Global Transition Lab Network
Since the 1960's industrial pollution disasters, the 1970's oil and energy crisis, and the 1980's global warming science consensus, a huge number of people around the world have dedicated their careers to sustainability. In the 1990's the corporate responsibility efforts led to ESG and carbon footprint monitoring and green investment. Today in nearly every country one can find a "Center for Sustainable _________", often at universities but also NGO's and community groups are forming interest groups with the goal of raising awareness, conducting research, and influencing policy. There has been a huge amount of progress, and a rich wealth of research and technical developments.
Is striving to be more sustainable going to be enough?
One problem with how the sustainability ethos has manifested into action is that many people who understood the problems and became active in seeking solutions felt isolated and ended up forging their own ideas backed by their passion. Because the work was driven by caring deeply, rather than the type of pragmatic advancement of the field that drives most of the progress in the technical enterprise, the fundamentals, methods and practices in sustainability became more divergent and isolated over time. Every sustainability champion wants to save the world, so they forge ahead and don't give up. When they find something that works they want everyone else to take it up. But if you compare this to the way that say metallurgists have standardised the definitions, science, processes and testing for alloys, you can see that if every person who really liked working with metals developed their own way of making materials, we would have the Middle Ages. If they were good, they could make a living and train apprentices in their formulas, and possibly form a guild. But they were never going to impact the globe until after World War II when Engineering Standards became the norm.
the power of standardisation and discipline
GATE proposes that sustainability practitioners in engineering and other disciplines shall converge together to form the discipline of Transition Engineering. Transition Engineering shall be founded on scientific and social fundamentals. The field shall have a standard process for carrying out work that, like Safety Engineering and other social and environmental responsibility disciplines, exercises duty of care for fossil fuel and other unsustainable downshifts to meet science-agreed requirements. Can it be so important for a field to have standard methods, jargon, definitions, and processes? Think about your own professional degree training. You might not do many things in your work that are just like homework problems you did in your strength of materials class, but you did learn the language, grammar, units, variables, processes for defining and solving problems, syntax, and methods that let you practice in the field with competency. Competency and common language and methods throughout a profession is what gives that profession its impact.
impact through convergence
GATE propose that all thoughtful academics, professionals and researchers who have made progress in sustainability will contribute the most to achieving climate, social and environmental safety in the short and long-term by converging together into a coherent discipline. Our research of historical emergence of professions and disciplines shows that the current state of play of sustainability will not be effective enough to meet the imperative emissions reductions. GATE is making a call to all sustainability centres and programmes to converge into a coherent discipline.
In the past few years an interdisciplinary group of academics and professionals has examined the necessary elements that have given rise to professional disciplines in the past. History shows that there is always a period where the need for the new discipline is understood, and a good number of people in a profession were thinking and working in pre-discipline context. In all cases we have examined, the trigger for the emergence of a discipline is a disaster or crisis. The disaster results in a small number of pre-discipline practitioners getting together and making an agreement about a few basic tenets and concepts. These basic tenets and concepts are essential for nucleation of the discipline from the pre-discipline contributions. The founding tenets and concepts are general and simple, and easily communicated. The other important elements for convergence of the pre-discipline contributions into an effective discipline are a name for the discipline and a constructed framework for the method used. The constructed framework is often a flow diagram. Once the first practitioners agree on the basic tenets and concepts, name and constructed framework for the method, then a book or other resource is produced, a professional organisation is organised, and training is made available. Exemplar disciplines include Safety Engineering, Fire Engineering, Risk Management, Security Engineering, Lean Manufacturing.
In 2011, a meeting in London of 16 professional engineers at a pub, in response to the climate crisis and peak oil (oil price was over $100 per barrel), converged on the basic tenets of and concepts and adopted the name Transition Engineering. In 2017 GATE was formed, and in 2020 the handbook was published. in 2021 On-line training courses were launched for all professionals and for all engineers.
Now we propose that all universities and organisations that have dedicated sustainability engineering, innovation or business research or entrepreneurship centres or groups should come together to form an international consortium of Transition Labs.