Fostering Dialogue at the WEC Roundtable on Sustainable Engineering

Excerpt from: Fostering Dialogue at the WEC Roundtable on Sustainable Engineering


The World Environment Center held a roundtable event from June 10-11 in Washington, DC, entitled Preparing the Next Generation of Engineering Students to Implement Sustainable Development: A Dialogue with Engineering School Thought Leaders and Business Executives.

THG’s President Marianne Horinko moderated a panel discussion during the event focused around the question: What skills do global companies want their new hires to possess?  The panel featured executives from The Dow Chemical Company, Royal Dutch Shell, and CH2M Hill sharing experiences on the qualities that their companies seek in new employees and the training they undergo as related to sustainability.

Panelists emphasized the importance of teamwork and the ability to collaborate across disciplines and areas of expertise.  They expressed that while new hires must possess the standard capabilities of numerical analysis and quantitative thinking, individuals who are creative, expressive, and strong communicators stand out and contribute most to the company’s ability to incorporate sustainable values into everyday work.

Sustainability for many companies entails a certain way of thinking about problems and solutions.  This requires a systems approach, taking a circular, non-linear, view of a product lifecycle or engineering project, considering uncertainty and imagining unintended consequences.  It requires that employees ask the right questions—often different and innovative questions.  The panel discussed how these skills might be cultivated before employees are brought in, either through university programs emphasizing interdisciplinary teaching and relying on sustainability-based case studies, through co-ops and internship experiences, or otherwise.

The discussion thoroughly covered many facets of the central question, and the session fostered a rich and thought–provoking dialogue between the audience, the moderator, and the panelists.