Engineers Australia’s Climate Smart Engineering Conference for 2021 last week brought to the fore a number of ideas on how to advance further the ‘sustainability revolution’ that is currently in progress.

The two-day conference, held virtually via video link, covered issues such as designing and creating buildings and infrastructure, energy systems and transport, as well as the role of an engineer within the climate crisis. 

In the wake of COP26, former US Vice-President Al Gore says within his keynote address for the conference that he is optimistic about the climate crisis, and that we will begin to see significant improvements in the world around us to combat the extreme conditions brought about by climate change.

“There is an abundance of good news on the way, and that’s because we are now in the early stages of a sustainability revolution. This is a revolution that has the potential to completely reshape the world for the better, by transforming our relationship between business, the environment and one another,” he says.

Gore was quick to praise Australia’s commitment to solar energy, and says Australian engineers are at the forefront of the sustainability evolution. 

Within the first concurrent session of the conference, held last Monday, GHD Sustainability Team Leader Ari Hammerschlag and the University of Canberra’s Michael Jasper held a presentation about the retrofitting and overhaul of The Shine Dome, the heritage-listed home of the Australian Academy of Science. With a number of constraints and adversities, the engineering team took a theoretical and calculated approach to sustainably refurbishing the building, which led them to looking beyond atypical solutions for energy efficiency.

The project had two key objectives that needed to be achieved: the first being the conservation of the shine dome, and the second to have a strategy that provides progressive energy efficiencies as a pathway towards the ‘net zero energy future’. Given the significance of the dome, GHD were unable to implement glazing due to the heritage-listed aluminium frames. Solar panels were also out of the question. As Hammerschlag tells it, the firm developed an implementation plan that could be enacted across any project.

“After consulting with stakeholders, we asked them to rank how each sustainability initiative would rank amongst the criteria of the shine dome. We believed that it would be best to rank each initiative depending on the score they were given, and then prioritised each initiative into immediate, short-term and long term implementation,” he says.

“Things that were defined as immediate or short term actually had little to do with the building fabric. These included organic waste treatment, EV charging, smart systems and limiting single use plastic.”

Irrespective of restrictions and regulations, GHD now believes it has a plan and guide on how to make a building more sustainable without completely tearing at the fabric of the building. User experience for The Shine Dome was rated as high a priority as energy efficiency, and as a result the engineers looked to alternate strategies to improve both the experience and sustainability of the building. Hammerschlag says that while heritage sites have their limitations, a systems-based approach can improve energy efficiency, user experience and capital and operational expenditure. Following on from the work conducted by the GHD design team for The Shine Dome, the same sustainability strategy has now been applied across a number of projects.

The Climate Smart Engineering Conference also featured former Unilever CEO Paul Polman and ANZ’s Head of Sustainable Finance, Katharine Tapley. The keynote addresses by Gore and Polman are still able to be accessed for conference attendees.

For more information regarding the conference, visit


Image: Wikipedia Commons