EME 504
Foundations in Sustainability Systems

1.5 The 12 Principles of Sustainable Engineering

Technological development, and thus scientists and engineers, play an important role in addressing the challenges brought by each of the three axes of the Sustainability Triad. But, what does it mean to meet "the needs of the current generation while preserving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," as stated by the Brundtland Commission?

Some sources call for twelve different guidelines that can be implemented in the practice of every field of science and engineering. In Table 1.1 below, the key points from these twelve guidelines are summarized. What they have in common is that they require significant effort and planning BEFORE a new process/product is created. This type of effort is consistent with the idea introduced in the section in Sustainable Management. That is, EFFICIENCY is the most effective way to manage. We will come back to these guidelines when we discuss the life cycle analysis of products and how to design sustainable products in modules ahead.

Table 1.1: Principles of Sustainable Engineering. Modified from Sustainability Science and Engineering.
Principle Approach Importance
1. Strive to ensure that material/energy inputs and outputs not hazardous (a) Reduce hazard.

(b) Reduce exposure.

Reduces/minimizes dangers by reduction of intrinsic hazards.
2. Waste minimization over waste management. Good design is creative about use of by-products. Lowers expenses in purchasing and disposal.
3. Design for easy separation and purification. Plan for recycle and reuse. Easy separation/purification = easy waste management.
4. All components must be designed for maximum mass, energy, and temporal efficiency. Smaller is generally better. Lowers expenses.
5. Avoid unnecessary consumption of mass/energy versus. Production must respond to real-time demands. Minimization of overproduction.
6. Use entropy and complexity as guidelines to decide end-of-cycle. Not all products should receive the same end-of cycle treatment. Disposal solutions can no longer be seen as one-size-fits-all.
7. A product must not outlast its uses. Over-design is a design flaw. Decrease accumulation of high-tech waste.
8. A product must not have unnecessary capabilities/capacities. Design for realistic uses and conditions. Reduces/eliminates the use of components needed.
9. Minimize material diversity. Minimize the use of different materials, esp. adhesives, sealants, coating. Simplify waste management.
10. Product creation is only one part of the cycle. Take into account methods of extraction of needed resources and transport. Minimize environmental impact of related life-cycle steps.
11. Evaluate products based on life-cycle analysis. Take into account methods of extraction of needed resources and transport. Minimize environmental impact of related life-cycle steps.
12.Prioritize the use of renewable and readily available resources. Avoid using non-renewables, except when using renewables may be more damaging. Minimize the overall impact of resource use.