Sustainable Engineering: En-Route to a Viable Ecological Development

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make” Jane Goodall.

Recently India went through an enormous change; the “plastic ban” that was instigated in the country, it was a huge step towards a sustainable future. The modern lifestyle and societal practices have led to climate change, pollution-related illnesses, and rising energy costs, suggesting that these choices cannot be sustained indefinitely. We are surpassing thecapacity of the planet to be able to afford many of the resources we use, and to accommodateour emissions.

Recognizing this problem, that is the need to live within limits and to ensure more equality in access to the restricted resources is the heart of the concepts of sustainable development and sustainability. Making the human activities moderate, so as to allow an unrelenting use of the resources infinitely is sustainable development. Living with the ecological limits of the planet has become a necessity with the ever increasing population. This has urged engineers to develop more sustainable and green solutions to these issues.

To achieve this, a new field of engineering has emerged, which is known as sustainable engineering. It deals with the manufacturing and development of products that fit the present needs of the humans, without compromising the needs of the future generations. There is an increasing need of environmental engineers to come up with holistic and effective solutions to defend our vital life sustenance systems, while supporting the basic needs of the growing human population. Conceptions like life cycle thinking, sustainable systems engineering and industrial ecology are chief elements in the tutelage and work practice of a sustainable engineer. Few trends that can be followed to address these issues are:

  • Using methods that decrease environmental damage, to provide the ever increasing population with sufficient food, water, shelter, and mobility.
  • Development and designing of products and practices so as to cut down the wastes, by using this waste as an input for another product.
  • Integrating environmental and social restrictions; as well as economic considerations into engineering decisions.
  • Designing, renovating and constructing new residential and commercial structures in a more environment friendly manner, to cut down on emissions, illnesses, and energy consumption.

Incorporation of sustainable engineering requires an interdisciplinary approach in all the facets of engineering. It is not a sole responsibility of sustainable environmental engineer. The ultimate goal of a sustainable future can only be attained when all the fields of engineering incorporate sustainability into their practice. By observing the interaction between ecological, technical, economic and social systems, to achieve sustainable engineering has taken the concept of environmental engineering to the next level.

Sustainable Engineering as Profession

“Engineering in context, engineering with a conscience, engineering for a finite planet, and the indefinite future.” —Benoit Cushman Roisin.

Provision of sustainable infrastructure will require a boost in the number of students who take up environmental engineering with an aptitude towards sustainable development. This will require a great deal of collaborations between sustainable engineers, biologists, ecologists and geologists to carryout activities within major projects. To become an environmental engineer one will not only need to have a skill in mathematics and science, but one will also need to be creative and must have a fascination towards solving problems. An added attribute towards becoming a successful environmental engineer is to be a people’s person. Being able to work in teams and understanding what people need to work effectively is a key.

The profession is highly lucrative and high paying, an environmental engineer specializing in sustainability can work for the United Nations, Government Departments or in large companies. Private consulting companies that work for water, infrastructure, natural resources, manufacturing, and environment sectors, also hire environmental engineers. Monitoring the impacts of climate change on infrastructure, and finding ways to reduce this impact, or implementing national reforms, or an international approach to improved environmental management, are some of the projects that the Sustainable engineers develop. Being an environmental engineer specialized in sustainability, has an added advantage. One can:

  • Gain an insight into the holistic principles of industrial ecology, eco-design, risk management, resource efficiency, sustainable consumption and production.
  • Understand the sustainability and environmental outlines on the corporate and regional sustainable development.
  • They have an expert awareness in sustainability assessment techniques and tools, such as life cycle assessment, environmental footprint, material flow analysis and input-output analysis.
  • Climate changes, energy futures, water availability, low-carbon living, waste management, and so on, are some problems that are in urgent need for solutions, which sustainable engineers address.
  • Develop and encourage concepts of resource efficiency and eco-design.

Future Prospective of Sustainable Engineering

These are just the tip of iceberg; the aspects of development and problems that can be addressed in this field rise with the growth in the new technological advancement. The amalgamation of interdisciplinary sectors of engineering will have a huge impact on how this field progresses.

In the 21st century, there is a dire need for engineers to design and develop products and structures that are energy efficient, can be produced in bulk, have a very low impact on the environment and basically reduce the emissions of pollutants. One needs to set long term and short term goals to achieve minimum use of fossil fuel resources and reduce the waste generated from engineering processes and products to a bare minimum. To attain this goal, more students should be made aware of the advantages of sustainable engineering, and choose it as a career option.

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