Creating solutions for global challenges

Green transition 14 November 2017 Søren Holm Johansen

Engineering consultancies have a major role to play in solving some of the world's biggest challenges, according to experts.

8 min

The world in 2017 is not exactly short of challenges as far as sustainability is concerned. The United Nations has defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), all of them critical to building the world we want. But the task can seem impossible. 

However, according to recognised sustainability experts, ingenuity, technical excellence and holistic, multidisciplinary solutions may be just what are needed to bring us closer to fulfilling these goals. 

“Engineering consultancies have a major role to play here since they can contribute both vast knowledge of prior designs as well as the capability to calculate outcomes and optimise multiple combined approaches,” says John D. Macomber, Senior Lecturer in the Finance Unit at Harvard Business School. 

Professor William Powrie from the Faculty of Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton agrees: 

“Overall I’d advocate a systems approach that reduces consumption of energy and resources – and hence CO2 emissions – but in a way that makes people feel happy and content. Engineering consultancies have a major role to play in making this palatable and acceptable.” 

Companies must fill the gap

Dr Michail Fragkias from the Department of Economics at Boise State University in Idaho, USA, points out that engineering consultancies that include environmental, social and economic sustainability in their work can play the most important role.

“Especially now, given the recent developments in the international political scene, with major players deciding to reduce their emphasis on sustainability, private actors along with cities need to fill the gap,” says Michail Fragkias.

The experts emphasise that society and companies should address sustainability challenges simultaneously in order to take advantage of any complementarities or co-benefits.

“That way it’s possible to check for any unintended consequences of one type of intervention in another area,” explains Michail Fragkias.

Finding solutions to one of the UN goals also increases the chances of reaching the others, as they are all interrelated.

Delivering sustainable solutions

The projects Ramboll undertakes and the way they are delivered impact the SDGs, and it is important to mitigate the risks of negatively impacting people and nature. According to a comprehensive assessment, 40% of Ramboll’s project turnover has a direct positive impact on the 17 SDGs.

And almost all the remaining turnover indirectly impacts at least one goal positively.

“The global community has concluded that we all – companies, governments and individuals alike – need to dedicate our efforts to improving health conditions and resource efficiency, mitigating climate change and building inclusive, liveable cities,” says Søren Holm Johansen, Ramboll Group Executive Director.

“To Ramboll this is a business opportunity but also a part of our corporate responsibility. We have decided on a new sustainability strategy through which we will be known as a market leader in the area.” 

Four of the 17 SDGs are integrated in almost everything Ramboll does – and have strong multidisciplinary and cross-market synergies: 

  • Industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG #9). 
  • Sustainable cities and communities (SDG #11).
  • Responsible consumption and production (SDG #12).
  • Climate action (SDG #13).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal set of goals, targets and indicators that all 193 UN member states agreed upon in 2015, and that all nations will be expected to use to frame their agendas and political policies up to 2030.

Written by Michael Rothenborg.

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