Working with impact This is a special edition of Witteveen+Bos News which takes ‘Working With Impact’ as its theme. This is also the theme of the company’s Platinum Jubilee: 2016 is the year in which we mark the seventieth anniversary of the founding of Witteveen+Bos. Witteveen+Bos wishes to play a prominent and positive role in addressing societal challenges, both today and in the future. We do so by ‘working with impact’. We are aware of our responsibility and the opportunities we have to leave the world in a better state than we found it. For seventy years, we have been devising and implementing solutions with this aim in mind. The impact of our work is visible in the form of buildings, roads, water defences and water treatment plants. Many of our projects contribute to the human environment and the wellbeing and quality of life of millions of people worldwide. However, there remains much to be done. In late 2015, the United Nations announced the Sustainable Development Goals, a universal ‘call to action’ that clearly defines the challenges to which the global community must rise. Almost 1,100 Witteveen+Bos staff at home and abroad are helping to design the world of tomorrow. They work closely alongside partners in the public, private and research sectors to develop solutions with maximum impact. We have therefore invited some of those partners to contribute to this special edition of Witteveen+Bos News. What does ‘impact’ mean to them? What do they see as the most pressing issues of today and tomorrow? What can we, as engineers, do to maximise our contribution to resolving these challenges? How can we do so as individuals? Our partners answer these and many other questions in their contributions and interviews. We hope that readers will draw inspiration from the various visions they describe. We also hope that you will share your knowledge and ideas with us, with your fellow readers and with the people in your network, as this will greatly increase our joint impact.
Not craters in the ground but ripples in the water Impact is a marvellous word. It sounds strong and forceful. It speaks of consequences: action and reaction, cause and effect. Impact is a magic word. Everyone, from designers and engineers to artists, scientists and entrepreneurs, wants to have ‘impact’. In 2015, for example, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science announced an incentive programme under the (English) title, The Art of Impact. According to the official website, “The Art of Impact examines and encourages existing and new art projects with a clear impact on a societal theme or issue.” Companies and entrepreneurs wishing to increase their impact can join the international network Impact Hub or the Dutch organisation Society Impact. Scientists and researchers are not only expected to contribute to their own field of knowledge, but to clearly demonstrate the ‘social impact’ of their work. Over the past ten or twenty years, the word ‘impact’ has become common currency. This is extremely interesting since impact, or at least ‘social impact’, is difficult to define and even more difficult to demonstrate. The Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER) is currently looking for a way in which to measure the impact of acting in accordance with Corporate Social Responsibility principles. Development aid organisations are similarly keen to measure the impact of their work. To date, no simple solution has been found. And that is hardly surprising. Unlike ‘effect’ or ‘output’, both of which refer to results which are measurable and largely predictable, ‘impact’ is a word which attempts to do justice to the complexity of our world. It acknowledges that a single action can have countless, extremely diverse consequences, and that it is not possible to encapsulate everything in a spreadsheet or a formula. The word ‘impact’ really took off once it was realized that focusing solely on the measurable ‘effects’ and ‘output’ of an action was to overlook its numerous ‘softer’ consequences. We can speak of ‘impact’ when we consider what happens when underprivileged women in a developing country form a self-help group. We can speak of ‘impact’ when a researcher works alongside a designer or an artist alongside an entrepreneur and there is a cross-pollination of ideas. We can speak of ‘impact’ whenever there are processes and interactions which create ripples in the water rather than craters in the ground. Impact is a marvellous word. It does indeed sound forceful, but we use it in a different way. We wish to make the world a better place, but we also understand that the world is complex. That is when the word ‘impact’ comes into its own. Measurability is a mixed blessing. Not everything can be measured or predicted, not everything can be controlled. Impact is not only a marvellous word, it is a very honest one. Lynn Berger
Editor, De Correspondent
Artist impression Zuidasdok. No rights can be derived from this image.
Sustainable development The why and how The world’s population continues to grow. There are some 7 billion people alive today. By 2050, this number will have increased to approximately 9 billion, with some two thirds projected to live in urban areas. Within 20 years, demand for food, water and energy will have increased by 50 %. There will be a similar increase in demand for housing, business accommodation and infrastructure. Throughout the world, the challenges in areas such as mobility, safety and security, water management and food production are becoming ever more complex, especially in the densely populated delta regions. The developments have given rise to agreements at various levels, whereby governments and non-governmental organisations have undertaken to promote economic development, social justice and sustainability. A number of these agreements are described in further detail below, and are also referred to throughout this edition of Witteveen+Bos News. Definition Sustainable development is a question of combining social justice, environmental protection and economic development: People, Planet and Profit. The most frequently cited definition is from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report: ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ The UN Sustainable Development Goals The United Nations has formulated a set of objectives intended to tackle climate change, social inequality, poverty and hunger. These ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) are a universal call to action, with firm targets to be achieved by the year 2030. By January 2016, no fewer than 197 countries had committed themselves to pursuing sustainable development for all people throughout the world. The SDGs follow on from the Millennium Development Goals which covered the period to 2015. Greater attention is now being devoted to climate change and the human environment. There is also a more prominent role for non-governmental organisations, whose sustainable investments will create
employment and prosperity. Governments, companies and even individuals can formulate their own challenges in line with the sustainable development goals, as shown below. Paris Agreement In December 2015, the Paris Agreement was negotiated by the 195 countries attending the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement is concerned with the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions ‘to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change’ (Article 2). Signatories to the agreement are to produce a national climate plan with measures and objectives incorporated into their national legislation. The Paris Agreement will come into effect in 2020, provided it is ratified by no fewer than 55 countries which between them produce at least 55 % of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The industrialised countries of the West are expected to provide financial support to the developing countries. In April 2016, during the Dutch presidency of the European Union, State Secretary Sharon Dijksma (Infrastructure and the Environment) signed the agreement on behalf of all EU member states. China and the USA, which between them account for some 40 % of global emissions, formally endorsed the agreement on 3 September 2016. Sustainable design principles Witteveen+Bos intends to play its part in creating a sustainable society. Our 6 principles of sustainable design underpin truly sustainable solutions. The 6 principles are: - Nature-inclusive and climate-proof design - Integration: applying the chain approach - Optimisation of functions - Social design, based on social sustainability - Participation by stakeholders and users - Trias principle for sustainable solutions.
Solutions with impact I remember the building site in Maastricht on which I began my career as an engineer. From the bottom of its seven-metre deep pit I could just see the stained glass windows of a nearby fifteenth-century church. I felt a shiver run down my spine. What if our excavations undermined that church, causing it to subside? It was at that moment that I realized the physical impact of my work. Up till then, the project had existed only on paper. The impact of Deltares’ work is at a different level of scale. Here too, projects begin on paper but then take form as concrete, innovative solutions addressing the world’s delta regions. ‘Enabling Delta Life’ is our mission, and it is an extremely worthwhile mission. Countless lives have been saved by the timely warnings given by our systems. Only recently, a storm surge threatened to engulf an entire village in Indonesia. Fortunately, the population could be evacuated and there were no casualties. At Witteveen+Bos, financial parameters go hand in hand with the creation of social value through the implementation of projects. I regularly face the difficult decision of whether to accept a project that is not entirely in keeping with our sustainability principles. On the one hand, it might be appropriate to accept so that we can apply our specialist
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expertise to limit any adverse impact. On the other, it may be preferable to distance ourselves from the project altogether, even though this is not in anyone’s immediate best interests. It is always a difficult decision to make, and I have yet to find a ‘one size fits all’ solution. All we can do is determine on a case-by-case basis whether we will have adequate opportunity to address sustainability issues and suggest alternative solutions. I know that Witteveen+Bos accepts and acts upon its responsibility in this regard. This is of great value for all concerned, including Deltares. Knowledge institutions and engineering consultancies can do much to help build a more sustainable world within the projects they undertake for third-party clients. I believe that they can also develop their own initiatives and propose solutions to the societal challenges they identify in the course of their work and research, such as soil subsidence, coastal erosion and water stress. This may well represent an additional, autonomous revenue flow. I am certain that both research institutes and commercial engineering companies can reap the rewards of pursuing societal impact in a proactive manner. Maarten Smits Managing Director, Deltares
KNOWLEDGE, AUTHORITY AND DARING Most professionals working in the engineering sector wish to have impact. They advise clients not because it is their job, but because they truly believe in the message they are putting across. They want to help build a better world. How do you achieve impact? How do you give powerful, persuasive advice which will influence others and attract support? As I see it, there are three key factors: knowledge, authority, and daring. The first two are mentioned in practically all textbooks and courses. No one will get very far without knowledge and expertise. Professional knowledge forms the foundation of your work. People will only ask your advice if they think that you know more about the subject than they do. You also need certain ‘soft’ skills in order to make full use of that knowledge. You must be able to see things from the client’s perspective and you must be able to understand their actual requirements. Your advice should then be in keeping with those requirements and the client’s underlying motives. Do not bully or cajole. Do not impose your views but involve the client in the search for a solution. These are tips that I have found extremely useful over the years. ‘Authority’ is slightly less clear-cut. It refers to a reasonable expectation that your advice will be heeded, based on experience and example. You must display congruent behaviour in keeping with the advice that you give, practising what you preach. There is nothing so annoying as someone who tells you how to act in a certain situation without ever having been in that situation themselves, or doing something entirely different. It is like a salesperson for one particular make of car driving around in a different manufacturer’s vehicle.
While knowledge and authority support good advice, they do not guarantee that your advice will have true impact. Impact calls for more. Impact entails adaptation. Impact means bringing about some permanent change which would otherwise not have taken place. Creating impact often involves opting for a less obvious solution which generates greater value than any alternative. It leads to new, unforeseen opportunities. The advice must address the problem in hand, but there is nothing wrong with a little ‘out of the box’ thinking. There have been two occasions in my life on which I was given advice with real impact. On both occasions, the advice was offered by people with the necessary knowledge - they knew what they were talking about - and authority. On both occasions, the advice had a profound influence on me and was quite confrontational. I gave it due consideration because I trusted the people concerned. Nevertheless, it was quite some time before I actually acted upon it. My advisors had taken a risk: they could have lost my interest and support. This did not happen and in the event, I gained much from following the advice. The message here is that an advisor must also be daring if he or she is to achieve the desired impact. To expertise and experience we must add the courage needed to opt for a solution which may not work as intended.
The Netherlands as a global testing ground Henk Ovink on the Dutch contribution to global water management
For Henk Ovink there can be no doubt that the Netherlands is the world authority in matters of water management, flood safety and climate change adaptation. ‘And we shall retain our leading position provided everyone, without exception, learns to work together as a close-knit team.’ Ovink stresses the importance of excellent knowledge and skills, combined with diversity and an integrated approach, in rising to the global water management challenges. ‘All the major problems in the world are in some way interconnected with the climate issue. Nowhere is the impact greater than in the water domain. Extreme weather leads to disaster situations and widespread human suffering, as we have seen in Vietnam, Mozambique and the United States in recent years. The Netherlands has faced up to the threat posed by water for many centuries. It is now time for other countries to follow suit as a matter of urgency.’ Ovink emphasises that the global challenges are enormous. ‘The water could soon be lapping at our feet. Access to clean water is also at the root of many international conflicts. If we fail to
adopt a responsible and effective approach to water management, there may be disastrous consequences. At the same time, water is also a connective factor. It brings everyone together in search of solutions.’ The Netherlands’ water sector is an extremely valuable national asset. ‘Dutch knowledge in this area is the result of centuries of cooperation in water management. We are expert builders. We have our polders, our water defences and our reclaimed land. We have successfully implemented large-scale programmes such as the Delta Works and, more recently, Room for the River. I like to profile the Netherlands as a ‘testing ground’ for the rest of the world. We are often the first to develop new governance models and innovative technologies which help to enhance water quality and flood safety. I believe that we should cherish and build upon our position. We must be more aware of our excellent knowledge and skills, and we must exploit the opportunities they create.’ ‘Our theoretical knowledge is matched by our practical ability. We not only devise high-quality
solutions, but we can implement them as well because we have experienced professional organisations and networks. I am thinking of the water management authorities, provincial and local authorities, and private-sector specialists such as Witteveen+Bos. We can combine technology and human resources to ensure an excellent process and fully integrated solutions. We do not rely on standard ‘off the peg’ engineering. Rather, we build capacity through a multidisciplinary approach which involves other experts such as economists, ecologists and spatial planners. I really believe in the strength of this mix. The world is complex and complexity demands joint innovation. We must all help each other by analysing the issues, making the problems and opportunities transparent, and sharing our knowledge. Only by facilitating strong global coalitions can we bring about the sustainable change that is now absolutely essential.’
knowledge and skills,’ he asserts. ‘It is also important to translate the long-term vision into a programmatic approach. And we must start work as quickly as possible, preferably with a focus on innovation, in order to achieve short-term results which will help achieve the long-term objectives. As Kumi Naidoo, the outgoing International Executive Director of Greenpeace, remarked in his valedictory speech, ‘I do not worry about the Earth. She does not need us: we need her!’ The Dutch water sector can make a real difference.’
Henk Ovink sees a number of conditions that must be met if the Dutch water sector is to retain its international position. ‘First, we must consolidate and build upon our excellent
Spatial Planning and Water Affairs. In April 2013 he
Henk Ovink is the Netherlands’ first Special Envoy for
International Water Affairs, an appointment he took up in March 2015. As the figurehead of the Dutch water sector, Ovink works to maintain good relationships
with and between government authorities, the private sector, research institutes and civil society at home
and abroad. He has spent much of his career at the
Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment,
where he held the post of Director for National Spatial Planning and, more recently, Director-General of
was appointed senior advisor to the Hurricane Sandy
Rebuilding Task Force set up by President Obama, for which he also led the ‘Rebuild by Design’ programme.
Life as a game In our everyday lives, the occasional mistake is not a disaster. For a mountain climber, however, a mistake can be fatal. On 1 August 2008, eleven mountaineers were killed on K2. I was on the mountain that night but I survived. The accident brought me closer to the essence of life. How bad can it be? When all’s said and done, it is all just a game. Nature plays an important part in my life. Nature is my counsellor and my mirror. Nature provides everything I need to survive on an expedition, such as clean drinking water and sunlight. My respect for Mother Nature continues to grow. There is nothing that we mere mortals can tell her. Once you realise that, everything falls into perspective. We consider ourselves to be intelligent creatures, but the earth is not interested in anything we do. The earth will survive as a planet. The problem is that, one day, mankind will no longer be living on it. When I am outdoors, I am conscious of my behaviour towards nature. At the South Pole, for example, you are not allowed to discard rubbish or packaging. When I was there, I was acutely aware of the volume of waste that we produce. At home or in the office, we tend not to think about what we are leaving behind us. I now try to take a different approach to waste. We all throw away so much that can easily be recycled or reused. I am part of a group preparing for the ‘Clean2Antarctica’ expedition. We will be travelling in a vehicle we designed ourselves, made from recycled plastic and powered by solar energy. This vehicle will have to contend with the most extreme conditions on the planet, as will we. I often wish that everyone would follow nature’s example, accepting and acting on their own personal
responsibility. High in the mountains, a discussion about strategy will be a free and frank exchange of views. You do not want to put your life on the line if something does not seem quite right. In such an environment it is entirely unacceptable for people to shirk their own responsibility or go back on their promises. In the world of business, money can distort the picture. You can pay someone else to solve your problem. How do we change this mindset? By thinking carefully and logically about our own behaviour. We like to do things the way we did them yesterday, which means that nothing will change today, tomorrow or the day after. Instead, devise smart solutions and, above all, adopt the long-term horizon. Make sustainable business a game! It is one which calls for patience, perseverance and the strength that comes from really wanting something. These are the very qualities that I need when I climb a mountain. Wilco van Rooijen Mountaineer
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Global goals inspire value creation Karin Sluis and Henk Nieboer on collective and individual ambitions
Henk Nieboer does not regard himself as an idealist who has set out to change the world. Asked why he does what he does, he recalls his early childhood. ‘The little boy who makes sand banks on the beach to collect water, then lets it run back into the sea. That was me.’ Henk grew up in Rotterdam. Both his father and grandfather were seafarers, and on Sundays he would always go down to the harbour to look at the ships. ‘My ambition was to pursue a career in dredging, which is why I studied Hydraulic Engineering at Delft University of Technology. My career took a slightly different turn when I was recruited by Witteveen+Bos. Nevertheless, working with land and water is my passion and that is why I am in this profession.’ Karin Sluis was inspired to become a civil engineer by her (well-known) admiration for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, an iconic structure which has been bringing people together, both literally and figuratively, for almost 80 years. ‘That bridge is a solution with impact. It is useful, attractive and sustainable.’ People seek meaning in their lives, Karin believes. ‘I think that everyone has a natural desire for growth and development - both personal and professional - and they want to make a worthwhile contribution to the world. It’s part of our DNA. The engineering profession is a superb vehicle for anyone wishing to tackle today’s societal challenges. We translate those challenges into concrete problems which lend themselves to practical solutions. As an engineering consultancy, we play our part in creating a better world. We accept and act on our responsibility. We know that we must pass on the world to future generations, and it is our duty to ensure that we leave it in a better state than we found it. This entails creating sustainability in every sense of the word: economic, social and ecological. As engineers, our task is to think about the consequences of our actions. Ever since Witteveen+Bos was founded 70 years ago, we have applied our knowledge and expertise to solve extremely complex problems.’ ‘The nature of our work has changed,’ Henk adds. ‘30 years ago, a key focus was water management in the rural areas. Today, we are more concerned with climate adaptation. However, the overall challenge remains the same: to enhance sustainability.’
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The challenges faced by today’s world are encapsulated by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which call for an end to poverty and social inequality, improved living conditions, a cleaner environment, and action to halt climate change. ‘The really good thing about the Goals is that they enjoy worldwide support,’ states Karin. ‘They are all interrelated and form part of a single system. The goals offer an excellent framework for the sort of action that Witteveen+Bos has been involved in for many years.’ Henk continues: ‘In late 2015, we held a ‘materiality assessment’ in which we asked our stakeholders to identify ways in which we can maximise the positive impact of our activities. The findings are interesting: our work helps to achieve no fewer than 10 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Our projects are seen as having particular impact, which means that their potential for positive change is also high.’
like Gouda). Moreover, this new section of the Antwerp peripheral road will have a very positive impact in terms of better accessibility and liveability, with a significant reduction in both noise and air pollution. All these examples show the importance of the integrated approach, Henk points out. ‘We look for the best solution in partnership with other parties, each with their own specialist discipline. The clients are often ‘launching customers’, which means that they must be daring enough to opt for entirely new solutions, as must the various partners, suppliers, contractors and managers. But a daring approach can greatly increase impact.’
Applying our 6 sustainable design principles within our projects will help maximise that potential, says Karin. ‘Our clients face major challenges as they set about building safe, liveable and accessible cities with adequate clean water and sustainable energy provision. They want to create pleasant residential and business environments, in which companies can manufacture products in a sustainable manner. We help them to make the right choices. In all our projects and design assignments, the sustainable design principles guide our thinking and decisions with regard to climate adaptation, efficient and sustainable use of resources, protecting the environment and biodiversity, as well as the promotion of integrated chain management and (public) participation. These are all aspects to which we must devote even closer attention in future.’
‘In the ideal world, all our projects and business processes would contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals,’ says Karin. ‘We would then be able to act on our responsibility to address the challenges of our time to the greatest possible extent. As I see it, maximum value creation begins with the individual. Everyone should be aware of the contribution they can make. As a company, we are the platform through which our staff can achieve their dreams and ambitions. Although we have different specialist disciplines, we are all working on the basis of a shared passion and a desire to make the world a better place. We combine our talents, share knowledge, and work together as a team. Most importantly, we enjoy our work. If you really wish to increase your impact, individually and collectively, the first step is to conduct your own ‘materiality assessment’. What do you see as relevant and significant? How can you make a positive contribution? Ask yourself how the ongoing developments are likely to influence your current role.’
Water treatment plants have become net energy producers (as in Hengelo), while hard sea defences have given way to a ‘soft’ equivalent based on natural processes (Hondsbossche Zeewering and Pettemer Zeewering). The tunnel design for the Oosterweel Link in Antwerp also demonstrates the impact of ‘smart’ design choices: its double-layer construction reduces the amount of concrete required and will significantly reduce CO2 emissions (by an amount equivalent to the emissions of a small city
Henk believes that maximising impact begins with the simple step of choosing work and activities which match your own desires and ambitions. You must identify and act upon your natural motivation. ‘What topics are you most likely to read about, look up on the Internet, or watch on television? These are the topics which should form the focus of your professional life, too. Opt for a career which reflects your passions. By combining energy and ambition, you will always achieve maximum impact.’
Benthem Crouwel Architekten
Embrace Digital Disruption Seize the Internet of Things Opportunity
Imagine, for a moment, life without personal computers. We have become so accustomed to instant access to news and information, that the loss of it would completely transform our way of life. In todayâ€™s technology-driven society, that is a difficult thing to picture. But a world without personal computers is exactly what the former leader of a major mainframe computer manufacturer predicted in 1977. Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), once argued against the PC, stating: â€˜There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.â€™ Today in hindsight, this prediction seems almost comical. What is it about change that is often so apparent and accepted by some, but unseen or considered threatening to others? Fear of the unknown, laser focus on the present, and lack of foresight can all cause aversion to change. But, just as computer giant DEC faced disruption in the 1970s, we too face another crossroads - with a technological disruption that will reshape our industry unlike anything else before.
Of all the technology trends that are taking place right now, perhaps the biggest one is the Internet of Things (IoT). Simply put, IoT connects devices such as everyday consumer objects and industrial equipment to the network or internet, enabling information gathering and management of these devices via software. It is the one trend that is going to give us the most disruption, as well as the most opportunity over the next decade. 50 billion things will be connected to the internet by 2020, and that number jumps to 1 trillion connected devices by 2025. That same year, McKinsey Global Institute also predicts that IoT will generate up to USD 11.1 trillion a year in economic value. In short, it will become the largest technology market ever. According to Goldman Sachs, there are five key verticals of IoT adoption: connected wearable devices, connected cars, connected homes, connected cities and industrial internet. All of these verticals present a tremendous opportunity for engineering consultancies, who will soon, if not already, be expected to leverage these new technologies into client projects.
Foster + Partners
A number of significant technology changes and enablers have come together to give rise to this trend. A first change is the global cloud computing market. This market is expected to skyrocket over the next four years, from USD 40.7 billion in 2011 to USD 241 billion in 2020. This Cloud movement, according to Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, is being fueled by rapidly falling processing costs and increasing cloud accessibility. A second change is declining technology costs. The cost of sensors, which are used to identify, locate, and evaluate items, went from USD 1.30 to just USD 0.60 over the past 10 years. What is more, the cost of bandwidth is down by a factor of 40 times over the past 10 years. Another technology
change is the usage of smartphones. In 2009, less than 1 % of global internet traffic came from mobile devices. As of August 2016, mobile internet traffic soared to an impressive 46 % of total internet traffic worldwide. That is an increase of over 5000 %. A last important technology change is the Expanding Wireless Coverage. The development of faster, higher bandwidth and more intelligent networks is leading to an explosion in mobile technology adaption. By 2020, nearly 60 % of mobile devices and connections will have 4G capability in North America, according to Cisco. Western Europe is just behind North America, with an estimated ratio of 53 % of 4G connections by 2020. With billions of new mobile devices and connections being introduced each year, we are already seeing an influx in both personal and business data. Imagine this: 5 billion gigabytes (GB) of data were created from the beginning of time to 2003. That sounds like a lot of data, right? Well, that same amount of data was created every 2 days in 2011. And by 2013, it took only 10 minutes. This phenomenon, commonly known as Big Data, presents a challenge to traditional data processing applications, that will likely have difficulty processing data so large and complex. In order to sustain the amount of data a firm may produce, processing applications and technologies will need to be reevaluated, or new ones created. And with the proliferation of devices connected to the internet comes security vulnerabilities. More connected devices mean more attack vectors and possibilities for hackers to target infrastructure and our personal information. Firms will need to evaluate their current security protocols to insure they are shielded from such cyber attacks. It is clear to see - a new digital economy is upon us and ready to disrupt the engineering industry as we know it today. This hotbed of opportunity will invite new competitors from outside the traditional architecture and engineering industry to enter our world, bringing unparalleled competence in the Cloud, Big Data, Security, and IoT. Imagine powerhouses like Google, IBM, Microsoft, Cisco, or Apple marrying their technological expertise with the infrastructure prowess of traditional engineering consultancies to reshape our cities and infrastructure. There is a bold future ahead of us, and the impact of these changes will be far-reaching and profound. Ask yourself: what can you do to begin preparing for this transformative digital economy? What technology skill sets can you leverage, acquire, or partner with to position your consultancy for an IoT economy? It is time to seize the opportunity! Javier Baldor BST Global
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Almost impossible wishlists Society has surrounded itself with various infrastructures and networks: drinking water supply, water defences, electricity, gas, telecommunications, roads and rail, drainage and sanitation, and so forth. Engineers have played a major part in the creation of these infrastructures. Some exist to protect us from nature, while others are designed to make our lives more pleasant and convenient. However, networks and infrastructures can also make our lives far more complex. And we have only just begun. The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, to which Witteveen+Bos has committed itself, foresee an Umwertung aller Werte. This term, coined by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, translates as the ‘revaluation of all values’. Everything must now change - except the climate. It seems that we must start all over again if we are to meet the development goals while also restricting the increase in temperature caused by carbon emissions to less than two degrees Celsius. Everyone is entitled to clean water and sanitation (Goal 6) and to sustainable and affordable energy (Goal 7), which entails the rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewables. Goal 11 provides for the creation of sustainable cities and communities, while Goal 12 calls for ‘responsible consumption and production’. The ambitions are high and the resultant ‘wishlists’ seem almost impossible to achieve. A sustainable city: is not that a contradiction in terms? A ‘rapid’ transition to renewables: is fifty years rapid enough? There is to be an 80 % reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2050, but millions of existing homes will still be in use. They all have to be made energy-neutral so we have less than 35 years to convert millions of dwellings: an enormous number every year and hence a daunting challenge.
Tackling the big issues It is fascinating to see how thousands of students and researchers at Wageningen University & Research Centre devote themselves to studying the major societal issues of today. Their projects are concerned with the sustainable supply of food and resources, the development of biological materials like fibres and bioplastics, finding an appropriate balance between various forms of land usage, and understanding the major processes which affect our planet, such as climate change and shifts in biodiversity. In other words, they are working on the ‘bio-based economy’, a society in which the majority of resources we use are derived from nature. The bio-based economy is inspired by the cycles seen within nature itself.
Engineers will have to work extremely hard to bring the wishlists to fruition. The impact of the engineering profession will become even greater. Investments of unprecedented proportions will be required. It is now time to move away from a purely ideological approach to the Sustainable Development Goals and adopt a more entrepreneurial stance. Henk Tolsma Technology journalist
The mechanisms of problems and their solutions are unravelled, resulting in knowledge which forms the basis of new technologies and new responses to key societal issues. Enthusiastic young people from many different countries can be found on the Wageningen campus every day, all year round. There is a marked air of optimism. That optimism is welcome, and indeed essential, in a time which seems dominated by sombreness and prophecies of doom which have been prompted by shocking national and international events of recent years. Perhaps such pessimism is understandable, but it stands in the way of progress. Moreover, it is entirely unjustified. We can see countless areas in which we are now faring far better than in the past. By any measure, the quality of life throughout the world has risen. In recent decades we have even managed to slow and offset the worst of our environmental problems. This is because science and technology have not stood still, which is in turn due to ongoing cooperation between governments, the education sector, the research field and industry, all of whom have joined forces to seek responsible solutions. Standing still is not an option, and neither is attempting to return to some idyllic notion of the past. That is not to say that we should ignore the past altogether. There are positive aspects which ought to be retained or restored: compactness of scale, human involvement and pride in professionalism, for example. Our challenge - the pursuit of the bio-based economy - demonstrates what is possible through the application of modern technology in combination with shared human values. Digitisation, robotics and the use of drones will greatly enhance the efficiency with which water, nutrients and crop protection methods can be used in food production, while also improving health and safety for workers. Consumers will be able to ascertain the exact source of the food they buy and how it was produced. The impact of such innovations will be felt throughout the world, and not only in the industrialized West. Within a few years, African farmers could well be leading the way in precision agriculture, just as they are already leading the way in the use of mobile communications to support production efficiency. Opportunities to create new employment both within and beyond the agrifood sector will emerge and must be exploited to the full. We cannot always rely on technology but we can rely on human ingenuity and the younger generation’s thirst for knowledge. Despite the pessimists’ claims, we have yet to reach the bounds of our capabilities. Today, the majority of our students attend campus full-time. New interactive online technology will enable us to share our knowledge with the entire world, unfettered by time or location. Our first two online courses in food technology and plant sciences have already attracted no fewer than forty thousand students. This is just the beginning. It is interesting to speculate about the future of higher education: what form will our universities take ten or twenty years from now? It is even more interesting to speculate about the solutions that are likely to make the biggest impact on the quality of life of the world’s population, which is projected to number over nine billion by the year 2050. One thing is certain: Wageningen University & Research Centre and its many-faceted alumni will make a major contribution in every field. Louise Fresco President of the Executive Board, Wageningen University & Research Centre
Witteveen+Bos News 20
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The Witteveen+Bos News is published twice a year. Volume 20, November 2016