I was reminded today that another crop of engineering students has just received their Iron Rings this last month and thereby entered into a proud profession. I am also keenly aware of the changes that has happened since I graduated, nevermind in the last 30 years. When I was in university, environmental sustainability and LEED had hardly entered the curriculum of the undergraduate engineering student. Fast forward to 2013 and I am quite sure that many undergrad students have at least some experience with projects relating to those subjects, with even more graduate programs tailored for that purpose. That had gotten me thinking, how do engineers from different era see themselves? Do some see themselves as champions of environmental sustainability, among the likes of Al Gore and Gro Harlem Brundtland; and some merely see the whole LEED and environmental design as a scam and a meal ticket?
I do not believe this topic within the field of LEED has gotten much attention because it is not something directly affecting the performance of workers or the construction time of projects. However, as newer generations of engineers climb the corporate ladder there is a need in my mind to ensure the proverbial torch gets passed on to the proper individuals. Borne out of the green movement in the 80’s & 90’s, LEED was created as a system to document and characterize various building systems that could be made more energy efficient, environmentally friendly or less detriment on human health. I was too young in the 90’s to be directly involved with design in those days but I remember reading magazine articles where visionaries was constructing homes with plant gardens and glazing that will cut heating and cooling, while decreasing overall power grid use by using solar PV. Many of the engineers and designers now involved with LEED building design are the passionate individuals from that era but I am not entirely confident that their support staff, like the junior designers and the EITs, share their vision.
Why do I say use polarizing words? It’s because I believe people have cooled to the connectedness of climate change, environmental sustainability and the need for LEED construction. This is partly due to Canada’s political climate of the last ten or so years and the growing emphasis on ideology over science and research, which hurts the nurturing needed to educate engineering grads in the connectedness of the things I just mentioned. I fear many see LEED design/construction as simply another discipline and where I hope to see the creation of future thought leaders and paradigm shift, in reality, they see paychecks for mortgage payments to the condo with 70% glazing and car payments to a luxury SUV. To be honest this concerns me, as our collective mentality becomes more consumeristic how will environmental sustainability and LEED construction/design interact with one another; will the two ideas diverge so much that in the future people involved in LEED design will laugh thinking of themselves as green individuals?
As always, all comments and questions are welcome.
[Ed. note: document updated for wording]