PN launch event report

Microelectronics International

ISSN: 1356-5362

Article publication date: 1 December 2001




(2001), "PN launch event report", Microelectronics International, Vol. 18 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2001, MCB UP Limited

PN launch event report

PN launch event reportKeywords: IEE, Sustainability, Engineering

Around 200 people gathered at Savoy Place on Thursday 31 May for the launch of the IEE's fourth professional network, Engineering for a Sustainable Future. From a group of 14 people last March, the network has now grown to a membership of over 880 and is the fastest growing group in the institution.

The evening took two parts: the first consisted of opening remarks by the chairman of the newly elected Executive Committee, Matthew Rhodes, followed by a keynote speech by Sara Parkin, programme director of Forum for the Future. The rest of the evening was devoted to the launch of the New Spirit Challenge, a competition run by the PN to promote the development of projects aimed at making an innovative contribution to sustainability.

Chairman's address

Matthew Rhodes used his welcoming speech to set the agenda for the network – its mandate, terms of reference and target membership. He stressed that for the PN, "sustainability" was not to be a narrow definition to be equated directly to "greenness" or onto particular alternative energy technologies. Instead, sustainability was to embrace the entire contribution of industry and engineering to society, making the point that the only real future is a sustainable future. From this basic position the scope of the network includes the obvious fields of environmental technologies and power generation, but also concepts such as deployment of IT to benefit wider groups in society and the transformation of manufacturing industries into service industries. Such widespread changes in the ways we do business will offer many chances for innovation and the creation of value. In order for effective change of this nature to take place, engineering must become far more outward looking and be ready to engage with real-world people and situations – starting now. The PN tries to provide people with a forum for making these concepts begin to happen: it has an open membership policy with a democratic organisational structure, and will be involved in practical projects as an outworking of the dynamic knowledge base it represents. Matthew summed up by saying that the unique contribution of the PN would be possible because it is a network of individuals rather than being representative of particular technical or industry interests.

Matthew then introduced Professor Brian Mellitt, deputy president of the IEE, who described the chain of events at the institution that had led to the creation of the PN concept. The aim of the professional networks was to better serve the membership, recognising its international composition and the value to be gained by recognising contributions from outside of the IEE. Professor Mellitt then introduced the evening's keynote speaker.

Keynote speech

Sara Parkin began by congratulating the network on its launch, saying that it provided a way for other sustainability organisations to engage with the engineering profession – something that has always been more difficult than engagement with business, government and education. She stated that the world was now on the cusp of a second industrial revolution where we need to move to a "solar economy", using no more energy than is ultimately provided by the sun. Sustainable development is about meeting social, economic and environmental goals simultaneously, a situation which we currently seem to be far from. However, things have moved on in that environmental issues have a more central place in the international agenda, with a cascade from international agreements through European and government policy. The next stage is to get sustainability embedded into our economic thinking: the biological and technical worlds are subject to the same laws of thermodynamics and we need to integrate resource productivity into traditional productivity models. In the context of a low-carbon solar economy, we need to reduce our worldwide carbon footprint by 50 per cent in order to achieve sustainability. Add in predicted population growth and a move to parity between the North and South worlds, and our techniques and technologies need to improve in efficiency by 90 per cent! We need to begin to develop "factor 10" products and services, and there needs to be a shift away from a model of selling products to one of selling services and solutions: in this context the ownership of a product would remain with the manufacturer who would have the full responsibility for (and a vested interest in) recycling at the end of product life. We need to force the pace of change in engineering, ending the current fragmentation of the engineering profession and making the PN a powerful voice in representation of engineering interests.

Following the keynote address, Professor Mellitt chaired an open question and answer session, with answers being provided by Sara Parkin and Matthew Rhodes. The subjects covered were varied, and ranged from the intended membership scope of the PN to the place for nuclear energy generation in a sustainable future. The role of the PN in helping its members to relate sustainability to the daily commercial issues facing them was a recurrent theme.

Outline of the New Spirit Challenge

The rest of the evening was dedicated to the launch of the PN's "New Spirit Challenge" initiative. Paul Hopewell, a member of the network's newly elected executive committee, first took time to explain the concept.

The Professional Network has strong agreement on its key themes of sustainability as long-term stability, intelligent use of resources, minimal, or better still, no pollution, and non-reliance on finite resources – either materials or fuels. Historically, engineers have distinguished themselves by applying their energies to beating a single problem at a time – overcoming individual and often extremely complex challenges. Sustainable development requires recognition of the fundamental interconnectedness of everything we make, operate or do; it is about taking account of the future in what we do today. Fundamentally, the purpose of the New Spirit Challenge is to contribute to the creation of a sustainable society. The intention is to inject a new spirit into the activities of individual engineers: the spirit of sustainability. The New Spirit Challenge aims to encourage sustainable transformation and development, viewed as a whole and from society's perspective, not just environmental technology development; it aims to promote individual responsibility by engineers and others – fundamental change from within, and it intends to foster linkages across professions and institutions through individuals with the commitment to embark on change. This does not necessarily mean new inventions, ideas or investment. Perhaps it may just mean creating space, linkages and opportunities for people to learn from one another how to do or combine existing things in new ways.

What is the prize?

In keeping with the intention to promote the Spirit of Sustainability, the prize will be tailored to the needs of the winning entry and will inject resources and backing needed to help ensure the success of the selected project.

In addition to practical support, the prize may include the creation and promotion of a series of focused workshops to disseminate the ideas and involve potential supporters and collaborators. Appropriate training and development may be awarded to enhance the effectiveness of the winner and their project. Where possible these events will be included in the IEE's programme of events and, as befits an international network such as this, they may be held anywhere in the world.

The applicant is asked to propose the most effective form of backing they require. The New Spirit Challenge will endeavour to match this as closely as possible, as well as giving whatever additional assistance the PN can, taking the winning project under its wings and nurturing it in such a way as to fulfil the promise offered. The intention is to make the project stand out as a superlative example of sustainable thinking and an innovative contribution to sustainability. Consequently the winning project should expect worldwide publicity through all practical channels, including new Web-based technologies.

Naturally, much depends on the quantity and quality of the applications received by the deadline, 1 October, 2001, but in addition a series of smaller projects may be given support to assist them in their development.

What do applicants need to do?

Applicants to the New Spirit Challenge must submit a proposal that includes:

  • A vision statement as to how their own work or the work of others could be made more sustainable.

  • A plan describing what the first steps towards achieving that vision will be. This is their opportunity to define the best form for their prize to take.

Finally the proposal should feature:

  • A description of the long-term outputs of the project, and the major risks and challenges anticipated between inception and success.

  • A means of measuring the success of the project.

How will The New Spirit Challenge be judged?

Applications will be considered by the judging panel and will be assessed according to a set of criteria. The panel will be particularly keen to understand the potential contribution to a sustainable society, the likely impact on the community, the imagination of the applicant and the feasibility of the proposal. The judging panel for the New Spirit Challenge consists of Paul Allen, development director of the Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales; Brian Ellis, founder of the Protonique Group, Switzerland and the PN's representative on the panel; Sara Parkin and Nigel Roome, Professor of Sustainable Enterprise and Transformation, Erasmus University, The Netherlands. Each of the judges was next given an opportunity to explain their approach to sustainability, and outline what they would be looking for in submissions to the challenge (see related links below). The event was then again thrown open to questions from the floor.

Final words

The launch was drawn to a close by reflections on the evening's events from representatives of two important constituencies. Duncan McLaren, campaigns director for Friends of the Earth, first gave an outside view. He expressed his pleasure at being able to attend the launch of the network, and acknowledged its timeliness given the current lack of political momentum behind environmental issues. He said that although immediate pressures of work often make it difficult to consider the wider issues, professionals often have the freest choices and should use this well. Finally, he gave a few points of advice, encouragement and caution, likening the fledgling network to a growing child: the network may not turn out as expected, but it will be a wonderful learning experience!

Kate Evans-Jones then gave a perspective on behalf of younger members of the institution. She acknowledged that it was often difficult to interest young engineers in the institution, and said that she had not felt that the IEE had always offered the best support to "diversified engineers" who had not taken a traditional career path. She expressed the view that the new PN provided a way to encourage involvement of other young engineers in the work of the institution, and declared herself to be excited to be involved in it.

Matthew Rhodes concluded the evening, emphasising again the great scope of opportunities for the new Network.

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