EME 504
Foundations in Sustainability Systems

EME 504 Foundations in Sustainability Systems

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PRESENTER: Global climate change. Population growth. Land use changes. Degradation and desertification. Loss and fragmentations of habitats and biodiversity. Surface and groundwater contamination and depletion. Energy security. Long-term waste and hazardous waste disposal. Poverty. Lack of food security and health services. The complexity of these problems is only parallelled by our overwhelming need to address them. Welcome to Sustainable Systems. As the name of this class indicates, we're going to discuss methods to understand and begin to solve some of these problems and the crises that may arise from them. Behind me is the Phipps Conservatory. It was built in Victorian times. And in some ways it reflects the mentality of the time, a time when we were starting to dwell between the idea of preservation and conservation. The conservatory served not only as a haven of peace amid the chaos of a growing city but also a model for the goals to be accomplished. It is only fitting that over 100 years later the conservatory also houses a Center of Sustainable Landscapes. Also, more than 100 years later, we're still contending with the unpredictability of nature. Although we have gained a great deal of insights on how natural systems behave, we are still at the mercy of increasingly devastating natural disasters. Some of these disasters, in fact, are the legacy of Industrial and post-Industrial Revolution philosophies and their philosophies of management. My name is Neyda Abreu. I'm an Earth Science faculty. And my research focus is in geochemistry and minerology. I am also a resident of central Pennsylvania, a state that has witnessed a wide variety of different extractive processes, such as the extraction of raw material, clear cutting of vast amounts of forest, frantic periods of industrialization, mining, and population growth with, also, the industrialization, urban decay, and expensive environment degradation that has followed after that. In other words, Pennsylvania, with its large cities, rural countryside, and large environmental capital, is a natural laboratory for our class. And we will be taking virtual field trips across the state.

Quick Facts about EME 504

Instructor and Author: Dr. Neyda M. Abreu: Associate Professor, Earth Science Program, DuBois Campus and Lecturer, Master of Professional Studies in Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems (iMPS-RESS), John A. Dutton e-Education Institute.

Course Structure

This course is divided into twelve modules to be completed sequentially. There are three general themes in which these modules can be sub-divided.

  • The first five modules are focused on the defining principles of Sustainability. In this class, we cover how these principles can be incorporated in the way we think about science and engineering. The guiding principle in these modules is the idea of systemic thinking as a tool to explore complex systems of problems or messes.
  • The second theme deals with the application of sustainability to the design process. We move across different scales of the design process. We start by thinking about the production of individual products and how these products may fit within large scale processes - i.e., how solving problems by optimization may positively or negatively impact the end-state of a complex system. Then, we think about how to structure a sustainable network fraught with mutually interconnected problems. Finally, we explore how to manage a sustainable network, in which information about the individual problems may be limited and/or over-simplified.
  • The third theme spans the range of social foundations of sustainability. We explore how complex ethical, economic, cultural, and political factors influence our pathway to becoming a more sustainable global society.


Students of this course will develop an encompassing understanding of the challenges of sustainability and sustainability issues. The course will enable students to not only know and react to current market situations and existing rules, but also to recognize future trends and market opportunities on the national and international level. Many sustainability fields such as sustainable energy are highly dynamic and global. The course provides students with the intellectual means to identify and judge the main drivers and complex systemic interrelations of specific sustainability fields.