Engineering for good: sustainable development projects changing lives

In her foreword for the Engineering a Better World conference programme, Dame Ann Dowling, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, outlines the critical role that engineering must play as civilization moves ahead. 

After calling attention to the breakthrough achievements of the engineering industry in the 20th century, she notes that, “we are far from finished, and many more global challenges remain, as highlighted by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).” And then adds that, “It is only by applying the best talent that we can meet all of these challenges and continue to improve quality of life and economic prosperity for generations to come.” 

The good news is that engineers across the globe are already hard at work, exploring innovative approaches and designing and implementing pioneering solutions to address these sustainable development goals. We’ve chosen a few to unpack below:

Goal 2: Zero hunger

End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. 

The facts

As much as 45% of food in developing countries ends up spoiling – largely the result of a lack of cold storage facilities. And the knock-on effects are devastating. 470 million small-scale farmers are on course to lose a staggering 25% of their annual income. This contributes to a severe lack of food security and escalating levels of poor nutrition, especially amongst children. The latter has shocking consequences of its own. According to the UN, “144 million children under age 5 were affected by stunting in 2019, with three quarters living in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa,” and 47 million children under 5 were affected by acute undernutrition caused by a lack of nutrients and infection.

How is engineering driving change?

Coldhubs is a walk-in solar-powered cold storage solution used at markets and on farms in developing countries to extend the shelf life of perishable food from 2 days to 21, reducing spoiling havests by 80%. In addition to reducing food waste, Coldhubs helps to reduce malnutrition and boost local farmer income. “With more of their harvest to sell, smallholder farmers will be able to increase their annual income by 25%.” The engineers behind this social impact innovation constructed the storage space using insulating cold room panels and added roof-mounted solar panels to create the energy required to power the unit.

Sources: and

Goal 7: Affordable and clean energy

Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. 

The facts

According to the UN, 13% of the global population lacks access to modern electricity, while a staggering 3 billion people rely on wood, coal, charcoal or animal waste for cooking and heating. Tragically, it doesn’t end there as household air pollution from combustible fuels caused 4.3 million deaths in 2012, more than half of whom were women and girls.

How is engineering driving change?

Practical Action, a development organisation that brings socially impactful ideas to life, used solar energy to significantly improve the lives of the more than 11 000 refugees living in Goudoubo refugee camp in Burkina Faso. Before the intervention, refugees were living without reliable access to sustainable energy and suffering from serious health issues as a result of air pollution caused by indoor cooking fires. To address the problem, the team worked with the private sector to create innovative solutions, cooperating with host governments and national NGOs. The solution included: 

  • Installing a solar-powered water pump
  • Installing solar-powered irrigation systems for vegetable production
  • Building an energy service centre that gives businesses 24-hour access to electricity for a fee

Sources: and

Goal 13: Climate action

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

The facts

2019 was the second warmest year ever recorded and according to the UN, “Global temperatures are projected to rise by up to 3.2°C by 2100.” What’s more, “Climate change continues to exacerbate the frequency and severity of natural disasters – massive wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and floods – affecting more than 39 million people in 2018.” 

How is engineering driving change? 

Practical Action, together with the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, has implemented a flood resilience programme in Bangladesh, Nepal and Peru to assist those whose lives and livelihoods are affected by flooding. They warn that climate change, growing populations and informal settlements are increasing flood risk, and many areas lack the technology and skills for disaster prediction and prevention.

Their solution? Introducing technology that enables at-risk communities to evacuate before flooding occurs. One example of this innovative technology is specialised sensors that are enabling scientists and communities to work together to collate new information about landslide risk. The data collected is then combined with satellite data to assess landslide risk and identify conditions that trigger landslides. The ability to predict landslides gives communities time to take evasive action. And it’s working: In Nepal, “Early Warning System (EWS) lead times have increased from 2–3 hours, to 5–7 hours, and loss of life is lower where we work compared to in river basins without EWS.” 

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Do you have a sustainable development project in mind?

Lithon is a multi-disciplinary consulting engineering company founded on and committed to making a significant impact on people’s lives. Our wealth of engineering expertise, coupled with our passion for humanity, enables us not only to develop innovative solutions for our clients but to also create meaningful benefits for society as a whole. At the core of our projects is using resources with the greatest of care, improving energy efficiency, avoiding waste, and uplifting surrounding communities. If you’re looking for an engineering team to partner with you on your next sustainable development project, please get in touch with a member of our team – we’d love to discuss your requirements.