Timbertanks' managing director Justin Jordan with Professor Vanegas.

Timbertanks' managing director Justin Jordan with Professor Vanegas.

Academics encouraged to leap from theory to practice

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Education is the only way to transform society. Educators have a responsibility to bring about change. Academics must start thinking beyond the box. Academia must collaborate with industry, not exist in silos. These are all arguments of Professor Jorge Vanegas, Interim Dean at the College of Architecture, Texas A & M University, who was in town recently for the annual Conference on Sustainability Engineering and Science at Auckland University.

Sponsored by Timbertank Enterprises, Professor Vanegas was a keynote speaker at the conference.

As Interim Dean of the University, the largest of its type in the US, Professor Vanegas leads 40 departments, 5 research centres, and 4 other groups. One of these groups provides assistance to the many disenfranchised living along the 12,054 mile border between Texas and Mexico, hoping, through collaboration with government and industry, to improve living standards through sustainable building practices.

Professor Vanegas is a passionate advocate of academics and other stakeholders 'walking the talk', of taking the leap from theory to practice. "That's what I stand for," says the Professor. "I believe in integrating multiple disciplines to find solutions for people. Government, industry and academia need to take an integrated, cohesive approach if they are going to relate their knowledge and theory to reality.

"Sustainability is about enabling people to have a future without sacrificing today. Satisfy today, yes, but compromise. Have an understanding of the long-term impact. We need to be aware that putting up a building is only the beginning of its real, useful life."

These ideas tie in well with Timbertanks, who continually strive for maximum value and quality in their water tanks, with low life-cycle costs, sustainable practices and reuse key parts of their philosophy.

Says Professor Vanegas, "At the moment people don't have a clear understanding that every choice we make, and every action, has consequences. Sometimes our time horizon doesn't allow us to see the impact of what we do. At the conference, I spoke about the need to have an integrated approach that looks at a built environment from an urban scale all the way down to the scale of the individual resources that go into creating a facility."

The conference was hosted by the New Zealand Society for Sustainability Engineering and Science (NZSSES), and took place at Auckland University from 9 - 12 December 2008. The theme of 'Blueprints for Sustainable Infrastructure' covered three main topics: developing sustainable communities, delivering sustainable infrastructure, and designing sustainable global solutions.