The Millennial Engineer

Engineers are typically known for being sharp, intelligent, and slightly awkward. However one trait that is forgotten about us is we are constant learners. Once graduation happens we still continue to learn and progress in our field. This constant student approach to our profession means we are always making decisions based on the newest research or standards for our designs. There is no reason we cannot implement this same attitude we have with design to carbon efficiency as well. Now I don’t mean that there is not engineering being done and new technology’s being implemented to reduce our environmental impact. What I mean is on a day to day basis most engineers don’t ask themselves whatever what they designed was carbon efficient or is the most environmentally conscious. I believe this attitude would be an extremely easy thing to change in industry. It all has to start with more people in the engineering profession becoming educated on the topic of sustainability and carbon efficiency. This could be done by making basic LEED certification integral with professional engineering licensure and/or requiring a basic sustainability course be taken at some point during the undergraduate program.

The LEED standards have been becoming more adopted as a standard to what a sustainable, low carbon footprint building looks like. It also has been gaining traction with developers who want to have their projects LEED silver or gold certified. Many architects have already taken the initiative to become LEED certified but it is much less common on the engineering side.  I decided to take a quick look at a large local structural engineering firm to see how many leading engineers were LEED certified. To my surprise the number was lower than expected, a dismal 25% of the design leading principles. These design leads are the people who are heading the projects, working directly with the developer and architect, yet don’t have any sort of background on sustainable design at the phase in a project where it would have the greatest impact. Industry leaders should take an initiative to increase the number of LEED certified principles in charge of project as well as encourage younger professionals to take the LEED exams. If people could opt in to take the LEED exam as a supplement to the professional engineering exam, or even better, make it a portion of the exam. Many more people would be more educated on this topic. This would set an informal standard for the industry showing commitment to the importance of sustainable design. That way in the future when the next generation of engineers comes into leadership positions, they will have a more environmentally conscious approach to design.

In addition I believe that an understanding of the importance of sustainable design should start at our universities. There are several schools that have implemented sustainability courses in their curriculum like the University of Washington. However, many have not. I have never taken a sustainability class because they were not a part of my undergraduate degree and they did not satisfy any of my elective fields. I felt that I needed some sort of background on sustainability before entering the work place which is why I enrolled in this course.

When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I was sworn into the order of the engineer and part of the oath states.

As an engineer, I, (full name), pledge to practice Integrity and Fair Dealing, Tolerance, and Respect, and to uphold devotion to the standards and dignity of my profession, conscious always that my skill carries with it the obligation to serve humanity by making best use of the Earth’s precious wealth.

This a portion of this segment is undoubtedly interpreted as we must be environmentally responsible as engineers. I think that our profession is falling short on keeping its oath. The new generation of engineers that are coming into the field recognize we are lagging on this aspect of our profession. The millennial engineer understands that we as engineers are more than designers, we are environmental stewards as well.

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