In 2005 the Japanese Ministry of Environment discovered that electricity consumption within the cities had risen dramatically. During the summer months, not only the office workers but also their air conditioners were putting in massive amounts of overtime. The outcome: red-hot energy bills and carbon dioxide emissions that made Kyoto seem miles away from home. It was time to take action. But how?
Does the mere thought of a quick round of R & D quicken your traditional engineer’s pulse? Great. Maybe in a year or five with a little bit of luck and sixteen prototypes later you could conjure up a more economical model of air conditioner. Or maybe not. At least you will have fully enjoyed all that tinkering. And all the costs of development.
Do you envision something huge and decide to install a generator in every office building in Tokyo? Even better. Fantastic project, enormous plans, gigantic execution. Megawatts as far as the eye can see. Smog too, unfortunately. And not just a little.
But maybe you don’t have to start calculating just yet. Maybe it’s more efficient to place the problem in a broader context. In any case, that is what Japanese Minister Koike did. He asked himself whether it was really necessary for Japanese office workers to be dressed so formally, even in summer.
If all the long sleeves, ties, and wool suits just stayed home, it wouldn’t longer be necessary to blast arctic air from the air conditioner. And so he started a campaign urging the Japanese salary man towards an airier dress code.
It turned out to be an idea that blew like a cooling summer breeze through the Japanese office landscape. Two summers later Japan had emitted one and a half million tons of carbon dioxide less. Without blue prints, without prototypes, and without 3D simulations it had proven possible to reach an impressive result.
This proves that as an engineer you don’t always have to think in terms of revolutionary inventions. That you can make a difference by simply asking yourself what you can do with what already exists. And that that you should look at a problem within the broadest possible context. That’s what we call Beyond Engineering: the art of approaching things as part of an entire ecosystem and not simply from one angle. And above all: the art of finding solutions that don’t create new problems, but make a real difference.