This week Mel & Dom speak to Zoe Eather, the host of The Smart Communities Podcast. She discusses that the technology the is required to improve our living in our communities, but it also goes a step further. A mindset change is needed, and sustainability is more than just an individual or community level. The big businesses of the world also have a very important role to play in the future of our Sustainable Communities.
Zoe is an experienced consultant focused on Smart Communities, that means making the places we work live and play, more accessible, liveable and sustainable for all. The combination of Zoe’s engineering background and her ability to engage and explain complex topics in a friendly and informative way, allows her to offer future-thinking, useful and realistic strategic advice.
Zoe is a Churchill Fellow and keeps up-to-date with the latest trends and shares her learnings through hosting The Smart Community Podcast. Through her boutique consultancy My Smart Community, Zoe offers Smart Community advisory services with a focus new ways of thinking and technology in communities of all sizes, dealing with disruption and facilitating genuine collaboration.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during the Podcast, Season 5 Episode 4
It is not 100% accurate.
The guest was Zoe Eather
Welcome to Season 5 episode 4of Engineering Heroes. A podcast that is presenting the new dawn of engineering challenges.
My name is Melanie and my co-host and our podcast’s resident engineeris Dominic.
Dom: Our guest is an experienced consultant focused on Smart Communities, that means making the places we work live and play, more accessible, liveable and sustainable for all. The combination of her engineering background and her ability to engage and explain complex topics in a friendly and informative way, allows her to offer future-thinking, useful and realistic strategic advice.
Our guest is a Churchill Fellow and keeps up-to-date with the latest trends and shares her learnings through hosting The Smart Community Podcast. Through her boutique consultancy My Smart Community, our guest offers Smart Community advisory services.She has a focus on new ways of thinking and technology in communities of all sizes, dealing with disruption and facilitating genuine collaboration.
Joining us today on another special episode for World Engineering Day is Zoe Eather
Mel: Zoe’s favourite subject in school was actually the most advanced maths class. But she didn’t know what an engineer was.
She knew she wanted to go to uni and do something that was related to maths and science.
When she looked up what engineers did, the activities that stood out was that she could help people, should could travel the world and she could help solve the big problems.
And then at uni she was leaning more towards the environmental engineering side of things…
Zoe: [00:00:00] But at the time there wasn’t a degree in environmental engineering if I remember correctly So I ended up doing civil and environmental engineering. Then I got a scholarship with civil engineering Side of things. So yeah I did civil and environmental engineering and finished that and had a scholarship with the state government And when I finished that then I worked for them for quite a number of years
[00:00:25] Dom: [00:00:25] And so have you moved more into the environmental side now
[00:00:28]Zoe: [00:00:28] Yeah I kind of flipped between the two. So yeah I was mainly working in the civil side when I first started and then I went to road construction and I ended up on a lot of smaller jobs and bigger jobs And I was always the environmental rep I looked after all the environmental audits and that type of thing. And I became very I guess passionate about making sure that we are following all those environmental standards. So that was kind of how the environmental side came out when I was on the road. And then I got a job as an environmental engineer on the Toowoomba second range crossing which was a really big Construction project. Then when I was working on that project that’s when I ended up in South Korea for three months. Yeah I applied for a engineering exchange and then that’s when I moved more into the technology side of things and learned about smart cities and autonomous vehicles and all those really exciting things. Then I when I came back to Australia I was like Oh you know what does this mean for people and what does this mean for our planet and what does this mean for sustainable cities and future of cities but not to cities, regions as well. So I call smart cities, smart communities uh just a sexy sustainability really
[00:01:45] Dom: [00:01:45] So what are you working on now
[00:01:46]Zoe: [00:01:46] Got a number of projects that I’m working on at the moment. Some my state government. I’m also working with a university looking at how we can modernize our engineering degrees to be more holistic. Looking at solving big problems like climate change. You need engineers to be involved in that. So how do we change that narrative to attract more engineers into it, not because they are the smart one and they love math and science the way That’s what I thought when I was first looking at engineering And when I was younger. Those types of people like me will be attracted anyway But what we want is people to think ah I I’m really into sustainability, I’m really creative, I want to solve big world problems. What type of engineer do I want to be? So working on that piece at the moment and then yeah doing a number of other pieces working around the future of mobility, as well as smart cities and embedding technology into major infrastructure projects
[00:02:48] Mel: [00:02:48] I like how you’re saying that you’re changing the narrative. So it’s not actually changing the program or anything, That’s structure’s already there It’s just changing the way people are talking about things And I mean, we wanted you to come on today because you are very embedded in that sustainable cities conversation and you’ve got your own podcast. and that’s the other thing as well about changing the narrative is what you were saying It’s not we wanted to talk to you about sustainable cities but you are thinking or you’re saying that we should be talking about sustainable communities. So can you talk to us about what is a sustainable city or what is a sustainable community in this case?
[00:03:24] Zoe: [00:03:24] Yeah of course for me a sustainable community is a smart community When I say a smart community I don’t mean it’s got the latest tech and the widgets and gadgets. But what I mean is we’re thinking and doing things differently. So we’re using maybe technology, but maybe just different ways of thinking. Maybe digital but also maybe it’s just better communication or a better way to do things. Maybe it’s a way that we can reduce waste or you know there’s so many options in there. But what a smart community is, it’s about creating the places that we work, live and play to be more accessible, more sustainable and more livable for all. A lot of people talk about smartness and sustainability and not in the same sentence or even that they’re opposing things, to me that’s not the case at all. They have to be working together because technology will be part of our future, No matter whether we like it or not. It will also be part of the way that we solve these big wicked problems like climate change. But it also can contribute to things like climate change If we’re not thinking about our whole of lifecycle, buying new technology and that type of thing. But also that, when we’re moving around, you know technology doesn’t just have to be digital things. Back in the day new technology was our automobile and that type of thing which has caused a lot of problems, solved a lot of problems, but continues to cause a lot of problems. And so now technology then can help us to solve those as well. You know, moving to say you know zero emission vehicles, But then we have to think about the technology the whole of life those batteries and that type of thing. But also then how are we producing that power to run those vehicles. So everything is connected, And so without smart and without sustainable thinking we won’t have this future that we want, and that we can imagine or that we’re shaping right now. So for me smart communities are sustainable communities
[00:05:17] Dom: [00:05:17] It’s interesting how we’re solving the problems that Rectify the problems that we tried to solve in the past and actually, unbeknownst to us at the time, have been more detrimental than they have been beneficial. So it’s almost as though the engineers sort of have to keep evolving and keep having a look at, not only the past, but then also when they’re looking at the future trying to work out if it’s going to work for today but also then work for the future as well
[00:05:46]Mel: [00:05:46] Can you just give some examples of what Is in a sustainable community?
[00:05:53] Zoe: [00:05:53] For me in a sustainable community just talking about things like waste. We’re thinking about waste as not as waste but we’re thinking about it as a resource. So you know we’ve got recycling, That’s great We’re all you know we’re all on board with that. imagine how long it took for that Behavior change to happen, But now it’s just second nature. I think more and more things will become like that, Where you know we won’t be throwing out e-waste away, We’ll be recycling it. Or we won’t be buying new things, We’ll be getting our items fixed rather than just swapping to the next iPhone every time it comes out. So I think it’s It looks it will look different It’s not like there’s a checklist, but we want greenery, right? We want to be living in nature and our communities. We want to feel like we can breathe in our communities, Air quality is a really big issue particularly in the middle of the big cities and people are trying to solve that now. But I don’t think it just looks like one thing, but definitely a place where people want to be. A place a place where people live and can live safely and efficiently. And I want to say sustainably, but In the sense that it will continue to keep going. We’re not just going to go completely extreme down one path and then we can’t keep it up So then we moved back to the way we’ve always done it. So it may be step-by-step but ultimately those smaller steps will then lead to those bigger things happening and those embedded things that we just take for granted now.
[00:07:15]Dom: [00:07:15] It’s a really good point made in regards to not just sort of buying the new things or reusing and retasking things because consumerism and marketing must play a massive role in relation to that. Because it is hard to get people away from, Oh look the new shiny new iPhone I need to replace my phone even though it does absolutely everything that I needed to do, And the extra features on the new one or probably will never use in my life. Is there a way that we can try and get people to to take that into consideration?
[00:07:47]Zoe: [00:07:47] Yeah absolutely I mean there’s so many I guess so many things and so many nuances in reusing and recycling. But not just recycling but not buying the stuff if we don’t need it in the first place. And it’s really got nothing much to do with technology but actually about mindset. And I think Shift particularly in the younger generations It’s nearly offensive to us for a coffee in a takeaway cup. Those type of things and those things do make a difference. And it potentially gets us thinking about the waste that we are producing. For me it’s gotta be bigger than that, It’s gotta be our companies, It’s gotta be these big massive companies that make a lot of this stuff because it ends up in landfill and they’re not accountable for the amount of waste that we’re making. Yes we’re buying it but we’re being marketed to those types of things as well. So there’s a personal level and then a big level. There’s a big business level but also a government level, How can we nudge people’s behavior to be more clean than green, without I guess the shaming part is is is no good but how do we shift that on in a really big way? The other thing is about moving to more sustainable energy choices and that type of thing but also reducing our demand on the network, no matter what type of energy it is. Because no matter what energy we’re using there are so materials, you need to still makes the thing, dispose of the thing, even solar panels and that type of thing but we are getting better and better at using those you know recycling and that type of thing. Really thinking about those whole of life and making more conscious decisions is really important . Both at the personal level but then the big corporate level and the government level as well
[00:09:28] Dom: [00:09:28] Because there’s uh an ad for a watch that always I absolutely love, where I say you never own this watch, You just you’re merely mining it for the next generation. And that’s the kind of product that that I I love. Like, I prefer to pay more money for it Now I know that my great grandchildren are still going to be wearing that watch because of the high quality and you know it’s been Done right once And then it can just um you see through the ages. So obviously all the resources have gone into making it and all the energy that’s gone into making it you only have to do it once It’s not as though you’re going to wear for a couple of weeks and then Chuck it in the bin and grab another one. If there is that mind shift, So I think that it’s going to be a massive bonus in regards to pushing the environmental drive a long way.
[00:10:16] Zoe: [00:10:16] Yeah And I think the shared economy too is something that we’ll see more and more of. I think that’s really important as well because then we don’t have to make as much stuff. but yes again it’s it’s a complete mind shift and step change in how we function in today’s world, that we don’t own things. We just borrowing them and we’re sharing things and maybe we only own really good quality stuff that we keep for generations
[00:10:40] Dom: [00:10:40] So what’s the engineer’s role in the future of sustainable cities or sustainable communities
[00:10:46] Zoe: [00:10:46] The engineer’s role, Well there’s some big problems. There’s a massive big problems to solve really massive, big, complex problems. That our communities need engineering brains to help solve those things. And they may not look like the typical uh we need to build a bridge from here to here, but We may be talking more about the outcomes. So the outcomes that we want for our communities and then how can engineers input into those. There are so many different types of engineers, but the way that we solve problems is something that’s going to be really, really important and really key. And also the fact that we need to be able to work together with other Disciplines, other planners, but also creatives .And I think when we’re all sitting at that table and have the same access to voice, like our voices matter, Then we can actually solve those problems together. Rather than Oh well the engineer has to solve this part and you have to solve this part and you solve this part Then we try and piece it together like a puzzle with you know that doesn’t quite fit. If we actually are talking together and can communicate well , then that’s how we’re going to move forward in this space
[00:11:58]Mel: [00:11:58] I agree I think the engineers are going to be a pivotal role but it’s something that I was just thinking about then And when you were talking about it’s gotta be the company level that bigger level. So Are engineers in that early conversation at the very Design phase or where they’re speaking to a CEO of a company going that has components that have to end up in the bin as opposed to let’s do it So it can be reused And it ties back a lot of what you’re saying to the circular economy but are engineers actually in that space talking about that sort of stuff?
[00:12:37] Zoe: [00:12:37] Yes I think they are and like we said before there are so many different types of engineers. Engineers are trusted people, which means they are at these decision-making tables but they also need to have the courage to be able to do things differently. And I think that’s one thing that engineers haven’t really been, I don’t want to say being taught well, but yes we come up with new ideas, Yes We problem solve. But, particularly these days, we follow standards as well. And that’s really important but also can limit creativity a lot of the time. We want the standards to be able to make sure that we have the quality, and that’s so important. But then how do we unlock that creativity and and go Oh what if we could do it a little bit Like this Instead of that And this is this is the reason why. And I think with engineers we have a really special talent that we can be really curious about something, But we can also apply the rigor. And I think that’s where we’ll be able to make those differences at those boardroom tables because they’ll know that we’ve applied the rigor that we’ve worked out that, yes you can replace the screen and yes we can still charge people 50 bucks for it or whatever it is 150 bucks for the new screen. But then they’ll keep that phone for life. And particularly younger generations, They want to see this stuff coming through and the circular economy and you know there’s some great people working directly in that space, where they’re actually shifting Big business to actually start to make these changes. So yeah I think it’s definitely a place that engineers can make a difference, but they need to have the courage to be able to do that. And have worked out the solution So then they can take that to the CEO to be like yeah this is a really good idea And it makes sense.
[00:14:24] Mel: [00:14:24] Well we’re coming up to a a day that has been specially created I think for engineers to be Brave. So world engineering day for sustainable development is upon us And I was just wondering what does this day mean to you?
[00:14:40] Zoe: [00:14:40] So it’s a fairly new day, and I think it’s going to become more and more prevalent within society. And one of those days that we really want to celebrate. I really liked the fact that we’ve brought engineering and the UN sustainable development goals together because I think more and more conversations need to Have them both together in one in one place. I also think it will encourage companies to commit to the UN sustainable development goals, as well. We’re seeing big companies do that already particularly maybe not particularly just ones that I know of in the consulting space. And I think it does make a real difference because then you can start thinking about your projects yeah, your typical just say we’re building a road… you may not have thought, you follow the standard you sign the contract whatever And you build the road. But if you’ve got these Goals that you can then look to, you can it can help you to be more creative because you can say we’re going to do this part of it because that can meet that goal. And I think that’s important It’s not just a tick and flick, but it can actually shift that needle bit by bit. And and I think it’s really important So yeah I’m really excited to see it build and grow. And we can really celebrate the work of engineers.
[00:15:53]Dom: [00:15:53] So if people want to know more about sustainable cities and sustainable communities, where can they find out this information? What can they listen to And um what can they use in order to to get a better understanding?
[00:16:06] Zoe: [00:16:06] Well you could listen to my podcasts I suppose Um
[00:16:08] Mel: [00:16:08] a good spot to go
[00:16:11] Dom: [00:16:11] Great Starting
[00:16:11] Zoe: [00:16:11] It’s called The Smart Community Podcast. Now we talk about all things smart cities and smart communities and people and and sustainability is a huge one .And uh this year we’ll actually have a full month dedicated to sustainability.
[00:16:25] Mel: [00:16:25] Well thank you so much for joining us today on this very special episode
[00:16:28] Dom: [00:16:28] Yeah it was great speaking with you Thanks so much
[00:16:31] Zoe: [00:16:31] Thanks so much for inviting me It was so great to talk to you again and yeah we’ll definitely have to catch up again soon
[00:16:37] Dom: [00:16:37] definitely
And thank you for listening to Engineering Heroes as we present the new dawn of engineering challenges for Engineers Australia. You can view shownotes, or more about our podcast by visiting our website. www.engineeringheroes.com.au
Be sure to mark the 4 of March in your diary and celebrate world engineering day by doing something special or extraordinary.
We look forward to you joining us next week when we bring you another interview with one of our engineering champions.