I was privileged to be invited to HQ of the Institution of Chemical Engineers in London to review and comment on their latest Technical Strategy “Chemical Engineering Matters”. IChemE represents 40000 ChemEngrs worldwide so is significant. But significant also the contribution it aims to project.
But an interesting and I think crucial point came up during the workshop that points to purpose – WHY? does chemical engineering and do chemical engineers matter at all? And, if we think the answer is, yes, then how do we articulate this purpose to a public and government already saturated by messages of all sorts?
When I was a student chemical engineer in the late 80s, there was a poster campaign which went along the lines of, “Do you drive, live in a house, use medicine, walk on carpets, wear clothes…” You get the idea. Then your life has been touched many times each day by the work of a chemical engineer.
For me, the message is the same. But now, the stakes are so much higher.
Global population has already exceeded 7 billion and we are well on the way to 9bn. Each soul wants and demands the same standard of life as the richest, but humanity is already living as if there where 3 planet Earths, not 1.
The Technical Strategy aims to offer solutions around topics that Chemical Engineers can have a major impact on – boosting the efficiency of the global Food system, delivering safe, clean Water for all, creating products and services to transform Health and Wellbeing and enabling Energy that is affordable, low carbon and secure.
The challenges are significant and needs a Systems Thinking perspective – something in-built to the chemical engineering skill set. If you know about this stuff, you will know that the only way to alter a System is to act of points of leverage in it and to work with others who need to collaborate on the solution.
As chemical engineers, we need serious innovations to tackle these joint challenges.
And we can’t get it wrong. Because if you believe the global political leadership is in gridlock, it will need a grass roots solution.
My Favourite Part…
So, if you needed to tell people what you do and why it is important, what would you say? We had some fun with this one!
I can’t say we came up with something as iconic as “The Appliance of Science” or as fun as “Be More Dog”…
I quite liked “The engineers you’ve never heard of , but can’t live without”
OR, “We convert the building blocks to create today’s modern world?”
This is actually what we said… “chemical engineers transform raw materials through safe and efficient processes to make sustainable and affordable products and services that people value and that makes a positive difference to peoples everyday lives.” Yes, too many words, I know. But sounds kind of important to me.
We hope, Judith, that you got what you needed from us. And that we have started to become ambassadors for the profession and for the jobs to be done.