The impact of Sustainability in the Engineering Sector

By: Diana Petrowicz, Tue Feb 23 2021
Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

At its 40th general conference in 2019, UNESCO introduced the World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development. The first World Engineering Day was celebrated on the 4th of March 2020. To commemorate this year’s anniversary, we spoke to Springer Nature’s Vice President, Leadership team Books, Dr. Dieter Merkle, about sustainability trends within the engineering sector and current growth areas within the field.

© Springer Nature 2020

Dr. Dieter Merkle graduated in Theoretical Physics from the University of Stuttgart. In the late 1980ies, he wrote his PhD thesis on a topic crossover between Quantum Optics and Chaos Theory at the Technical University of Darmstadt. After a year of paternity leave he started at Springer as a publishing editor for Engineering books in January 1991. Since 15 years he has been managing publishing teams, first in Engineering, then in the wider area of Applied Sciences.

We are talking to you today as part the World Engineering Day (WED) for Sustainable Development celebrations. What trends are you seeing in the Engineering book program around sustainable development?

We have been publishing Sustainability topics for many years. Energy and Environmental Technology, in particular Renewable Energy and e-Mobility, Waste Management, as well as industrial topics such as Sustainable Design, Sustainable Production and Life Cycle Engineering are the more established areas. I believe that the beneficial impact of Space Technology in combination with Geo-Information Technology on environmental protection and sustainable agriculture and is not to be underestimated.

There are some newer trends I have recognized:

  • Sustainability through digitization as in IoT and AI applications.
  • Sustainability through joint approaches of Engineering and Social Sciences, as in geographical and infrastructure developments

Both trends overlap in the hot topic of Smart Cities which gives perspectives for the mega-cities in developing and emerging regions.

How does the Springer Nature eBook program represent the global trends in engineering?

I think, very well. I have always been impressed with how quickly the publishing editors in Engineering recognized and pursued new emerging topics. The reasons behind this are their high qualifications and skills and their direct networking with scientific communities. As a publishing editor I noticed many times when during a conversation with a researcher made me aware of a new line of research that this research would hype only a few years later, e.g.  in A&I databases.

We are number one in many Engineering sub-disciplines, but of course, not in all of them. There are publishers who traditionally hold a strong position in certain areas or product lines. Just to name a few: IEEE in Electrical Engineering proceedings or Cambridge University Press in Fluid Mechanics textbooks are clear market leaders. But at least we managed to catch up to become number two or three in many of such “occupied” areas.

Although Engineering has a long tradition at Springer Nature, it left its German roots only some 20 years ago. Therefore, the international program is young and has a rather modern profile, with Intelligent Systems and Robotics being the biggest field and also growth area in published books and citations.

Engineers and engineering are seen as critical for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Are you seeing more research that focuses on the SDGs and societal impact?

I see particular strong growth in the areas I described in relation with sustainable development. The number of books we published in 2020 on Sustainability in the Engineering collection is more than five times higher than in 2015.

It is often stated that in order to address the problems raised by the SDGs that researchers need to work inter-disciplinarily – is this being reflected in the book proposals Springer Nature receives? 

The purpose of Engineering is to create solutions whatever it takes, hence it is the generic interdisciplinary field. Emerging trends in Engineering are often characterized by their overlap with other disciplines (e.g. Bioengineering). One also has to keep in mind that Engineering as such does not exist as a discipline, you are either an Electrical, a Mechanical, or a Civil Engineer, with very different skill sets required. Hence, even a collaboration of Engineers can be interdisciplinary.
In SDG-relevant proposals, though, the overlap exists rather with Social Sciences, Earth Sciences, and Computer Science.

Are there any exciting emerging research trends you’re seeing in Engineering?

Apart from Sustainable Developments I see the following  trends:

  • Although around for a couple of years, Intelligent Systems (including Big Data applications) and Robotics still seem to be on the rising edge of the hype cycle.
  • Cyber-physical Systems, Intelligent Embedded Systems, Internet of Things, are just at their beginnings. These areas include a wealth of visionary, but also dangerous aspects for which intensive future research can be expected.
  • 3D-printing/Additive Manufacturing is becoming more and more important
  • I should mention Quantum Computing and Quantum Communications here. I just fear it subsides to a similar status as Nuclear Fusion: a long-term vision with less and less hope for a performing implementation within short reach.

Quality Education is one of the SDGs and providing access to learning resources has become a real issue during the pandemic. Can you recommend any eTextbooks for engineering students?

There are, of course, textbooks with a scope beyond Engineering, such as Sustainability and Carbon Management for a Sustainable Environment.

Energy was the first area in which Sustainability became an issue. Here, I can recommend Sustainable Energy Systems and Applications, Mechanical Energy Storage for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Resources and Practices and Perspectives in Sustainable Bioenergy.

In the Industrial Technology and Management there are only few textbooks, such as
Design for Environmental Sustainability or Life Cycle Design.

However, there is relevant research literature that can be helpful to advanced students, e.g. in the series Sustainable Production, Life Cycle Engineering and Management.

We have a brand-new textbook in the mentioned “hot” area on smart cities: Fundamentals of Sustainable Urban Design

What’s unique about the Springer Nature Engineering eBook collection?

Both its breadth and depth. This is why Engineering is one of the largest available collections. It covers all the traditional Engineering fields that have left some time ago the academic stage towards industrial application. This is well represented by textbooks, professional books, handbooks and other reference works.

On the other hand, our in-house editors constantly strive to first identify and then publish the newest - usually highly interdisciplinary lines of development in engineering and technology. Proceedings provide the first glimpses while monographs and contributed volumes often offer an early digest in a new emerging research field. No wonder these types account for the majority of books in our collection.

Take a look at Springer Nature’s Engineering eBook collection and contact us for more information. If you would like to read more about AI, check out our blog post on The impact of AI on librarian services.

Celebrate World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development with Springer Nature here. Access expert blogs, content collections, and explore our collection of articles and journals supporting the key themes of the day. All content is free to access until 31st March 2021.

Celebrate Engineering Day

Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

Diana Petrowicz is a Marketing Manager in the Sales Enablement team, based in the London office. Supporting the Sales and Account Development teams, she is enthusiastic about finding innovate ways to communicate with the library community and specialises in producing and writing case studies across the portfolio.