Canadian Consulting Engineer

CONFERENCE: FIDIC and Sustainability

This year's International Consulting Engineering Federation (FIDIC) conference, held in Montreux on Lac Leman, Switzerland in September, once more had sustainability as its theme. The region around Mo...

October 1, 2001  By Ben Novak, P.Eng., Stantec Consulting, Edmonton

This year’s International Consulting Engineering Federation (FIDIC) conference, held in Montreux on Lac Leman, Switzerland in September, once more had sustainability as its theme. The region around Montreux is intensely developed and yet holds a certain attraction for the visitor, with its spectacular vistas. The city is some 1,700 metres from lake level and and immediately behind it is the peak of Rochers de Naye, at 2,045 metres. A narrow gage electric cog railway, traversing 10 kilometres of track, can get you there in 50 minutes! The railway is an engineering marvel and an intrusion into the natural surroundings, but somehow does not look out of place. An autoroute hugs the hills jutting from the lake. Just west of the city, crowded vineyards, nestled on stepped land provided by a myriad of small retaining walls created over centuries, are part of the economic structure. Is this sustainability?

The extension of the concept of sustainability, going from the obvious environmental applications, to the very nature of sound sustainable businesses and corporations, was the approach taken this year. Attendees were challenged on an esoteric level to alter thinking and perceptions in every direction covering their day to day activities. It should become natural to ask, “Is this sustainable?” over a wide range of issues.

Broadly, for example, sustainability can extend to investment, consulting, construction, transportation and environment. It becomes clear that everything is interrelated. The physical environmental aspects have been described exhaustively in recent years. The broader all-encompassing treatment of the subject makes the business case stronger: health, financial aspects, cultural values, regulatory support, community support.

FIDIC is proactive in all these areas. Committees have been at work since the early 1990s, publishing guides and information to assist the engineer in becoming involved because it is also “good for business.” There is a business case for sustainable development principles. At the conference, the intellectual challenge was to alter the way we see things, and to convince others using logical supporting ideas. Engineers were exhorted to become leaders as well as doers.

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A bonus was the opportunity to mingle with engineers from some 50 countries and regions. One gets out what one puts into these types of gatherings.

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