What Is The Role Of Engineers?

Through the last few decades the physical growth of population has become one of the world’s highest environmental threats. This growth has created remarkable demands for land, transportation, energy, water, sanitation, etc., and marked the different areas or fields where engineers are working. As a result, todays’ engineers in both developed and developing countries must to adopt a new holistic approach toward natural and social systems (Amadei 2004). Which means switch the controlling nature approach for cooperating nature approach; through sustainable development in practice. Engineers, people that design professional solutions for social issues, are playing a vital role in the construction of modern societies, although the ways as they overcome and approach these depend largely on the socioeconomic conditions which vary significantly. This essay will discuss the role of engineers in developing nations and analyse water supply & sanitation and energy as two of the most significant areas affected by their decision-making.

Role of engineering

General Perspective

The role of engineering has suffered many changes over the last few decades, although its concept which is based on trial and error has remained an essential element of the scientific-technological method; where social, environmental and human factors define the most suitable solution to manage a particular issue. Thus, engineer’s role is continuing reshaped according to the new challenges and necessities implicated by specialized disciplines on particular areas of technology (civil, chemical, agricultural, etc.). (UNESCO 2010, p. 24)

Contemporary Perspective and sustainable development

Unlike the 20th century where the engineering era seemed to have unlimited natural sources, todays’ century is facing serious problems that are putting enormous pressure on the environment (Azapagic, Perdan & Clift 2004, pp. 3-5). Therefore, todays’ engineers besides the basic technical and scientific knowledge of the engineering discipline, they also have to contribute and promote sustainable development that meets todays’ necessities without affecting adversely the capability of upcoming generations to meet up their own necessitates. This new role of engineering, demands new practices based on social-environmental factors rather than just business goals.

Impact of engineering on society

The history shows numerous examples in which engineers’ performance has widely influenced among communities. Quality of life, economic wealth and good infrastructure for instance, are one of the most relevant and common indicators of their weight on society. As (UNESCO 2010, p. 40) have stated, by 2025, the world’s population will have increased from 1.5 billion to 6.6 billion approximately and the percentage of migration to urban areas will rise from 40 per cent to 60 per cent. This information shows that urbanization rates will boost dramatically. Subsequently engineers have the responsibility to make effective and sustainable solutions as an integrated approach without generate negative impacts, which is known as engineering social responsibility.

Ethical side of engineering

In general terms, engineering’s ethics is directly related with engineering responsibilities regulated by standards codes which act according to several situations. The objective of the ethical factor in engineering rather than just fixed up rules, is drawing solutions with reflexion of particular situations fixed into prior principles. On this basis, at the time of making decisions, engineers should take into account the following points: sustainable development, protection of the public-environment, faithful agent of stakeholders – related with objectivity, competence-knowledge, fairness and justice, integrity in the workplace (dedication and service), and professional accountability- leadership. (UNESCO 2010, p. 190)

Engineers in Developing Countries

As in developed nations, engineers must work within the social, economic and environmental context in order to guarantee real sustainable development for the whole world (Parsons 1996, p. 170). Social responsibilities such as water supply, sanitation, food, energy and environmental protection are the same in developing countries. The difference resides on the socio-economic factors which are directly influenced by people’s behaviour, governments positions and development priorities.

Engineering skills and ethics in Developing nations

As is described in the section A.1 and A.3, competences and principles of engineers in developing countries remain the same as standardized characteristics. The great challenge for them is in fact, to develop realistic projects on time to particular communities and technology available (Parsons 1996, p. 170). In fact, environmental issues, often take less importance because there are others which have more “relevant social impact”, oil explorations for instance.

Successful and failed projects

The successful and failed projects in developing countries depends much on the capability of engineers to undertake projects with a clear understanding of the objectives, reliable assessment of resources’ availability, business, and technical requirements and effective communication among stakeholders. The ability to implement accurately these facts will bring up useful and applicable alternatives to address real issues. By contrast, lack of attention to the social-economic context, ethics codes, unrealistic expectations, underestimated time, quality and cost will bring poor outcomes. (Parsons 1996, pp. 171,172)

Relationship between technology and socioeconomic factor

The use of high-technology does not guarantee a successful project or accurate solutions. In order to achieve good results, engineers must be able to make a balance between use of technology and socioeconomic attributes. Parsons (1996) points out that the appropriated selection of technology will determine not only project’s success also its viability. As a result, there are four points to choose appropriated technology according to socioeconomic factors: it must be conceptual and physically compatible with operators, spare parts and equipment must be available in the influenced area, project funding must be commensurate with its budget, and the technology must be compatible with the physical environment where it will be used. This model leads to concluded that the relationship between technology and socieconomic factor is very narrow, it must fit users and needs as well as must be designed to improve quality life.

Engineering Areas

Environmental trends that are shaping new engineers

Brief mention of important events that encourage environmental view on engineering

World population, followed by climate change are considered the two main factors that are shaping new engineers with environmental approach. During the last half of the 21th century; world population increased from 2.5 billion to 6 billion especially in less economically developed countries, this trend is expected to peak at 9.3 billion by 2050 (United Nations 2012). In addition, overpopulation also has been linked with higher demands of natural resources (water, cropland, forest), shanty settlements, transportation-infrastructure deficits etc. Another important event that is making an environmental approach is the fact that the current global economic is based on productivity, which has brought several impacts associated with greenhouse gases, waste product of fossil fuels and air pollution. Climate change is certainly the result of all these elements at an abnormal rate. Thus, the world has changed its development approach to sustainable development (Brown, Rener & Halweil 2000). Hence, most of professional corporations have incorporated sustainable development into their aim statements and codes.

New model of learning and practice

To confront the global challenges that the earth are facing today, engineering education has incorporated the concept of sustainability into all engineering fields. This means, that professional are expected to make reliable decisions that improve quality of life as well as reducing negative impacts on environment and levels of consumption, and planning their actions according to socio-economic factors and technology available. Consequently, the process of learning and practice has been adjusted by a model of education more realistic-practical. Where students throughout workshops are learning and building knowledge in real situations, as well as has created in them greater environmental responsibility. (Amadei 2004).

Sustainability and transformation

As explain Azapagic, Perdan & Clift (2004), there are certainly three constrains that built the concept of sustainability. Techno-centric concerns, which represent human expertise, ingenuity and economic systems, Eco-centric concerns related with natural resources and ecological capability and socio-centric concern based on human and social expectations. The Techno-centric concerns, has been traditionally used in the process of education in engineering, the responsibility of today’s engineers is to include in equal proportion or balance all three constraints to achieve a sustainable development. Which ultimately is seeking for human wellbeing, in other words satisfying human needs, improving quality of life in an eco-friendly way.

Water Supply and Sanitation

Developing Nations background

UNESCO (2010) states that water supply is one of the most serious problems facing by developing nations, in India for instance, 85% of the urban population has access to drinking water, but only 20% of the of this meets the health-quality standards set by World Health Organization. Additionally, the daily rate of water supply often is very low and depends on economic factors and location. The situation on sanitation is even worse; often sanitation has lower priority than water supply. It has estimated that 2.6 billion people do not have properly or existing sanitation system in developing countries. Another issue related with sanitation is in fact that wastewater and solid waste collection services; and stormwater drainage are inadequate. Littering directly to open areas for instance, has created environmental impacts on surface and ground water resources being more dramatic in areas such as shanty towns.

Engineering Challenges Engineers approach

The traditionally treatment of water supply and sanitation management is considered now as a standard procedure. Which has several treatments according to the water physicochemical characteristics, technology available and environmental regulations. Although, it is by no means certain that this procedure has been the best. Indeed, 95% of the wastewater in the world has been discharged to the environment without treatment (Montgomery & Elimelech 2007). Hence, Beside new regulations and codes, todays’ engineers rather that replicate solutions from developed countries to developing countries, they will have to meet basic needs of all communities for water and sanitation and work as facilitators of sustainability approach within context institutional, social, political, economic, environmental and technological. Thereby, the issue of water and sanitation in developing countries will be overcame or at least reduced. For example, cleaner production can be “an expensive solution”, however it is really depends on numerous conditions linked with the population objet, such as natural resources, requirements and social class.


Developing Nations background

In the next few decades, the pressure on energy services will increase considerably in developing nations. It is predicted that energy consumption worldwide will increase about 30% from 2007 to 2030 and most of that growth will be came from developing nations. As a result, the intergovernmental panel climate change (2007) point out that these energy issues will be addressed through cost-effective energy programs based on the reduction of fossil fuel use; implementations of ecofriendly technologies and renewable energy in housing, transportation and industrial sectors and finally the reduction of life-cycle cost, this related with all expenses in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of a particular project. (Liu, Meyer & Hogan 2010, pp. 35,36). Today’s modern development demands serious energetic programs that fix up both economic development and sustainable development based on the rational use of natural resources.

Engineering Challenges and approach in developing Nations.

Worldwide experiences have showed that the replacement of non-renewable to renewable energy seems to be more expensive and moreover, information about renewable technologies is inadequate or unreachable. For that reason, the common commitment for engineers on energy solutions is provide better alternatives in terms of sustainability and development. Adoption and design of new technologies, regulations, engineering supervision within national strategies, continues updating, provide advice of energy requirements, etc., will be the common areas where engineers’ role will be crucial for environmental energy development in the less economically developed nations. (UNESCO 2010, p. 288).