Environmental and Societal Impact

Impact of Engineering 

Engineering is not just a profession or a career but a way of life. The people who practice engineering (engineers) are individuals whose impact on people’s day to day lives is so profound yet so subtle that people fail to notice it. These engineers are responsible for the designing and development of your alarm clock, your toothbrush, your house, your car, your computer and the list goes on and on. It can even be said that engineering is underrated and is looked at as a safety net in most countries for people’s careers, instead of a profession where people go to learn and build something new.

Personally, my 3 years so far at U of T Engineering have been the most defining years of my life. I realized engineering has more to do with just building and designing. In engineering, there is a process, a methodology, a way to do things. Decisions cannot be just made because one feels they are good. They all need to be justified, they all needed to be proven to be worth the effort and money, the engineers need to ensure that the decisions will have the least impact on the environment yet still be effective. And in doing so certain skills are developed. The art of communication, of professionalism, and of teamwork.

Impact on Society

Engineers must be creative yet still critical of their design. The world is changing and because engineers are the ones behind this development, it is necessary for them to be because the fate of other’s lives, and the fate of the environment is within their hands. An engineering portfolio has no bounds, but every engineer works towards the same common goal; a sustainable world. It does not matter what one contributes to society through their engineering knowledge, but the satisfaction to know that you have done somethings that has impacted people’s lives for the better has no comparison.

Impact on Communication, Teamwork and Professionalism

As an engineer, it is vital that one is able to articulate their ideas effectively because it does not matter how good or viable an idea is unless the client understands its benefit. Communication amongst engineers is also necessary to deliver a project. A mechanical engineer has to be able to explain a building design and the different analysis techniques to a civil engineer so that the civil engineer can accurately starting construction on a building. Thus, teamwork is vital as well. Without a team no engineer can succeed. It helps to bounce ideas off one another. It may either help to find a better solution or a mistake that was overlooked. Naturally, engineering cannot be taken lightly because lives are at stake in almost every project and a great deal of professionalism is required. Having P.Eng’s in one’s project always adds more credibility and is a requirement to approve any project in Canada and this requirement should only be made more strict. We can never be too safe, the most recent example being the bridge collapse near the University of Florida. All three of these topics go hand in hand and their impact on engineering is paramount.

Impact on Environment

As an engineering student in an era where the effects of global warming are paramount and with multiple countries putting environment on top their agenda makes it all the more important to consider the environment when making an engineering decision. In my third year at U of T, I had the benefit of taking a “Design for Environment” course in which our engineering class was required to find several environmentally viable alternatives for a new hospital to be constructed in Hamilton. It was during this project in third year, that I realized the tremendous effort that goes behind choosing between the most environmentally friendly alternative. Our group was assigned to choose between either traditional and smart lighting for the hospital corridor. After narrowing down to LEDs as our chosen lightbulb, our team wrote a full consultant report that explained the differences, similarities, functions, and applications for traditional and smart LEDs. What our group realized was that even small differences in either the transportation or manufacturing of one product greatly affect its environmental friendliness. Thus, each decision had to be fully thought out.

In Canada, engineers are required to wear a ring on their dominant hand after they graduate. The reason being that when they start working on a project and sign off on it, their ring scrapes on the paper while they are signing and therefore are reminded of their professional and ethical responsibility. Is the project they are signing off environmentally sustainable in the future? Will there be no emissions during the pre-manufacturing/ manufacturing stage? Will the by-products be recyclable or will stay in landfills for hundreds of years? All these questions are part of the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions on a global, environmental and societal context. And taking the “Design for Environment” course has helped me learn and apply these skills to a certain extent in my reports and projects.

How does it affect my career?

My future as an engineer revolves around all of these engineering decisions and practices. After third year, I am going to do a Professional Experience Year (PEY) as a Production Technical – Coordinator at a Pharmaceutical company. The company is known across Canada for making the best generic drugs on the market. I therefore have the opportunity to apply all that I have learnt in real life only in my third year at university. People rely on medicine to make them feel better and thus it adds to the pressure that I need to perform above and beyond my capabilities because I shall be working on analyzing production systems and processes in order to make continuous improvements that focus on Safety, Quality and Productivity. I will also be responsible to keep track of whether or not the decisions I made affect the environment during production or at the end of the drug’s lifecycle. Fortunately, I can rely on my “Design for Environment” knowledge to assist me in making such decisions.

However, in the long-term, I am keen on starting my own business in the Aerospace industry. Being inspired by Elon Musk, I have not only gained further interest in space but also in clean and renewable energy. Elon Musk has shown that one can build a successful company that offsets the effects of pollution and is environmentally friendly as well. His electric car company, Tesla, is a perfect example. Like him, I am looking at ways that can impact our environment in a big way. I have several ideas in mind, including a satellite network that is responsible for clearing out debris in space and reduces the chances of satellites re-entering Earth and falling and polluting our oceans. Another idea is to have a satellite network act as a huge database for Earth and thus we would not require large warehouses and factories to store data on Earth. This will help in having more land to plant trees, and vegetation. What “Design for Environment” (MIE315) has taught me is that even students can write a thorough report on discussing the environmental benefits of one thing over another and that has given me the confidence to pursue such activities. I know that when I will be building my business, I will be keeping track of what effects does the pre-manufacturing, manufacturing, transport, use and disposal of my product have on the environment and society and I will do my best to overcome any drawbacks.

Take a look at a couple of my projects where I have used my MIE315 knowledge practically. 

Example 1 and Example 2