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Building without borders

by Archives March 8, 2006

VANCOUVER (CUP) — In 2000, the United Nations outlined the Millennium Development Goals in an effort to accelerate sustainability in underdeveloped countries.

In response to this bold initiative, two University of Waterloo mechanical engineers scribbled down on a napkin in a Toronto coffee shop the plan for what would one day become a $2 million international sustainability organisation.

With roughly 30 members in its UBC chapter and over 6,000 members in Canada alone Engineers Without Borders (EWB), has developed the capacity to be involved in 34 projects in 20 countries.

EWB is not advertising to send engineering grads on the field trip of a lifetime, but rather its focus is on promoting the importance of sustainability at the local level while supporting development efforts abroad. As fourth-year mechanical engineering student and EWB representative Michael Kang describes, “in terms of international development, work overseas is just the tip of the iceberg.” EWB has developed a focus on promoting sustainable energy and development here in Canada, he added.

“An EWB member at UBC,” Kang explained, “is typically involved in fundraising and educating him or herself on matters of sustainability.” This grassroots approach is designed to educate EWB members who can then promote sustainability locally.

Canada, Kang said, is one of the places that needs to be more aware of sustainability issues.

“Canadians are consuming much more than their rightful allotment,” said Kang.

Energy waste in Canada is of particular concern to EWB. Environment Canada’s website identifies electricity production as the number one source of carbon dioxide. This is the sort of engineering short-coming that EWB works to create awareness of and generate solutions to. On an individual level, Kang suggested, “Canadians don’t understand what sustainability means.”

While EWB’s website notes that Canadians are largely generous in their contributions to aid organisations, many do not understand the importance of contributing to sustainable development which EWB considers “of utmost importance.”

For the typical student looking to get involved in EWB, there are a number of openings for volunteers. Volunteers, who make up the bulk of EWB staff, are the backbone of promoting sustainability awareness locally while supporting overseas developments, explained Kang.

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