For the greater good

 Across the country, Canadian engineers and engineering students are developing innovative solutions in a range of fields, including health care, the environment, technology and social sectors, to improve our quality of life. second from left, Boyang Zhang/Kevin Soobrian/Tyler Irving; all others, supplied

Across the country, Canadian engineers and engineering students are developing innovative solutions in a range of fields, including health care, the environment, technology and social sectors, to improve our quality of life. second from left, Boyang Zhang/Kevin Soobrian/Tyler Irving; all others, supplied

Imagine a profession dedicated to identifying problems or needs and carefully divining solutions that not only meet societal conditions, but also ensure the answers are free of inadvertent harmful impacts. It’s a tall order, but it is a job that Canada’s engineers undertake daily, adding untold value across virtually all aspects of our society and national economy.

“Engineering is a profession that is becoming more and more integrated into the fabric of our society,” says Kim Allen, CEO of Engineers Canada. “There are endless possibilities for engineering applications that go beyond or expand on the traditional things like infrastructure, buildings and products, to include areas people usually don’t associate with engineering, like the medical field.”

Many new medical advances – from hip replacements and artificial limbs, to new ways of restoring and regenerating tissue and nerves – are coming out of engineering innovations, says Mr. Allen. Sensor technology, for example, enables the monitoring of health parameters, such as heart rate, blood pressure and blood glucose levels, which are then relayed for determining when and what kind of intervention is needed. He adds that such tools can improve accuracy of diagnosis as well as patient care.

Sensor technology can also play a role in finding a solution for food waste, says Mr. Allen. “Today, over one-third of our food supply goes to waste due to gaps along the supply chain. With the right engineering solution, we can to reduce that number significantly.”

For Mr. Allen, the three foundations of engineering are safeguarding citizens, safeguarding the economy and safeguarding the environment – and they are all connected. “Our economy, health and security are all dependent on having reliable infrastructure that guarantees access to clean water, energy and food where and when we need them.”

George Comrie, president of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), agrees. “Engineers play a key role in developing modern technology and materials to enable sustainable growth,” he explains. “Whether this work involves building climate-resilient infrastructure or increasing the supply of green, renewable energy, engineering ingenuity and an engineer’s duty to maintain protection of the public benefits society tremendously.  

“This is why it is imperative that engineers be involved in the public policy process to ensure that innovative technology is maximized and unintended consequences are minimized,” Mr. Comrie adds.

Sandro Perruzza, CEO of the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers, also underscores the importance of involving engineers in the policy-making process. Their practical approach to problem-solving and their ability to take a range of factors into consideration make them invaluable assets in policy discussions, he explains. “Often, you only hear about engineering when there are problems that need to be fixed. A far more effective way of involving engineers is to include them in the discussion early on.”

For example, Mr. Allen says engineers play a key role in climate change adaptation. “For meeting the COP-21 goals, we’ll have to rely heavily on engineers to come up with the technical solutions that will permit us to reduce our impact on the environment while maintaining our standard of life,” he states.

Engineers are already key players in the work that is underway for responding to the effects of climate change. In addition to developing resilient infrastructure and building materials that can withstand the impacts of changing weather patterns, they’re also looking at broader climate ramifications to areas like soil and water.

Jeanette Southwood, vice-president, strategy and partnerships at Engineers Canada, explains that Engineers Canada has pioneered a valuable tool – called the Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC) Protocol – for engineers to assess future climate risk in their designs, operations and maintenance of infrastructure.

“Our PIEVC Protocol has been applied across Canada and globally,” she says. “We are ready to leverage this tool to provide the evidence base to inform policy- and decision-making. As engineers, we have a duty to protect the public, and the PIEVC tool allows us to factor in future climate risks in today’s decisions to do just that.”

The protocol is one example of the methodical and thoughtful approach that makes engineers’ input into discussions about policy with broad societal implications so valuable, says Mr. Allen. And the profession’s contribution to the greater good virtually touches every aspect of society.
Mr. Perruzza mentions the example of Luke Anderson. He says, “Luke is a professional engineer who was in a bike accident out west and is now using a wheelchair. He set up the StopGap Foundation, which has built 800 portable brightly coloured ramps and counting to make retailers and small shops more accessible for everyone.”

“Societal needs are immense,” adds Mr. Allen. “And the opportunities for the engineering profession are bright.”

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