However today such knowledge still fits better to private persons and households rather than to the management board of a multinational company. In the past I have worked many years for a big company which was producing formwork for some of the biggest construction sites in the world. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world3, was just one of our many projects we accomplished. I have worked there in technical departments, working with the people on site and in the research and development department designing new products. From my personal experience I can say, that we have never thought about topics regarding ecological or social sustainability. In our case the mighty Euro was all we ever thought of. Back then this seemed OK to me and I was not questioning the moves the company did regarding strategic issues, which might would have been worth to question them regarding terms of sustainability. In science sustainability is defined with three basic dimensions4:
- Ecological sustainability - A capacity of ecosystems to maintain their essential functions and processes, and retain their biodiversity in full measure over the long-term
- Economical sustainability - The use of various strategies for employing existing resources optimally so that a responsible and beneficial balance can be achieved over the long-term
- Social sustainability - The ability of a community to develop processes and structures which not only meet the needs of its current members but also support the ability of future generations to maintain a healthy community
The first time I got in contact with that concept was at my bachelor's degree program "Innovation Engineering and Management" at the FH Wels. The social and the ecological dimension have played a minor role in the thinking process of engineers over the last decades. It is in our responsibility to change the way we think and to really take care of all three dimensions of the sustainability concept.
In a modern company, the product manager is acting as a connecting link between departments like production, marketing, engineering, etc. His job is to plan, manage and control all product relevant topics, starting from the definition and design phase, over the set-up and the usage phase of the product, ending with the elimination phase of the product. Therefore it can be postulated, that the product manager plays a major role in terms of the company's daily business. He has the power to steer the projects in different directions and has a main influence on the project performance.5 When we think again of the dimensions of sustainability the product manager has great impact in terms of fulfilling them or not. Of course the management of the company still has the last word but the product manager is able to guide them into the right direction. Therefore some ethic codes are existing for engineers which should be seen as a guideline of how to work properly with a consideration to public and environmental demands. One example is the guideline of the VDI (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure).6
When I started my career as an engineer I was not really aware of all these kinds of topics, thoughts and problems discussed in this assay. My only goal was to simply fulfill my job description and satisfy my boss. Now that I am nearly finished with my bachelor degree I really see things differently. Learning concepts about sustainability for example opened my mind and I am willing to pursue this path in the future. Of course I know, that back in a company it will be not easy and I will face a lot of barriers and setbacks. Nevertheless I am convinced, that we as engineers are the once that shape our world and it is in our responsibility to make this world a better place.