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Event – Engineers, Water and Social Responsibility, 27 September

Posted in Events, Models, Research, Visions by Ferne Edwards on September 26th, 2007

Engineers, Water and Social Responsibility
Lecture organised by the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology

Speaker: Professor Chris Ryan, University of Melbourne
Where: Jim Potter Room, Old Physics Conference Centre, University of Melbourne (for a campus map, go to
When: 6pm, Thursday 27th September, 2007
Admission: Free of Charge

In responding to the current and future demands for water within a city such as Melbourne we are already witnessing a change of paradigm about the engineering of water systems. Strategies to reduce demand, by technology and behaviour change, are complemented by new approaches to supply. Within the ‘old paradigm’ expansion of supply is the only engineering solution. However this approach is challenged by the general trends of climate change, particularly reduction of rainfall. In this circumstance the only apparent solution is desalination.

Climate change has other challenges as well. Firstly, any expansion of the water supply that adds significantly to CO2 production is becoming politically unacceptable. Secondly while global warming points to a rising average temperature, the ‘average’ change may prove less significant than the other feature of the models: rapid and unpredictable swings in climatic events.
The pattern of the last decades – increasing water consumption and decreasing supply – and the implications of climate change supports a ‘new paradigm’ based on distributed systems. Water is a typical distributed resource, yet we have traditionally designed our water engineering systems around three classes of water: first class of ‘natural rain-water supply’ (for human consumption); second class of storm water (‘un-natural rain water supply, broadly not for consumption); third class of waste water (post human consumption). This classification system, which made sense historically is no longer appropriate for current and future conditions.

The new paradigm of ‘distributed water systems’ is slowly emerging at the same time as a similar paradigm in energy. Advances in information and communications technology (ICT) provide practical models and new solutions for economically viable, decentralised, systems of production and consumption.
This talk is intended as a provocation. It will broadly introduce the new paradigm model, discuss some of the current projects and programs which have sprung from it (“Melbourne as Catchment” and “Combined Water and Power”) and raise some big questions and challenges for future water engineering systems.

Chris Ryan is Professor and Co-Director of the Australian Centre for Science Innovation and Society at the University of Melbourne and Director of the Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab. He holds a PhD in Physics/engineering from the University of Melbourne.

He was foundation professor of Design and Sustainability at RMIT University, in Melbourne from 1996-2004 and Director of the National Centre for Environmental Design at RMIT until 1997. In this position he directed the Australian EcoReDesign program, working with 20 Australian companies to develop new greener products for the market and a new eco-design methodology. He left Australia in 1997 to work in Europe, as professor and Director of an international research Institute in Lund, Sweden, working with industry and government to design new sustainable systems of production and consumption. He returned to work in Australia in 2002.

Chris has collaborated with many eco-design related research groups in Europe, including the Politecnico di Milano, Italy, the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands and the UK Design Council. He was consultant to the UN Environment Program writing the Global Report on Sustainable Consumption for the Johannesburg world summit in 2002.
He is joint editor of D4S, a forthcoming UNEP Global Guide to Ecodesign. His recent book with Helen Lewis, Imaging Sustainability was published by RMIT press in January this year.
He is an Adjunct Professor in Design Architecture and Building at the University of Technology Sydney and Visiting Professor in Eco-innovation and Ecodesign at Lund University and the Cartesuis Institute in the Netherlands.

He is a member of the Editorial Board of the MIT/Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology and of the International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development.

The IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology
The IEEE is a voluntary organisation with more than 350,000 members. The IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology has about 2000 members in 56 countries worldwide and growing. The Society focuses on the impact of technology on society, including both positive and negative effects, the impact of society on the engineering profession, the history of the societal aspects of electrotechnology, and professional, social and economic responsibility in the practice of engineering and its related technology. SSIT publishes a quarterly journal, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine (free with your Membership), and sponsors periodic conferences entitled The International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS).

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