IChemE Matters: 'The Profession's View of the Profession'

Article by Alexandra Meldrum FIChemE FAICD

Alexandra Meldrum introduces IChemE’s member-consulted report, “Engineering a Sustainable World – the Chemical Engineering Challenge”

ENGINEERING A SUSTAINABLE WORLD – The Chemical Engineering Challenge informs chemical engineers at all career stages and in all sectors about how they can create societal benefits and help meet the challenges of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In addition, the report aims to guide IChemE’s engagement externally, with policymakers, career advisors, university academics, and business decision-makers. 

Why now?

Our world continues to grow rapidly, with frequent disruption and change. There are new and accelerating trends and issues – especially while managing environmental and societal impact, security, and technology. Our world needs a skilled workforce, professional expertise, and evidence-based solutions. The skills in professions are changing. This all adds up to a lot of change.

What makes the Report relevant?

The report provides a perspective on “the profession’s view of the profession”.

To develop a forward view about the profession, we consulted our 30,000 worldwide members to understand the perspectives of chemical engineers about the technical problems we are facing, and the role of chemical engineers in addressing them. The resulting report is the first fresh look in 15 years at the engineering challenges and IChemE’s contribution to their solution.

Engineering a Sustainable World – the Chemical Engineering Challenge

The report demonstrates how we need to engineer a sustainable world if society, the economy, and the natural world are to endure. It is the vision of IChemE, as set out in Strategy 2028+, and central to our role as chemical and process engineers. Sustainability must be at the heart of all chemical engineering thinking and practice in the 21st century, embedded in everything we do alongside process safety and conducting ourselves in an ethical way.

The great challenges that the world faces will only be addressed by many professions and sectors working together. Chemical engineers will be crucial to that success, with our knowledge, skills, creativity, and systems thinking. All are vital, if collectively we are to achieve a sustainable world. The 17 SDGs encapsulate the enormous challenges ahead. Chemical and process engineers have a role to play in meeting them all, but particularly sit at the heart of:

  • Zero Hunger (SDG 2)
  • Good Health and Wellbeing (SDG 3)
  • Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6)
  • Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7)
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (SDG 9)
  • Responsible Consumption and Production (SDG 12)
  • Climate Action (SDG 13)

The report explores the contribution that chemical and process engineering can, and must, make.

What is changing?

Engineering a Sustainable World – the Chemical Engineering Challenge demonstrates changing trends in the profession of chemical and process engineering. Among the key takeaways are:

  • The twin transformations of sustainability and digitalisation are changing economies, business models and work around the world. In the contemporary profession, sustainable systems are at the heart of what we do, and digital tools are often used
  • Chemical and process engineers work in a very broad range of areas – the report demonstrates the breadth of the profession
  • Technology is changing. New areas are emerging, such as engineering biology. As digital tools are increasingly embedded in the practice of chemical and process engineering, we all need greater understanding of these, including cybersecurity aspects. Technological development is rapid in longstanding areas of chemical engineering such as energy, food, heath, water, innovation, and education, with an increased focus on systems
  • Boundaries are blurring, as technical advancement is occurring at the interface between disciplines. Different types of engineers and other professionals often collaborate
  • The need to upskill and reskill as technologies and industries change. There is a role for education and lifelong learning through ongoing continuous professional development
  • Chemical and process engineering is an international profession, with good skills to work with others to address the UN SDGs, global grand challenges, and local challenges.

What can we do about all this change?


I encourage members of IChemE to read the report, so they can understand these developments in greater detail. The report comes with a handy 19-page summary. For those who want to delve deeper into one of the technical challenge areas, there are links to appendices with more detailed information and a glossary.

The profession

Knowledge about the contemporary challenges, and members’ views on the profession’s role in addressing those can be useful for business decisions, workforce development, and, at a personal level, your own decisions about upskilling, reskilling, and career directions.

If you are an engineer with an interest in energy, this will remain a key sector, with industry transition, and responses to climate change.

The report outlines different ways in which energy systems are transforming. Chemical engineers are addressing the key challenges by reducing energy consumption from processes, especially foundation industries (cement, metals, ceramics, paper, and bulk chemicals), replacing fossil fuels with renewable and climate-neutral alternatives, scaling up of carbon capture, use and storage, developing more sustainable mining processes and devising better batteries and renewable power storage. Those working in the energy sector are facing rapid technology change and reskilling and upskilling are vital.

The report also emphasises the role of engineering biology, an emerging area of technology which applies engineering principles to biological systems and includes biochemical engineering. Engineering biology pairs engineered and optimised organisms with advanced digital tools to produce target products. Benefits of bioprocesses include use of mild conditions, improved selectivity, and potentially lower costs.

Safety, sustainability, and digitalisation remain central to everything chemical engineers do. Engineers can use the report to help focus lifelong learning to include these areas, anticipate and keep abreast of changes, and educate others about their importance. 

External outreach

The report can also support engagement beyond the profession. IChemE intends to use it as a foundational document to inform our work as we develop outreach materials for schools and career information for aspiring engineers. Universities and the tertiary sector can use the report to inform decisions for curriculum and staff development. The report provides insights that are useful for collaboration opportunities with others. It also provides a basis for future thought leadership and policy work by IChemE as we seek to take things forward in the relevant areas.

The sum of many contributions

This contemporary view of the profession provides a valuable foundation for building further knowledge and progressing actions and it’s been an honour to lead this project. I’ve enjoyed working with the dedicated members of the Learned Society Committee and with staff, especially Claudia Flavell-While and Megan Jobson, who did an enormous amount of detailed work with consulting members and developing a high-quality document. Thank you to our subject matter experts who contributed to, or peer reviewed technical sections. And most importantly, I’d like to thank the many IChemE members who contributed by responding to our survey.

I encourage you to read, share, and discuss. Let’s continue our work to engineer a sustainable world. Building on this report, I want us to harness member knowledge, support peer learning and work cooperatively with others to drive thought leadership for members and society. We can proactively support those in industry transition, and progress action on climate, sustainability, innovation, and responsible production. Together we can lead and inspire others to make a positive difference.

Article by Alexandra Meldrum FIChemE FAICD

Vice-president, learned society and member of the Board of Trustees

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