The US engineering community under the auspices of American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) developed a statement for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002 as a demonstration of the U.S. engineering community support for sustainable development. In 2012, the AAES Engineers Forum for Sustainability (EFS) established a small working group to develop a similar statement for Rio+20. The small working group analyzed a number of statements for common threads and prepared a draft statement which was vetted and refined by interested members of the EFS. The final 2012 statement was approved by the AAES Board of Directors and is below.
The engineering societies in the US lend their support to the global community in its pursuit of a sustainable future. Given that development has increased stress on the earth’s limited resources and ecosystems’ carrying capacity, as well as on social systems dependent on those resources, we in the engineering community believe that there is a need to meet these broad, complex and inter-connected challenges with new frameworks and innovative solutions; business as usual is no longer a viable option.
Engineers represent the bridge between science and society that is essential to sustainable development. It has always been the role of engineers to create and facilitate the implementation of technologies that are responsive to societies’ needs. We recognize that now all engineering solutions must support development that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. We also recognize that, without the active involvement of the engineering community in addressing sustainability solutions, we will not achieve sustainability.
Engineering contributes to sustainable development by utilizing sustainable engineering principles. Characteristics of sustainable engineering include developing adaptable and resilient engineered systems; culturally and socially appropriate and acceptable technologies; responsible resource use; zero waste designs; cross-functional and cross-disciplinary problem solving teams; lifecycle analysis; full lifecycle costing; risk assessment; zero accident plans in construction, manufacturing and use; robust disaster preparedness and response plans; and technological solutions that are designed to not only eliminate negative environmental and cultural impacts but also maximize social benefits, all of which contribute to meeting the Millennium Development Goals. In addition, engineering provides robust indicators of sustainability performance and information to support economists, ecologists, policy makers and civil society in evaluating ecosystem functions and value and assessing ecosystem damage
Engineering innovations to create technologies that address existing as well as anticipated sustainability challenges require increased public and private investments in research and development. Effective and successful R&D depends upon cross-disciplinary collaboration, as well as incorporation of local and traditional knowledge. Outreach to and engagement with decision makers in government, industry and civil society on the rationale for this research is important. Engineers also recognize that even the most groundbreaking solutions will not come to pass without the existence of a free market and the understanding and support of those decision-makers. Thus, engineers will endeavor to engage those parties and provide them with accurate, technically sound, and unbiased information.
Engineering information about technology and its impacts are critical for guiding policy decisions and development planning. Engineers recommend that policy analysis take a systems approach so as to clarify the interconnectedness of sectors, actions and impacts, and that the decision making framework be integrative, interdisciplinary, and allow for participation by civil society.
Transfer of new and existing technologies – with appropriate safeguards - is needed to enable all communities to address their sustainability challenges. The engineering community encourages making current technology available to all those who need it, and supports the development of mechanisms to make this happen.
Given recognized resource constraints, producing and utilizing resources responsibly is essential. Employing the tenets of "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle" will require evolving engineering advances to ensure that resources and materials are repurposed and remanufactured, therefore promoting the conversion of waste to valuable streams of new resources and products. Further, irresponsible use of resources – both material and energy – deprives others, either present or future populations, from utilizing those resources in their efforts to survive and thrive.
Given the recognition that climate is not constant but rather has always been dynamic, engineers support the development of adaptive systems that anticipate and prepare for the potential impact on the built environment of changes to climate over time, particularly in the development of long-lived infrastructure.
A well-trained and knowledgeable workforce is essential for meeting sustainability goals. Engineers will actively partner with public, private, and academic institutions to build local engineering capacity and share knowledge through mentoring, education, and training. The engineering community will incorporate sustainability principles in all aspects of engineering education at the undergraduate and graduate levels to ensure that future generations of engineers are adequately prepared to tackle the challenges that society faces.
The engineering community recognizes that it shares a mutual responsibility with all individuals to ensure that our actions meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs. Therefore, engineers will use their knowledge and skills for the enhancement of human health and safety, economic well-being and environmental quality, and will seek opportunities to work for the enhancement of social welfare and economic betterment in both their local community and the global community through the practice of sustainable development.
The engineering community also recognizes that technology is only part of the solution, that it needs to be coupled with actions by governments and civil society, and that human behavior regarding consumption is key to achieving a sustainable future.