Engineering a More Sustainable Future

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with eight years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

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Sustainability is an important consideration for the world at large, as we take steps to battle against climate change. This growing issue is one that needs to be tackled head on if we are to preserve the planet for future generations; moreover, it's something that every industry needs to take responsibility for if we are to make a difference.

Engineering and manufacturing are two key areas for effective change and adaptability to the wider needs of our planet. Why? Because the manufacture of products often makes an environmental impact and the products we produce often go onto make an impact of their own. Engineering and manufacturing serve such a wide range of vertical markets that it acts as a great catalyst for change.

So what can be done to make engineering and manufacturing more environmentally friendly? And is it enough to inspire greater change?

Sustainable Engineering:

A great deal of difference can be made through collective action.

Sustainability within engineering has been on the radar for quite some time already, leading to many companies taking steps to lower their environmental impact. 

Sustainable engineering refers to making changes to the engineering process in order to drive sustainability, using resources such as materials and energy in a manner that does not cause a detrimental effect on the environment. By utilising such an approach, a great deal of difference can be made through collective action, steering the industry towards a more considerate path.

There are many different factors that need to be taken into account when looking at the environmental impact of engineering, such as:

  • Materials: Are the materials used recyclable and are they responsibly sourced?
  • Energy: Does the electricity used to power plant and equipment come from a renewable source, such as solar or wind?
  • Waste: Are engineering companies able to recycle any waste materials back in the production process?
  • Machinery: Does machinery use energy efficiently and can it ensure that production is as environmentally-friendly as possible?
  • Pollution: Does the production process result in pollution of any kind, such as air pollution or water pollution?

As you can see, there is not one exclusive area of focus when it comes to sustainable engineering. Instead, it encompasses a broad spectrum of possible improvements which all amount to a much lesser impact on the environment overall.

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ISO 14001 & Green Company Benefits:

Cost savings are one of the tangible ways that companies can benefit from sustainable business practices.

With the rise of green energy and energy-efficient technology, it will be easier for engineering and manufacturing companies to adopt more environmentally-friendly processes as time goes on. Perhaps the importance of sustainability is illustrated by the ISO 14001 standard, which deals specifically with the adoption of greener company procedures. In order to obtain this standard, companies have to demonstrate an efficient approach to resource usage and waste management, as well as reducing/eliminating pollution and contamination.

The benefits available to companies operating in a way that lessens environmental impact exceed that of an improved reputation and assumed responsibility. Whilst many OEMs will choose to work with greener companies to improve the sustainability of their supply chain overall, cost savings are also one of the tangible ways that companies can benefit from the introduction of sustainable business practices. Reduced energy and material bills can soon add up to a rather substantial saving in the long-term, leaving companies with more funds to reinvest in other areas of the business.

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Driving Sustainability Through Design:

Environmental engineering cannot take full responsibility for introducing wider change.

Of course, the potential for the engineering and manufacturing industries to drive positive change goes far beyond that of in-house processes. By designing and manufacturing more sustainable products, we will be able to see improvements throughout a number of vertical markets, which will help to lessen the environmental impacts of everyday life.

Although environmental engineering is a specific field in itself, it does not - and cannot - take full responsibility for introducing wider change. Instead, it is crucial that other engineering subsets address the issue of sustainability and introduce new measures to ensure that the planet does not suffer as a result.

 As engineering serves a number of sectors that are traditionally seen as being big contributors towards climate change, such as aerospace and automotive, it also has the power to tackle the sustainability dilemma head-on. With electric cars already in existence and the concept of hydrogen-powered planes being developed, this shift towards sustainable energy sources is already very much underway. We are beginning to see something of a revolution within product design that takes the environment into consideration, working with it instead of against it for the good of society and the planet.

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Does Engineering Hold the Key To Sustainability?

Engineering is in a position to pioneer further advancements within the field of sustainability - probably more so than any other sector. However, it's important to remember that a drive towards sustainability needs to be a collective effort if we are going to reverse climate change and ensure that no further damage is done to the environment in future. It's simply not enough for a handful of companies to adopt more sustainable practices; instead, we all need to take responsibility and play our part to protect the environment.

With that being said, it's encouraging to see that so many companies are starting to take the issue of sustainability more seriously. With environmental impact now taking centre stage within the field of product design, it's very much possible that we will start to see positive change within the coming years and decades. 

Engineering has already come a long way and risen to a lot of challenges; sustainability is no exception and will only continue to evolve in line with its growing prioritisation.