Sustainability and beyond: the social purpose of engineering

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This is the first in a series of papers exploring the changing face of the engineering industry, as we shift away from purely technical solutions and toward ones in which community concerns shape project design. In short, we aim to track the evolution of engineering and document the most important lessons learned as they relate to improving social conditions. The idea for the series stemmed from a desire within our company to assess how far we — SNC-Lavalin and the industry as a whole — have come thus far on our journey toward building solutions that better society. Taking stock of where we have been and where we are today allows us to better determine where we want to go in the future and how we can get there. The intention is to be descriptive, not prescriptive. Our goal with this series is to showcase the early examples of a process that is already underway and use this as a springboard for discussion, ideation and ultimately social innovation. This, in turn, will help us achieve one of our greater goals as a company, which is to develop projects that benefit all stakeholders and truly improve quality of life wherever we operate.
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  • 1. SNC-Lavalin Sustainability and Beyond: The Social Purpose of Engineering 3 SUSTAINABILITY AND BEYOND: THE SOCIAL PURPOSE OF ENGINEERING White paper March 2016
  • 2. Foreword This is the first in a series of papers exploring the changing face of the engineering industry, as we shift away from purely technical solutions and toward ones in which community concerns shape project design. In short, we aim to track the evolution of engineering and document the most important lessons learned as they relate to improving social conditions. The idea for the series stemmed from a desire within our company to assess how far we—SNC-Lavalin and the industry as a whole—have come thus far on our journey toward building solutions that better society. Taking stock of where we have been and where we are today allows us to better determine where we want to go in the future and how we can get there. The intention is to be descriptive, not prescriptive. Our goal with this series is to showcase the early examples of a process that is already underway and use this as a springboard for discussion, ideation and ultimately social innovation. This, in turn, will help us achieve one of our greater goals as a company, which is to develop projects that benefit all stakeholders and truly improve quality of life wherever we operate.
  • 3. SNC-Lavalin Sustainability and Beyond: The Social Purpose of Engineering March 2016 “When social systems and technology have been able to complement each other, engineering has been immensely effective in improving human life.” — George Bugliarello, former president of the Polytechnic Institute at New York University, in the 1991 publication Engineering as a Social Enterprise When innovative feats of engineering improve our overall way of life, we all stand back in awe — because of the ingenuity involved and the rarity of the occasion. But what if improving social well-being was the greater purpose of every single engineering project?
  • 4. SNC-Lavalin Sustainability and Beyond: The Social Purpose of Engineering March 2016 Throughout history, engineers have transformed societies with their innovative contributions, both big and small. Things we now take for granted, such as the pulley or the aqueduct, were once new and novel. It’s hard to imagine life without these once-revolutionary developments. Today, engineering defines our landscape as never before. Large-scale civic infrastructure projects pave the way for fast-paced lifestyles in developed countries, while advances in telecommunications enable farmers in rural Bangladesh to optimize their prices using smartphones. Driverless vehicles, both aerial and terrestrial, are no longer the stuff of science fiction. But it would be wrong to think that the best or most impactful ideas in the engineering industry are only those that involve technological innovation. In fact, our collective potential for greater social good stems from not only groundbreaking solutions but also from progressive project design and delivery. By finding new ways to make projects more inclusive and mutually beneficial for all stakeholders, engineers can— and should—change our collective view of the profession, shifting it from a purely technical role to a more socially conscious one. Inspired by Sustainable Development Social purpose has its roots in sustainable development, an intention that was once on the fringe of the industry but has since become an integral part of any serious engineering project. As a result, social purpose should be considered an extension of sustainability. It has become a next-level challenge for engineers, who enjoy both the privilege and the duty to use their skills to foster maximum benefits for society. Sal Alajek, the Portfolio Manager at Engineers without Borders Canada, argues that a recent transformation in corporate culture empowers engineers to uphold an ethical compass. These professionals value their ability to improve a community’s well-being through their work 1 . So how does social purpose differ from the social considerations included in sustainable development? The key differentiator is the intention. Typically, the social facet of sustainable development has mainly looked to reduce a project’s impact on communities after the design has already been developed and accepted. In contrast, social purpose incorporates community input right from the outset, before the design is fully formed. In other words, social needs are determined before project plans are drafted, not after. This format addresses the most important issues expressed by the community so that the projects can be designed around these concerns. As George Bugliarello stated, “Engineering can best carry out its social purpose when it is involved in the formulation of the response to a social need, rather than just being called to provide a quick technological fix.” 2 But Is this Realistic? The engineering industry’s experience with sustainable development points to a resounding “yes.” Not long ago, many people considered sustainability as nothing more than a lofty aspiration. Today, however, it’s an essential factor in all major projects. It is often required by clients and can be what distinguishes one viable bid from another. The reason behind the shift in attitudes about sustainability is simple: everyone gains from the effort. When communities benefit, social licence to operate is much more easily achieved, which saves project owners significant time and costs. 1 Sal Alajek, telephone interview conducted by Impakt, Oct. 15, 2013 2 George Bugliarello, Engineering as a Social Enterprise, 1991, www.nap.edu/read/1829/chapter/10#81, accessed on February 29, 2016
  • 5. SNC-Lavalin Sustainability and Beyond: The Social Purpose of Engineering March 2016 Some may argue that the industry has gone as far it can go—or wishes to go—with sustainability. But several trends, from academic research to progressive projects, indicate that the movement is already well on its way toward engineering for greater social good. A compelling example is the annual Global Grand Challenges Summit, a joint project of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the U.K. Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chinese Academy of Engineering. The Summit brings together leading engineers, scientists, economists and policymakers from around the world to address international issues 3 . This global event is focused on areas of sustainability, health and education. It also looks at topics such as technology and growth, resilience, and ways to enrich life 4 . These subjects may seem like a stretch to those who still limit their view of the field to its practical function; however, this Summit indicates that engineering has turned a corner. Adding to a deeper examination of the topic, Heather Cruickshank and Richard Fenner, professors at the Cambridge University Engineering Department Centre for Sustainable Development, created a list of sustainability criteria that can be used to assess engineering projects. For these professors, a sustainable engineering project is one that not only meets a need but is also maintainable, culturally appropriate and suitably affordable. These initiatives do not consume unnecessary resources and are not excessively damaging. At the same time, they promote equity and allow for future development. These observations have not fallen on deaf ears, since some forward-thinking industry leaders have already shown commitment to achieving these objectives. 3 Sujata K. Bhatia, “Global Grand Challenges for Engineering and International Development,” Harvard International Review 35.1 (Summer 2013): 4-5 4 Sujata K. Bhatia, “Global Grand Challenges for Engineering and International Development,” Harvard International Review 35.1 (Summer 2013): 4
  • 6. SNC-Lavalin Sustainability and Beyond: The Social Purpose of Engineering March 2016 Case Studies: Statoil and Pacific Future Energy Corporation The efforts being made by oil and gas firm Statoil offer a good example of sustainable practices. The company defines its sustainability mission as “helping to meet the world’s growing energy needs in economically, environmentally and socially responsible ways.” As part of its social approach, Statoil has developed stakeholder engagement policies that guide its consultations with all project stakeholders, including local communities, government, civil society and industry associations. These policies also steer the company’s discussions with employees and unions, investors, business partners, suppliers and customers. In keeping with these policies, Statoil consults with key community representatives in the early scoping phase of a project to identify and incorporate their needs and concerns. All consultations take place in that community’s own language and aim to be culturally appropriate. When Statoil consults with indigenous communities, it uses the “free, prior and informed” consultation process to help foster an open dialogue with these groups. This thorough and inclusive approach pays real dividends for proponents who make the effort to do things right. We only need to think of stalled projects—with countless examples spanning various industries worldwide—to see the impact of ignoring community concerns. When companies fail to address these issues, they pay a much higher price than the cost of designing a project around social purpose, since they might not obtain social license to operate at all. With an eye on the horizon, Pacific Future Energy Corporation (PFEC) has taken note of this concept through its proposal to build a new petroleum refinery in northern British Columbia. This project would allow Western Canadian petroleum products to be delivered to foreign markets without the risk of shipping diluted bitumen to tidewater and by tanker. Unlike previous project proponents, whose proposals have been sidelined due to community opposition, PFEC focused its early efforts on creating a project that can effectively incorporate community concerns at the design stage right through to construction and operation. One of PFEC’s foundational principles is that First Nations are a first order of government. PFEC knows that it must gain the “free, prior and informed consent” from local First Nations who are the the title holders and affected by this project. As a result, PPEC is maximizing its chances of success — both now and in the future.
  • 7. SNC-Lavalin Sustainability and Beyond: The Social Purpose of Engineering March 2016 Case Study: SNC-Lavalin Another leader in social inclusion and development, SNC-Lavalin, is well known for its proprietary Local Resource Development Initiative TM (LRDI). This customizable solution draws on the company’s best practices from the past 20 years. At the same time, it demonstrates SNC-Lavalin’s sensitivity to local needs and priorities, which act as prerequisites to a more socially conscious approach to engineering. How does the LRDI program work? The process begins with concept studies, followed by the development of a stakeholder engagement plan. This noteworthy plan outlines how the company can work with local communities to: › Empower their workers, companies and communities through training, mentorship and capacity building. › Address government requirements and community expectations related to the positive economic impacts of large-scale projects. › Optimize socio-economic connections with the local labour force and the community’s private sector These consultations continue throughout different phases of the project starting with the assessment stage all the way through to the design stage. The discussions ensure the program continues to address local needs and issues as the project advances. Most importantly, the LRDI program enhances community benefits to its workforce, businesses and supply chain through practical know-how and experience. The end result is that the community becomes a stronger contender for future initiatives. The success of the innovative LRDI program is evident in a long list of projects around the world. Through extensive training and mentoring, thousands of labourers have gained practical work skills and secured full-time jobs on these international initiatives. To ensure local ownership, community institutions act as partners to provide training opportunities. Hundreds of small businesses have increased their capacity and quality through the LRDI program, allowing them to become qualified goods and service providers for major engineering developments. Some significant contracts have been awarded under the LRDI, with values ranging from $50,000 to $10 million. Beyond the clear benefits to the local workforce, the LRDI also generates savings for project owners through reduced construction and operation costs. In Angola, the LRDI program formed a core component of the Matala Dam Rehabilitation Project in an area where quality technical education and job opportunities were scarce. SNC-Lavalin worked with local stakeholders to create 39 training courses in health and safety as well as in basic building works (welding, masonry, rigging, painting, scaffolding, formwork, rebar, and so on). Workers also received education in hospitality (housekeeping and laundry) and computer skills. An impressive 90% of all 1,200 trainees graduated and were placed in jobs, with nearly 400 finding permanent positions at the Matala facility. This initiative is considered a major success and has earned SNC-Lavalin two awards from the Angolan government as well as one from the client. When SNC-Lavalin went to Afghanistan to assist with water and rural development projects, many of the same employment issues surfaced. The LRDI program was used to ensure that local workers and businesses would be given the opportunity to contribute to the projects. In all, about 460 permanent jobs were created, along with 1,842 seasonal jobs. Local businesses benefitted from more than 100 contracts, allowing significant development of small and medium businesses within the country.
  • 8. SNC-Lavalin Sustainability and Beyond: The Social Purpose of Engineering March 2016 About SNC-Lavalin Founded in 1911, SNC-Lavalin is one of the leading engineering and construction groups in the world and a major player in the ownership of infrastructure. From offices in over 50 countries, SNC-Lavalin’s employees provide EPC and EPCM services to clients in a variety of industry sectors, including mining and metallurgy, oil and gas, environment and water, infrastructure and clean power. SNC-Lavalin can also combine these services with its financing and operations and maintenance capabilities to provide complete end-to-end project solutions. snclavalin.com ©2016 SNC-Lavalin Inc. All Rights Reserved. SCCS No. 0001 Conclusion Engineering projects can achieve a broader social impact through local workforce, enterprise and supply chain development, as just a few examples. The potential benefits are as varied as the social issues that affect communities worldwide. As the movement toward social purpose in engineering evolves, we will continue to discover more possibilities that we can create together. It is now incumbent on all members of the engineering community to use their knowledge and privileged social position to find the best possible solutions for the communities they serve. If every engineering project is viewed as an opportunity to respond to both a technical need and a social one, the overall impact on human societies will be massive. It will be so significant, in fact, that we may quickly forget that engineering was once just a branch of science concerned with the design and construction of objects and structures. Engineering will become synonymous with social progress and improved quality of life, generating a renewed sense of pride in our diverse industry. Contributors Author: Mark Osterman, Vice-president - Environment & Sustainability, SNC-Lavalin Co-writer: Monique James, Communication Specialist, SNC-Lavalin Contributor: Paul Klein, CEO, Impakt
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