“Working to engineer a better world”
May 4, 2023
By Solangel Minotta
In this Q&A, the IET’s Ed Almond talks about how the engineering profession can use technology to advance sustainability from the SDGs to net zero.
With more than 155,000 members across 148 countries, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)(opens in new tab/window) has a mission to inspire, inform and influence the global engineering community, supporting technology innovation to meet the needs of society. As the IET’s Chief Executive & Secretary Ed Almond(opens in new tab/window) puts it, “The IET exists for the sole purpose of working to engineer a better world.”
That mission has never been more important than now, as we face a global climate crisis that requires innovation and cooperation in order to meet the goals for sustainability and lowering emissions. In this interview, Almond talks about the trending topics in sustainability, how IET members are addressing today’s challenges, and the road ahead for net zero. The interview has been edited slightly for brevity and clarity.
How is the IET supporting the UN’s SDGs?
We have chosen five societal challenges where the engineering profession and the IET can make the greatest impact. These have been inspired by the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Challenges and the UK’s Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges. The challenges are:
People-centric Infrastructure and
Our societal challenges will focus our efforts more sharply for added impact, while providing direction and purpose for the IET as we support the engineering community to deliver solutions for society.
How does this fit with IET’s 2030 strategy(opens in new tab/window)?
By 2030, we hope to accelerate the pace of development and adoption of technology that supports the move towards a zero-carbon future. We also aim to increase public trust in digital technology and support practitioners through a period of change with the application of standards, regulation and the sharing of best practice.
We are proud to have joined the UN SDG Publisher’s Compact(opens in new tab/window), committing to developing and implementing sustainability principles in our publishing program. We will be champions for the SDGs and publish content that will help inform, develop and inspire action to achieve them.
What are the IET’s commitments to achieve net zero as a contributor?
In 2021, we launched a new Energy technologies for Net Zero(opens in new tab/window) guide, which gave a detailed look at the technologies available that can decarbonize the UK energy system and shift energy demand from fossil fuels to low-carbon supply, which is vital to reach the government’s net zero targets.
The easy-to-follow guide, produced by energy system researchers at the University of Strathclyde(opens in new tab/window) on behalf of the IET, is intended to help the public, policymakers and anyone invested in transitioning to a low-carbon future understand the options and technologies available.
The transition to net zero will rely on people and technology, and it is vital that everyone has a good understanding of how technology can make that happen, what the options are and how they work. Technology enables us to dramatically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by changing where our energy comes from and how we use it.
Whilst it is clear these technologies are fundamental, there is still an active part that society at large needs to play in making low-carbon choices in our everyday lives. If people, policymakers and businesses understand the various options and why they’re needed, we will get greater support for a fast and fair transition to net zero.
Why is it so critical at this point in time for industries, subject matter experts and professionals to become part of a larger community like the IET?
Engineers have the skills, insights and ingenuity to help tackle climate change in ways that optimize efficiency, economy, safety and reliability. It is critical that engineers become active members of professional societies: for thought leadership, resources, training, sharing best practice, reports and so much more.
The issues our planet faces today require unprecedented collaborative action, and engineering is central to solving them and ensuring a more sustainable, smarter and brighter future for us all.
We recognize climate change cannot be addressed without collaboration across governments, industries and wider society, and the IET plays an important role in providing a considered and trusted voice for the profession. Engineers can be the experts and advocates to sharing knowledge, best practice and experience and upholding the high standards of the engineering profession in the pursuit of truly sustainable development.
What trends is the publishing team seeing in terms of topics related to sustainability?
IET’s Inspec(opens in new tab/window) is one of the most definitive databases for subject-specific and interdisciplinary research in engineering, physics and computer science. It contains over 20 million records of research literature, and for over 50 years it’s been an essential discovery tool for institutions around the world. We classify articles from thousands of journals to make it easier for researchers to find relevant research.
Global research pertaining to SDG #11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) has overtaken that on SDG #7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), growing from about 8.5% of Inspec data in 2013 to over 15% in 2022, and research on SDG #13 (Climate Action) has been the fastest growing SDG within the Inspec database, while that on SDG #6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) has actually slightly declined as a proportion of global research output.
Where do you see the most potential for net-zero related change in the next few years?
The IET has a strong focus on transport. Rail, aviation and shipping are all at different stages of decarbonization, but road transport, especially passenger vehicles, is a maturing market. Where these solutions are available now, we can roll them out further and faster, reducing emissions in one area to help compensate for the slower journey to net zero for other transport modes.
The wider rollout of electric vehicles is still the primary target of governments around the world, but we still face challenges. Our resources for road transport are designed to help engineers solve these challenges. We have the research and development solutions for the engineering community to discover and develop practical solutions, as well as the tools for the technologies that are ready today.
How is the IET helping to prepare its individual members or member companies to navigate the challenges of achieving net zero?
We provide a focus throughout our products and services on engineering solutions to net zero and the underpinning technologies that will help to achieve it.
We offer a wealth of content and training on core areas of sustainability, dedicated to the needs of engineers. From our academic publishing program that is working to make an impact on the UN SDGs, to our practical best practice publications, training courses and thought-leadership reports, sustainability is at the core of our work.
What critical preparation is needed for electrical engineers to be successful in achieving net zero?
It is vital for electrical engineers to become familiar with new technologies and solutions coming onto the market to achieve adoption at pace. They need to ensure they are seeking out opportunities for training and upskilling in areas of industry that are relying on electrification in order to decarbonize, such as electric vehicle charging.
How is the work of your members helping to create a greener and more sustainable world?
Engineers will be key players in solving the challenges of decarbonization across many industries, and our members bridge many engineering disciplines. The diversity of IET members’ expertise and the networks they can build through their membership puts them at the forefront of engineering solutions for net zero.
Ed Almond(opens in new tab/window) is Chief Executive and Secretary of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. He has worked at the IET for 21 years, having held the position of Director of Finance since 2006 and becoming CES last summer. He is an IET Fellow and takes on the IET as a world-leading membership and learned society, driving forward its charitable purpose to engineer a better world and growing a worldwide membership of 155,000 people across 148 countries.
Solangel Minotta serves as the Director of Strategic Partnerships & Publisher Relations for Elsevier, overseeing a portfolio of over 150 content partners for Elsevier's Engineering Solutions team. She is dedicated to working collaboratively with her partners to generate thought-leadership content aimed at supporting various routes towards achieving net zero. With a passion for cross-functional teamwork and relationship building, she is optimistic about our future.