EME 807
Technologies for Sustainability Systems

Summary & Activities


Summary & Activities

Lesson #1 started introducing you to the sustainability context, reviewing the main philosophical principles of sustainability as well as practical guidelines applied to sustainable design and engineering. From these philosophies, we can clearly see that any analysis of engineering projects, technologies, and processes from the standpoint of sustainable development must be done in a wider framework, which includes environmental, economic, and social forces.

Here, we also browsed through the important background of systems approach, which emphasizes interconnections and feedbacks as controls of system stability or instability. Based on this review, we started to determine the role of technology in the dynamics and function of anthropogenic systems. We can see that technologies work at interfaces between the physical world and society. Technologies can be efficient tools regulating the system inputs and outputs, and also can serve as drivers of change and lifestyle builders in society. This prepares us for the next step – developing the metric system and methods for technology evaluation in the next lessons.

Assignments for Lesson 1

Type Assignment Directions Submit To
Reading Complete all necessary reading assigned in this lesson. There is a lot of reading, but it provides essential background for us to move forward towards practical objectives.

Growth / No-growth Dilemma. We will start off with a debate on the growth / no-growth dilemma. Read the two web articles referred in Section 1.2: Daly's article "From a Failed Growth Economy to a Steady-State Economy" and Ellis's article "Overpopulation is not the Problem". Make a forum post (limit to 250 words) expressing your opinion to the questions: (1) Is sustainable society achievable? (2) Do you think that sustainability and economic growth are conflicting paradigms? (which of the authors do you agree more with?) (3) What are trade-offs, alternatives, or breakthroughs that may be needed in solving the sustainability puzzle? Just express your opinion.

Please read others' posts and comment on at least two of them. Follow up on any comments made to your post.

Deadline for initial posting – this Sunday. Post your comments to other threads by the end of the lesson Wednesday

Canvas: Lesson 1 Discussion 


Systems thinking exercise (see Lesson 1 Activity Sheet on Canvas):

  • Prepare a system diagram for a simple model system.
  • Identify the stocks, factors, and decision points.
  • Draw arrows to show connections between elements (couplings)
  • Identify feedback loops if there are any.
  • Provide annotation to the schematic to explain how the system works and what forces keep it sustainable.
  • If you were to add some technologies to the system to improve its sustainability, what kinds of technologies would they be? Provide a brief discussion on this point.

Schematic can be either hand-drawn and scanned to file or made with a graphic software. Please type your annotation. Submit your assignment in a single PDF or MS Word file.

Deadline – Wednesday night 11:55 pm (your local time!)

Canvas: Lesson 1 Activity 

References for Lesson 1:

Becker, C.U., Sustainability Ethics and Sustainability Research, Ch. 2. Meaning of Sustainability, Springer 2012.

Chapman, J., Design for (Emotional) Durability, Design Issues, v.25, Issue 4, 29 (2009).

Daly, H., From a Failed Growth Economy to a Steady-State Economy, in The Encyclopedia of Earth, 2009.

Eakes, S., Managing Delays, System Thinker, Leverage Networks, 2018. URL: https://thesystemsthinker.com/managing-delays [Accessed 01/2021]

Ellis, E., Overpopulation is not the Problem, New York Times, Sept.13, 2013.

Gagnon, B., Leduc, R., and Savard, L., Sustainable development in engineering: a review of principles and definition of a conceptual framework. Cahier de recherche / Working Paper 08-18, 2008.

Kump, L.R., Kasting, J.F., and Crane, R.G., The Earth System, 3rd Ed., Prentice Hall, 2010.

Lenton, T.M., Environmental Tipping Points, Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2013. 38:1–29.

McDonough, W., The Hannover Principles.Design for Sustainability, William McDonough Architects, 1992.

McDonough and Braungart, M., Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way We Make Things, North Point Press, NY 2002.

Meadows, D.H., Thinking in Systems, Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT, 2008.

Odum, H.T., Self-Organization, Transformity, and Information, Science 242, 131, 1988.

Rodriguez, S.I., Roman, M.S., Sturhahn, S.C., and Terry, E.H., Sustainability Assessment and Reporting for the University of Michigan Ann Arbor Campus, Report of the Center for Sustainable Systems, No. CSS02-04, 2002.

UN Document: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, Chapter 2, Geneva, Switzerland, March 20, 1987.

Venables, R., Civil Engineering - Jubilee River, in Engineering for Sustainable Development: Guiding Principles, Royal Academy of Engineering, Dodds, R., and Venables, R., Eds., 2005. pp. 11-14.