Henrik Garver: Engineers should be the ‘white knights’ of climate change

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Global infrastructure sector must advocate for government targets and sustainability metrics, says managing director of Denmark’s FRI.

When industry leaders come together, the world rightly expects to hear meaningful solutions to industry’s challenges. When that industry is the infrastructure sector, that also means the world’s problems – particularly climate change.

In that light, it was highly instructive to be part of the Global Leadership Forum this month, discussing how the global supply chain can address embedded carbon emissions.

One of the first things we agreed we need to do is advocate for change. Through international and national bodies, we need to make the case for stringent targets at every level. We need to promote better awareness of the emerging and proven innovations that can make a significant difference, and we need to set goals and encourage governments, clients and international bodies to do so too.

Honest conversations
Our industry must of course recognise that the ability of some countries to act is more limited than others. Many in the developing world have great aspirations but limited resource and far less developed domestic industry representation to provide the advocacy and expertise needed to get policy right.

This is something the global industry needs to help those countries with. In this regard, engineers have a particular a role to play. Engineers are expected to serve as trusted advisors but we must also be the ‘white knights’ of infrastructure – saving the day with remarkable solutions.

To do this, we need to be willing to have difficult but honest conversations with clients and governments to help them understand the difference between the best solutions and those solutions that may prove to be greenwashing.

Practical steps needed now
Alongside all of this, there are some very big practical steps we must take. Even now, many years into the climate crisis, there is not yet a clear set of metrics that allows an entire supply chain to converge on strong expectation of best practices regarding carbon footprints.

We need to put that in place now, especially as we must provide smaller firms the certainty they need to deliver change when bringing their expertise to a project. At the same time, we need to see less focus on driving down costs in procurement. The financial viability of a project remains a critical issue but providing the relative space for innovation means not squeezing that out in search of the lowest price.

Change of this sort may seem subtle from the outside but there are great examples of projects thriving and delivering big results where it is done well. We have an opportunity to help make that universal – which brings us back to advocacy, be it for clear metrics, best practice or the right prioritisation of zero carbon innovation.

If we get this right, it may make the difference for infrastructure hitting net zero in 2050.