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Why social value needs to shape engineering projects and teams

In the wake of Covid-19, social value engineering is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Consequently, as the need for innovation becomes apparent, engineers are taking on projects that adapt, support and respond to a society that can change in an instant. 

Considering engineers are the building blocks of civilisation – especially civil engineers, who design, construct, and maintain our public works – there’s a lot of scope for creating social value. Also, when we take STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) into account, the ways engineers can introduce social value into their projects increases tenfold.

Some possibilities are already underway. For example, inventing and improving green technologies, embedding sustainable infrastructures, promoting local community STEM initiatives, and introducing Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (ED&I) into the workplace.

However, there’s still a long way to go, which is why social value plays a vital role in how we approach engineering in the future.

What is social value?

Broadly speaking, social value is how organisations measure their meaningful contributions to society. In that regard, Engineers are uniquely placed to improve how we live through the design and innovation of systems and technologies that help those who need them the most. This can range from building sustainable housing to reinventing solutions for the current climate crisis. 

To calculate the financial impact of each initiative, organisations are encouraged to work out what their social value contribution/s generate for every £1 invested. This can be categorised through environmental, social, employment, innovation, and community initiatives. For example, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals include 17 agendas for organisations to work towards. These include gender equality, zero hunger, quality education, clean water, sustainable cities, and climate action. 

You can see the full list here.

What impact does value engineering have on projects?

When you consider our current climate crisis and the recent Covid-19 pandemic, the value of engineers is undeniable. For example, the manufacturing and distribution of PPE equipment couldn’t have happened without engineers coming up with quick and robust solutions.

That said, crisis management is just one way social value impacts engineering projects. The ability to innovate in times of need is something every engineer is familiar with, regardless of their field. However, what these incidents indicate is the need to innovate on a regular basis. 

By preparing for tomorrow’s crisis today, engineers can impact and improve society on an ongoing basis. Prevention is always better than cure. And by putting social value at the forefront of all projects, engineers can minimise or negate negative consequences before they happen.

Some examples of social value include: 

  • Environmental: In response to soil degradation, engineers invented hydroponic, aquaponic and aeroponic farming systems to make it easier to grow food. 
  • Social: In response to environmental disasters, engineers designed buildings that could withstand earthquakes.
  • Jobs: The world needs engineers, meaning engineering projects always create employment opportunities and help promote local skills.
  • Innovation: Engineers designed drones to help find survivors in the wake of a catastrophe. Engineers also modified them so they could carry supplies such as first aid, water and food to the people awaiting rescue. 
  • Growth: Engineering initiatives that foster ED&I see greater ROI through improved diversity in their workplace.

These are just a few examples of how and why social value impacts engineering projects.

How does social value impact engineering teams?

On a smaller scale, the impact of social value in engineering teams comes down to the wellbeing, happiness, inclusion, and equality of every individual. In practice, this includes:

  • Teams that foster ED&I
  • Career development opportunities
  • Local employment
  • Project sustainability
  • Low waste and emissions commitments
  • Apprenticeships
  • Integrated health and safety, including mental health and wellbeing

When social value is integrated into engineering teams, regardless of the field, the benefits of a happier and more engaged workforce result in a safer one.

Read our blog: How ED&I can improve CSR for more information.

How do engineers create social value?

Engineering organisations need to ask themselves whether their projects positively impact the economy, environment, local community or their own employees. Regardless of whether it’s at a global or local level, engineers need to work out if their projects improve:

  • the quality of life for local economies; or
  • if their teams benefit from improved social awareness in the workplace.

This is especially important considering the mental health crisis currently affecting the industry. 

See our report on Masculinity in Engineering for more information.

Some key questions include:

  • What does my project contribute to society?
  • How does the implementation of my project affect the lives of those involved?
  • Does my project operate in an inclusive way?
  • Can I improve my business operations to achieve greater social value?
  • Have I diversified my team for the best results?

If you’d like to discuss how to implement greater social value into your teams or projects, visit us at https://equalengineers.com/.

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