In recent years, India has shifted gears to accelerate its infrastructure development. A host of mega projects have been launched and are continuously being announced to cater to growing needs of over 1.4 billion people, to position the country as one of the top three economies globally. However, amidst rapid development, we as a country also find ourselves at crossroads where we must strike a balance between progress and sustainability, ensuring development does not come at the cost of the environment.
Recent incidents of rain wreaking havoc in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, the North-Eastern regions, along with frequent flood-like situations in major metropolises have been wakeup calls, necessitating the urgent need for sustainable development.
Including sustainability into the engineering academic curriculum is important in minimising the environmental footprint of infrastructure development.
Moreover, challenges for engineers today are different from what they used to be earlier. Few decades ago, key considerations for infrastructure or related projects included meeting quality, safety, and regulatory standards. However, in the present scenario, addressing only these aspects falls short in the face of contemporary challenges, including climate change.
Today, civil engineers face several sustainability challenges. They must design infrastructures that not only cater to economic and social needs but can also withstand harsh weather events like earthquakes, rising sea levels, soaring temperatures, ensuring resilience in the long run. Considering the alarming rise in temperature levels, efforts must be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5, as per the Paris Agreement.
Additionally, engineers need to devise sustainable design and construction approaches that prioritise energy efficiency, the adoption of eco-friendly materials, resource optimisation, and the integration of renewable energy sources and advanced technologies for sustainable infrastructure projects. This preparedness should be instilled in them from the very foundational stages of their education and training. The knowledge gap can have environmental consequences, increased resource depletion, higher construction costs, and a failure to fulfil global responsibilities in mitigating climate change. This not only hampers eco-friendly infrastructure development but also undermines long-term financial viability, legal adherence, and industry competitiveness, posing significant challenges for both the engineering profession and society's sustainable future.
A focus on sustainability and green development is essential to prepare engineering students for the evolving environmental challenges. Focus should be given on introducing relevant and novel concepts into the engineering curriculum.
For example, courses centred around sustainable design principles can instil knowledge of life-cycle assessment of projects, green building standards like LEED, water management, use of sustainable construction materials and techniques, in short to prioritise sustainability right from the project's inception.
Readying for future with practical learning, innovative, research-based approach
It is encouraging to witness the growing focus of sustainability in India’s engineering education. At an undergraduate level, students from civil engineering discipline, are being exposed to concepts focusing on sustainability. However, as challenges evolve, it is essential to ensure their learning aligns correctly with changing needs of the economy and society. Considering the significant increase in climate concerns and its widespread negative impacts on the country, there is a pressing need for a fundamental shift in attitude to fully incorporate the practical challenges of climate change and application-based environment education into the mainstream academic programme.
In addition, emphasising on climate resilience engineering, infrastructure designs for extreme weather events like floods, earthquakes, landslides, climate models, and adaptation techniques can bring can provide students with a better understanding of the science behind environmental issues, as well as the tools to address them.
The engineering curriculum should also integrate artificial intelligence, IoT and data analytics for advanced environmental protection planning, robust infrastructure management, and disaster prevention and mitigation strategies. This tech-focused approach will enable the engineers of tomorrow to design infrastructure that is resilient and capable of catering to growing needs of population while protecting and sustaining the environment. Students of engineering must also be encouraged to adopt a collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach to develop comprehensive engineering solutions for environmental protection and sustainable development.
In a technology-driven era, budding engineers must keep up with rapid pace of tech advancement by continuously adopting and integrating innovative tools, materials, and construction methods that promote sustainability and efficiency. Embracing the principles of the circular economy, they must be aware about how to prioritize recycling, reuse, and resource recovery to reduce consumption of finite resources. In addition, they must learn how to adhere to evolving environmental and sustainability regulations, to ensure that the infrastructure projects of tomorrow meet the latest sustainability standards, and environmental compliance requirements.
Engineering students should be encouraged to amplify research on sustainable and resilient infrastructure design, materials, and construction methods and to innovate new technologies for monitoring and mitigating the environmental impact of civil engineering projects.
The National Engineer’s Day is most relevant to discuss why engineering is a profession of the future and the importance of making engineering students resilient and future ready as they will be playing a pivotal role in providing solutions for global problems like climate change and resource depletion.
According to a report, green talent, which refers to professionals with knowledge or skills needed to support environmental sustainability now and in the future, has risen from 9.6 per cent in 2015 to 13.3 per cent in 2022 — a 38.5 per cent growth rate. With the demand for such professionals being on the rise, engineers will continue to touch every part of our line and remain on the frontlines of shaping our planet that will be both resilient and sustainable.