Though the benefits of environmental responsibility are increasingly recognized by individuals across many sectors of our society, neither the principles of environmental responsibility nor the tools of sustainable design are widely integrated into science and engineering curricula. As a result, too few students have the opportunity to develop these important skill sets.
With this in mind, The Lemelson Foundation and VentureWell designed and co-hosted Principles of Environmentally Responsible Engineering: Creating a Roadmap for Change, a two-day roundtable which convened 20 leaders from across higher education, nonprofit, business, and government. These 20 experts, who were already deeply engaged in incorporating sustainable engineering into their work - including through research, teaching, and invention as well as in spreading this approach within their fields - came together with the aim of creating a roadmap for defining and developing a framework for “environmentally responsible (ER) engineering.”
Throughout the two days, participants engaged passionately - sharing their personal experiences and challenges, reflecting on the urgent need to identify scalable levers for impact, and grappling with the inherent value of creating a framework for ER engineering. Some participants felt that there were existing frameworks that could be used, others thought a framework would not go far enough to make all of the necessary changes, and still others felt a framework could become too prescriptive. In the end, however, a shared enthusiasm for making progress led to general agreement that collective action was needed. Together, roundtable participants generated a high-level list of questions that need to be answered and stakeholders that need to be engaged to develop and drive forward a framework for the concepts, values, and skills all engineering students need to learn in order to engineer with the health and sustainability of the planet in mind.
At the conclusion of the event, participants provided a series of clear recommendations for action, including the creation of a strategic document that clarifies the rationale and urgency of this work, and sets and ultimately refines parameters for a framework that clarifies what ER engineering is as well as the core questions, goals, and values that define it. Participants also recommended developing comprehensive communication tools and a repository of existing sustainability frameworks and other relevant resources. They also cited 2019 as a clear window of opportunity for establishing a timeline of critical milestones and deliverables for the future of this effort and expressed their enthusiasm about taking part in future activities.