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Department of Engineering

Professor of Engineering for Sustainable Development

Professor of Engineering for Sustainable Development

Peter Guthrie has been appointed as the new 'Professor of Engineering for Sustainable Development' funded by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Peter Guthrie

Peter has been a Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor in the Department since October 1999 and has already introduced a new module in the fourth year, entitled 'Engineering for Sustainable Development'. His appointment will enable him to set up a new research group in the Department, looking at issues connected with Sustainable Development.

Peter graduated from Imperial College, London in Civil Engineering before going to Nigeria to take part in a VSO project. This was followed by a spell working in the North Sea on Oil Terminal Construction, after which he took an MSc in Engineering Geology at Imperial. Projects since then have ranged from the Dartford Tunnel and the Conwy Immersed Tube Tunnel to working on a gas compressor station in the deserts of Iran to several projects in Africa building roads using manual labour. 'This may sound an odd thing for an engineer to be doing' comments Peter 'but in fact it is very sensible for emerging nations to use indigenous resources rather than get involved with buying in huge amounts of expensive construction plant from other countries. Making use of local resources is a key element of sustainable development.'

Since 1978, Peter has worked for Scott Wilson, where he set up the Environmental Division in 1990, which now employs around 150 personnel. In 1979 he was seconded to work in a Vietnamese refugee Camp in Malaysia, and his experiences there led him to set up a charity, RedR, Engineers for Disaster Relief, which provides engineers at short notice to relieve suffering in disasters worldwide. This charity is still going strong today.

He remains a Director of Scott Wilson. 'By keeping a close involvement with industry, we can ensure that the research areas we develop are relevant to the world today.' Peter's interest in environmental engineering sprang from a project in which he was engaged to build the Channel Tunnel rail link. 'If you get involved in building high speed railways across green field sites then you soon realise the importance of engaging with public concerns and integrating environmental issues into the design stage rather than starting with a purely engineering design and trying to deal with the problems that arise later. Of course the best engineering projects have always done this.' More recently Peter has been involved in research into waste minimisation in construction, and improved practices for sustainable development in the construction industry.

So why has Peter decided to re-enter academia after such a successful career?

'I see this appointment as giving me a chance to be engaged in forming new engineers which is an exciting prospect for an industrial practitioner. Although I will be research oriented, it is the contact with engineers at the outset of their careers that is so exciting. I would like to encourage young people to take an active role in caring for the environment and managing their projects taking in to account the overall effect of what they are doing. Our work is essentially trans-disciplinary, while remaining intellectually challenging. Good engineering skills, especially in numeracy are very much a requirement.'

Current fourth year projects include: 'Energy generating policy for developing countries', 'Use of waste products as building materials' and 'Sustainable water supplies'.