Engineers for a sustainable future

Written by Prashant Prabhu | Updated: Sep 17 2012, 09:28am hrs
Ever since the invention of the wheel, mankind has been racing towards development. The pace of the wheel has guided us through centuries on the road to mobility. Today, with a global vehicle population of about 800 million, the challenges we face are enormous. Some of these challenges include scarcity of fossil fuels as well as increased urban pollution. The Brundtland Report defines the concept of sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Engineers will play a pivotal role in ensuring we are able to keep the balance between industrial performance and environmental protection.

Over the past 150 years, engineering and technology have transformed the world in which we live, contributing to significantly longer life expectancy and enhanced quality of life for a large number of people. The global population is growing and becoming increasingly urban. The demand for mobility, private vehicles and energy is burgeoning. Emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are on the rise. For mobility to remain sustainable, solutions for mass urban and non-polluting transportation need to be foundthis is a collective call to arms for engineers around the world.

The current situation presents challenges and opportunities for engineers. Working together closely, the engineering force can provide leadership by developing new concepts and convincing stakeholders/policymakers to support them. Technology alone is not enough. Engineers also need to determine how best to accelerate the pace of innovation and, in doing so, rapidly deliver the expected benefits.

Today, the transport sector is strongly dependent on fossil fuels. Furthermore, remaining oil reserves could be consumed quickly due to global demographic growth. As a result, greenhouse gases will remain unacceptably high. Urban mobility in most continents, and especially in emerging economies, suffers from congestion, local pollution, poor and inadequate infrastructure, lack of coordinated planning and increased road safety risks for road users.

Considering these problems today and in the future, engineers need to have the creativity and vision of what the future needs to be in order to contribute to the building of a more sustainable, stable and equitable world. For example, other energy sources are available and have been tried and tested in the field of transport, such as electric energy in the rail industry.

Ever since Michelin was first established, the dynamics of innovation and the search for new technologies for the customers benefit have been at the core of Michelins strategy. The Michelin brand and its legacy of innovation is a vestige from engineers who wanted to create solutions based on sustainable mobility that were cleaner, safer and connected.

The spirit that guides engineers at Michelin is to show that the capacity for improvement is alive and well and that road transport has a bright future serving societys needs. We can and must reduce the gap between the scope of the challenges we faceenergy, environmental and safety issues, as well as universal access to efficient mobility solutionsand the slow pace of decision-making processes around the world. Innovation and its organised deployment require close coordination between the public and private sectors.

Delivering a better future for coming generations should be our primary objective. We need to tackle the issues in a coordinated and coherent way, so that we see real change. Engineers may not need to re-invent the wheel, but the future well-being of the planet necessitates their being able to make that wheel run sustainably.

The author is president, Michelin Group AIM (Africa, India and Middle East)