Q&A: Why did you decide to focus on sustainability?

I grew up with the notion that we should respect our environment because no wants to live on a planet that’s full of trash and where you aren’t close to nature. The older I got, the more I realised that some people just didn’t care about such things and that sometimes even I contributed to making the planet a worse place to live just by being a consumer. Eventually I took a class about materials and saw that there is potential to create products and services that do not degrade our environment but it’s still nowhere near being a perfect science and sometimes it’s downright a guessing game as to whether something is good for the environment or not. This is basically where I decided that being an engineer is great to design new things but I needed to learn more about how to do it in a responsible way.

At that stage I mainly focused on environmental impact because it was a topic that was already quite nicely developed and several tools and models existed to start quantifying impacts. I then realised that many people rejected environmentally sound solutions because they claimed they were much more expensive than their “traditional” counterparts. This is why we need to promote a life cycle costing approach – while historically the lowest purchase price has always been favoured, those low purchase prices tend to have hidden maintenance and end-of-life costs!

Finally, after a while it became more and more apparent that social impacts should not be ignored because, while it’s easy to displace an environmental impact, it’s even easy to displace social impacts. The problem with social impacts is that it’s extremely difficult to quantify them and many people do not seem genuinely interested in anyone’s wellbeing but their own.

So, over the years, I’ve built up on my previous work to fully focus on sustainability and find a way to cover all three pillars. These days I clearly see that they’re all interconnected but we often don’t consider them all when we design new products and services because we don’t have the tools yet to do so efficiently… and so that’s what I’m working on!

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