Inspiring the next generation

Author: IStructE

Date published

27 July 2023

Inspiring the next generation

Inspiring the next generation

Date published


Date published

27 July 2023



Will Arnold, Head of Climate Action at the Institution of Structural Engineers, discusses what motivates him, his career choices, and why he’s bringing the sustainability message to engineers of the future.

“Why did you contribute to initiatives aimed at teenagers and young adults?”

I believe that the next generation care about the environment and about creating a safe and just world for humanity. I passionately believe that engineering provides the greatest opportunity to do this, so agreed to be featured in Dr Somara’s book to help send this message.

What led you into engineering?

At the age of 14, when at a birthday party a family friend mentioned that he had worked at Arup, the company which had designed the Sydney Opera House.
“I thought that sounded brilliant. I was good at maths and physics at school and from then on, I decided I wanted to be an engineer. I’m one of those people, who once something is set in my mind, I go and do it.”

Having worked on many projects over the years, my focus has always been on projects I could be proud of. Initially, I thought that would be the biggest, longest, craziest-shaped buildings, but over time it became more about buildings that last in terms of usefulness, whether that is less material in construction, less water or energy in use, or where the scheme unlocks new public spaces.

When I moved to Rwanda in 2018 to work on the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture with MASS Design Group, my eyes were opened to what sustainability truly meant on a building project. My view on what makes a building useful shifted again.

Why did you decide to leave professional practice and become active in policy?

I took the difficult decision to leave Arup at the end of 2020. Working there had bought challenges and adventures that I’d never imagined when I first started engineering, but the opportunity to help transform the industry through the Institution was too good to pass by. Since then, I’ve had the fortune of working with hundreds of different structural engineers from across the profession, and work with them to make our projects more sustainable and fit for the future.

How you got involved in the two projects? (book and the video)

Dr Somara approached me about her new book, Engineers Making a Difference, in late 2021. She said that she was profiling engineers who had been doing things to make the world a better place, to inspire and enthuse others into engineering too. I was flattered that I had been asked, even more so once I discovered who the other engineers in the book were due to be.

Once the book was written, I also agreed to meet Shini to make a short film about how we make buildings more sustainable. We got to walk around some of London’s most famous buildings as I explained how some buildings have exoskeletons (like a beetle!) made of triangles to provide strength, how modern engineers are upcycling buildings rather than demolishing them, and how I believe the concretes of the future will reinvent our industry.

Building Greener Buildings by Dr Shini Somara

In the book I explain what a structural engineer actually does – how we design the skeleton of structures and pay attention to the strength and durability, because we are responsible for how safe and how long these structures remain standing.

We also choose materials that are essential for a structure’s success – the world’s most amazing buildings are made from millions of tonnes of steel, concrete wood and bricks. But construction, operating, repairing and demolishing them create nearly 40% of all global carbon emissions. By comparison, air travel only adds up to 3% of global emissions. These statistics shocked me and it is what drove me to bring about change in the industry. Sustainability has always been key consideration, in my projects. I calculated that its often possible to save a thousand tonnes of carbon emissions by designing in a more efficient way.

<h5><h5>Inspire the next generation of engineers<h5></h5>
Inspire the next generation of engineers

Imperial College London has partnered on a project to show the broad ranging possibilities of engineering in a new educational book.

Find out more

What do you hope to see in the future?
I would like to see the industry use less and recycle more. Demolition and construction, releases four times more carbon than refurbishing existing ones. We need to learn how to effectively use low-carbon materials to create strong resilient buildings and keeping environmental costs down.

My aim is to increase awareness and offer solutions that will create a greener construction industry. I have demonstrated how this can be done in the “Exploration of Building Greener Buildings” video below.

Who inspired you?
When I was debating whether or not to leave Arup to work for the Institution, the famous engineer Dame Jo da Silva said to me something that’s really stuck with me. She told me that we need everyone in the industry pushing to make things more sustainable if we’re to stand any chance of actually achieving it. And so it didn’t matter whether I worked as a structural engineer at Arup, or a sustainability advocate at the IStructE, provided that I picked the one I was most enthusiastic about and used that opportunity to create as much change as I could.

 It was invaluable advice that I’ve passed on to others – because for many people, the bigger opportunities lie in changing the projects that they work on every day or changing the way their clients and co-designers think about construction.

I passionately believe that structural engineering provides one of the most amazing opportunities for young people to make a difference to our world. Around 98% of all human-made materials on this planet are the materials we use in buildings and infrastructure – and in total it weighs around one trillion tonnes. That’s a lot of stuff – and so a lot of opportunity for us to do things better. We need a mixture of people, some who are creative dreamers, others who are mathematical geniuses, and others who can lead any team to deliver on a common purpose. If you want to make a difference to this world, structural engineering is the career for you.

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