Photo: Mikal Schlosser

It takes engineers to reach the UN Global Goals

President Anders Bjarklev to Science Report: The role of engineers is crucial for sustainable development.

The invention of a portable concert podium for wheelchair users. Use of artificial intelligence for less expensive diagnosis of epilepsy patients. And collection of wind and solar energy for a climate-neutral power plant in India.

These are just a few examples of technological solutions from DTU that go hand in hand with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For—like the UN—DTU has worked to make the world a better place for many years.

We have done this by facing the challenges identified by the leaders of the world and using them as a springboard for developing technology for people. Technology that creates sustainable change.

When the UN’s 193 member states adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals on 25 September 2015, it became clear to everyone what we are contributing as engineers. It was—in fact—clear that drastic changes and innovative thinking were required to secure our common future.

It was also evident that 11 out of the 17 goals—which focus on social inequality, climate, and economy—could only be achieved through the development of new technology. This highlighted the important role of engineers, and also provided DTU with a framework for explaining what it is we do and why it is important.

The Sustainable Development Goals as explanatory framework

If we return to the portable concert podium, it becomes clear in the light of the Sustainable Development Goals that the invention gives physically disabled persons the same opportunity to move around at a concert as others. It contributes to achieving the goal of creating social equality.

Likewise, the collection of wind and solar energy in India means that climate-friendly energy solutions are created in a country with high carbon emissions. This contributes to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals of utilizing sustainable energy sources and strengthening climate action.

The Sustainable Development Goals can consequently be used as an explanatory framework for what DTU’s technological solutions mean in the world. This is reflected in our communication of our innovation and research, but it is also used in the education of the next generation of engineers.

Therefore, all PhD students at DTU participate in an ambitious course, where they learn to communicate their research to a wide audience. This is done using the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a framework.

They experience that their research can be made understandable and tangible for everyone, and they use this when visiting upper secondary school classes in Denmark to give presentations on the contribution of technology to sustainable development.

This is communication that inspires and shapes young people’s awareness and sense of responsibility for future generations. A task that I find to be among the most noble of the tasks performed by universities.

The Sustainable Development Goals have thus provided us with a good language for the importance of technology which can be spoken and understood by everyone. It provides the vision and perspective needed.

Both when partnerships are to be entered into with the business sector and when a class of upper secondary school students are to understand why technology is essential to our common future.