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 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.
Managing Director, Deltares