Prenote 1: ‘Contemporary Industry Perspectives on EESD’

9 June 2020

The first EESD Prenote involved a number of industry based engineering practitioners whose work brings them into engagement with various societal and environmental projects.

They presented their thought provoking reflections and perhaps challenge engineering educators about how programmes ought evolve to produce fit-for-purpose contemporary engineering graduates who are capable of addressing emerging sustainability related challenges/crises/transitions, thus making a positive contribution to society and our environment. This was  followed by a lively audience participatory dialogue.


Clodagh O’Donovan, Arup.
Sorcha Ní Mhuimhneacháin, Canadian Solar

Facilitator:      Dr Paraic Ryan, UCC

Clodagh O’Donovan is a Director and the Planning Team Lead at Arup in Ireland. This team advises and delivers value to clients on projects in climate change and carbon, transport planning, master planning and urban design, statutory consent and environmental assessment. With 25 years’ experience in civil and environmental engineering, Clodagh has extensive expertise in the management and delivery of complex, multidisciplinary projects. This includes guiding projects through the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Appropriate Assessment (AA) and statutory consent process, as well as having significant experience in stakeholder consultation. Clodagh is a chartered engineer with Engineers Ireland (CEng, FIEI) and a registered consulting engineer with ACEI (FConsEI).

Sorcha Ní Mhuimhneacháin graduated with a degree in Energy Engineering from University College Cork and an MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge. During her studies at UCC she spent a year at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), specialising in renewable energy technologies. She also led the Engineers Without Borders Chapter in UCC, which became a dominant voice for sustainability issues on campus and a force for change in the education of engineering students. Her University of Cambridge research, sponsored by the Arthur Shercliff Memorial Trust, focussed on bottom-up strategies to accelerate the electrification of remote mountain communities in Nepal.
In 2018 she returned to Munich to join Canadian Solar as part of their burgeoning Systems Solutions department. She now works on turnkey execution of photovoltaic projects in Europe. As well as informing technical design, she collaborates on strategy development for new market entry. Her priority is to target ventures which are mutually beneficial to both community and company.


Synopsis and Highlights: ‘Contemporary Industry Perspectives on EESD’

 Clodagh O’Donovan provided a wide ranging and insightful presentation which included her contemplating some key contemporary developments and changes in engineering practice:

• She outlined the transition in her career in engineering from a focus on environmental engineering to a broader consideration around sustainability.

• She identified living and working in cities – making them more liveable, as a key contemporary issue; Covid-19 could perhaps drive this forward even more as a ‘game changer’.

• This includes considering the question: ‘How do we get people out of cars?’

• She suggested that the vision of Ove Arup is front and centre of practice now more than ever; his day has come!  – concepts such as social usefulness, reasonable prosperity and a humane organisation are being recognised for their inherent value.

• At ARUP, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the principal guide as part of their global corporate strategy; ‘all our work now is seen through that lens’, and the SDGs are ‘by far the biggest market disrupter’

• Engineers are thus required to develop a ‘holistic’ range of skills, and thus provide thought leadership to provide a more ‘outcomes focused’ result rather than narrowly framed ‘deliverables’.

• A really important consideration is promoting diversity; in order to be better equipped to answer the above challenges; this incorporates diversity in gender and background/cultural, but also in skills and talents. This is required not just to get students into engineering, but also in our quest in shaping a better world, through using sustainability narratives, values and ethos.


Sorcha Ní Mhuimhneacháin followed up with an engaging and challenging presentation, drawing on her educational experiences in Ireland, England and Nepal, and on her professional work out of Munich. She presented a number of valuable observations, challenges and rhetorical questions on the following:

• Engineers need to show ‘courage in the face of resistance.’! How do you incorporate that in the curriculum? Do we need to invite more industry practitioners, engaged citizens and societal groups, etc. to participate in our programmes? Are our engineering programmes/students too conservative?

• Engineering graduates need to learn to speak the language of industry and the language of government, in order to move obstacles and argue in the face of ‘No’.

• How can we bring contemporary and emergent global trends into the classroom? #metoo #blacklivesmatter #nojusticenopeace, etc. Such movements are indicative of a society open to change – they offer opportunities to engage with youth groups and the community.

• We often don’t understand the power of one young person talking to another!

• We need to promote interdisciplinary aspects of engineering education. Engage with Engineers Without Borders (EWB)

• Local CONTEXT is everything! Engineering education needs to avoid decontextualized (reductive) scenarios, especially when dealing with (complex) societal issues/challenges. Simple decontextualized solutions (imposed on communities) will fail when ‘wicked problems’ are encountered.

• There is a responsibility on engineering educators to embed SDGs into programmes, and then sell their programmes on this basis.

• Be idealistic; do something because it’s the right thing to do! Encourage graduates of same: tell them that any company who isn’t open to hearing from its graduate engineers in the boardroom isn’t deserving of their time!

There followed a wide ranging (in terms of topics and globally diverse geographic spread) Q&A discussion with delegates, who discussed a number of the issues raised above.