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Technology and People for Sustainability


Sarah Bell 

Faculty of Engineering Science, University College London


There is an old, boring argument about whether sustainability problems can be fixed by technology or if we need to change our lifestyles and behaviours. Of course it’s both. We need technologies that support sustainable lifestyles, meet the needs of people and communities, and protect and restore the environment. The Engineering Exchange at UCL is working with communities in London to create technical solutions based on local needs and knowledge, as one small part of the bigger puzzle of sustainability.

Engineers are famous proponents of the ‘technology will save us’ side of the boring old argument. Technology is what engineers do. More technology and infrastructure, more work for engineers.

Engineers also like to tell people how important they are for society and the economy. Engineers designed the sewers that keep us clean and healthy. They designed the power stations and electricity networks that keep the lights on.

If technology is part of answer for sustainable development then engineers have a very important role to play. Engineers design wind farms, solar cells, rainwater harvesting systems, and low emission vehicles. These technologies help to reduce environmental impacts and they are profitable for the companies who sell them.



But what if this isn’t enough? What if we need deeper change in our use of resources and our relationships with one another? What is the role of technology in enabling wider change? How can engineers help?

Engineers know about technology and infrastructure. Local people know about communities and the environment they live in. The Engineering Exchange puts them together. We provide a pro-bono engineering service for community groups that might not otherwise be able to afford professional technical support. This includes community groups that need technical advice about local issues, like the demolition of housing, traffic management or air quality monitoring. We also work together to develop ideas for solutions to London’s problems, like designing zero emission barges for the canals, or community based infrastructure planning for regeneration areas.

Engineering won’t solve all our sustainability challenges, but it can help. The Engineering Exchange aims to widen access to technical expertise to deliver better infrastructure and technologies. Working with communities, engineers are better able to meet the needs of people and help to restore the environment. If you are an engineer or a community group who like to join us, please get in touch ( We’d love to hear from you.


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London Sustainability Exchange is a registered charity, number 1122130, and a company limited by guarantee, registered in England and Wales, company number 5154010.


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