Engineering Management for a Sustainable Future

1.0   Introduction

Sustainability as a concept is increasingly being applied in the 21st century in diverse engineering fields such as construction, power, automobile industries amongst others. The grave challenges posed by global warming particularly resulting from rising human population, environmental pollution, widespread depletion of natural resources, scarcity of food and water as well as the threats to energy security have necessitated a paradigm shift in engineering and design solutions. To achieve sustainable outcomes in the field of engineering and engineering management, it is critical to the embrace sustainability by adopting sustainable engineering practices and thereby facilitate sustainable development. Sustainability is defined as the capacity to ensure that we maintain an improving the quality of life for all people, now as well as in the future is, while also simultaneously ensuring that ecosystem services and natural resources critical for life to sustain on earth are available on a continues basis (Hood 1999). Sustainable engineering implies the application of engineering in systems in a sustainable way by utilising sustainable resources so that the system provides a sustainable output (Rosen 2012). Sustainable development, on the other hand, is an approach towards development such that the needs of the present day world are met and at the same time there is no compromise on the capability of the future generations to meet their own needs (WECD 1987, p. 8).

Sustainability consists of three pillars: environmental, economic and societal sustainability and engineering is directly linked to each of these components (Rosen 2012). Balancing these aspects is a challenging task faced by organisations but a successful implementation of these principles is crucial to achieve good standards of living, foster social and cultural development, social stability, minimise wastage of resources thereby ensuring continuous availability of ecosystem services. This indicates that sustainability and sustainable development involves the balancing of the fine line between our need to advance economically and technologically and at the same time ensure that we protect the environment in which we live so that the ecosystem services critical to the survival of earth are readily available to us as well as our future generations. This report will firstly review and critique existing literature pertaining to sustainability in the engineering management sector and finally address the importance of embracing sustainable engineering management practices to achieve a functioning sustainable society.

2.0   Annotated Bibliography on Sustainable Engineering & Management

2.1 Journal Article 1

Bhutto, AW, Bazmi, AA, Zahedi, G & Klemeš, JJ 2014, ‘A review of progress in renewable energy implementation in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries’, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 71, pp. 168-180.

This article assesses the benefits of funding and investments in renewable energy projects, explores potential sources and avenues for the development of renewable energy, and debates the policies and strategies to help promote and develop renewable energy for GCC to counter the increasing the use of non-renewable energy sources, diversify economies, reduce dependency on oil and address the challenges of a post-oil future. This environmental awakening among GCC is attributed to their accession to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol as these frameworks demand continuous commitment towards the reduction of greenhouse gases. Developing and adopting technologies and management strategies in relation to alternative energy sources, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), and energy efficiency is the way forward for GCC to simultaneously reduce carbon emissions and enhance economic diversity. The article states that strategic location and climatic conditions have created huge opportunities for the development of photovoltaic and wind systems and in that regard, the GCC countries need to create subsidies for investments and develop specific legislation to promote renewable energy and foreign investments in their energy-intensive markets. The information presented in the article is of critical interest to engineering professionals and companies looking to capture the energy-intensive markets of the middle-east as renewable energy is the only way forward to ensure that human development takes place sustainably, now and into the future. By highlighting the need to train and support new generations on renewable energy technologies, the article addresses the need for national planning so that new, niche and competitive technologies are developed which suit their climatic conditions.

2.2 Journal Article 2

Islam, KMA & Salma, U 2016, ‘The renewable energy and sustainable development: a case study of Bangladesh’, International Journal of Finance and Banking Research, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 139-146.

This article assesses the potential of various renewable energy sources to generate power and examines the different promising technologies available for sustainable power generation in Bangladesh such as solar homes, wind and hydro energy amongst others. A review of the current energy situation in Bangladesh suggests that the existing energy generation infrastructure is dependent on fossil fuels and hence is not in the interest of sustainability. With the demand for power expected to grow exponentially in the future, the article’s focus on integrating various renewable energy technologies in the power sector is highly relevant to achieving sustainability in the country’s power sector and these sources also have the potential to ease the bottleneck caused by the power sector in relation to overall development in Bangladesh. Furthermore, it is seen that renewable energy projects are becoming popular in Bangladesh in recent times owing to relevant government policies and institutional facilitation, however, the country still faces issues in accelerating the growth of these projects due to fluctuating stakeholder interests. The article addresses this issue by suggesting that mechanisms be developed to maximise stakeholder participation by collaborating between the public sector, private sector as well as NGOs’ to ensure a wide range of knowledgeable inputs flows into the development of a strong policy framework to effectively move towards sustainable energy development. The most important highlight of the article is its emphasis on implementing sustainable projects under the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol to help the country meet its energy requirements sustainably. Upon successful implementation of the above policies, renewable energy sources can be used efficiently to generate power and it is also possible to penetrate into isolated rural areas thereby lifting the living and social standards of the people.

2.3 Journal Article 3

Liew, WH, Hassim, MH & NG, DKS 2014, ‘Review of evolution, technology and sustainability assessments of biofuel productions’, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 71, pp. 11-29.

This article acknowledges the importance of biofuels to counter the dual problems of fossil fuel depletion and climate change in order to achieve sustainable engineering outcomes which are attributed to the fact that these fuels are derived from sustainable sources and help in minimising the greenhouse effect. By reviewing the evolution of biofuels, the article examines the current state-of-the-art technologies for biodiesel and bioethanol production, lignocellulosic biomass conversion, technology for algae processing as well as bio-refineries where biomass is converted into products like biofuels, bio-oils for power generation. Laying emphasis on the large-scale opportunity of biofuel production, the article highlights the importance of assessing the potential impacts of the production technologies for biofuels and in that regard, review the impact of biofuels in relation to the three pillars of sustainability; economic, environmental, societal impacts and subsequent performance. It is seen that in spite of the numerous advantages of biofuels, there are certain economic barriers towards commercialising biofuel production such as capital and feedstock cost, process yield, plant capacity, and availability. On the contrary, while assessing the social impacts of biofuels, the authors state that the biofuels will considerably aid towards societal sustainability because of the increased demand for agricultural feedstock which would result in higher income generation and creation of job opportunities particularly in the rural areas of poor countries resulting in the development of the agricultural economy. A concentrated effort towards the development of biofuel production technologies as well as an assessment of the biofuel production process in its design phase is required to optimise engineering and installation costs so that sustainability is guaranteed in all its aspects thereby benefiting humans and environment in the long run.

2.4 Journal Article 4

Rosen, MA 2012, ‘Engineering sustainability: a technical approach to sustainability’, Sustainability, vol. 4, no. 9, pp. 2270-2292.

This article addresses the key components such as the selection of sustainable resources, use of sustainable processes, enhancing efficiency of engineering processes while reducing environmental impact, and fulfilling other sustainability aspects like equity, economic affordability, stakeholder involvement, and appropriate land use to achieve sustainability in engineering and ultimately, the overall sustainability for human development. A key takeaway from this article is that pathways and options for engineering sustainability can be achieved by addressing the above factors. The advantages of various sustainable resources useful in engineering such as biomass, renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal energy with special emphasis on the use of wastes as inputs to engineering processes to reduce or eliminate the need for new natural resources are reviewed in the article. While discussing sustainable processes, the article acknowledges the need for a sustainable approach to design and manufacturing as well as the need to control and monitor the processes so that they remain sustainable in the long run. An interesting highlight of this article is its emphasis on using the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) approach to assess the cradle-to-grave impacts of an engineering activity or a product on the environment (Figure 1). The focus on the need to transition towards Net-Zero Energy Buildings and Communities which generate the same amount of electricity as they consume finally illustrates the manner in which all the above-mentioned sustainable aspects such as resources, processes can be integrated to function as one sustainable system. This literature is highly relevant to the field of engineering sustainability as we get a comprehensive understanding of how the different aspects of sustainability can be integrated together to get an effective and sustainable engineering output.

Figure 2. 1. Scope of life cycle assessment of a product or process, showing steps in the life

                cycle vertically and inputs and outputs horizontally.

Source: Rosen (2012)

2.5 Journal Article 5

Sharma, R 2016, ‘Sustainable buildings in hot and dry climate of India’, International Journal of Engineering Research and Applications, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 134-144.

With regards to the increasing use of energy in commercial buildings in India and its detrimental effect on the environment due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, this article focusses on the critical attributes of sustainability in construction engineering by examining the model of sustainable buildings. By reviewing the sustainable building concept, the article highlights an engineering idea which can be employed across the world to reduce energy consumption and at the same time not hamper the development rate. Focussing on the built environment in hot and dry places such as in the city of Jodhpur in India, the article argues that Solar Passive technology needs to be integrated into the building materials and elements to mitigate the undesirable effects of dry and hot climate so that the interiors stay warm in winter and cool in summer. Passive systems contribute to a great extent in achieving sustainability due to the fact that they considerably reduce the size of traditional cooling or heating systems as well as the quantity of non-renewable fuels required to maintain optimum temperatures in the buildings. A key takeaway from this article which is in the interest of sustainability is that these buildings will balance all the aspects of energy use such as ventilation, space conditioning, and lighting through the use of passive solar technologies, renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency machinery. In spite of all the advantages of this technology mentioned in the article, there is a need to also address the limitations, conduct more research, and design practical solutions especially in the case of developing countries. However, it is worth noting that infrastructure needs and costs can be greatly reduced by enacting sustainable building policies and using an integrated approach to urban planning.

2.6 Journal Article 6

Sutar, BH & Gokhale, VA 2016, ‘Conceptualising sustainable transportation for city of Pune, India’, International Journal of Engineering Research and Applications, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 83-89.

With regards to the increasing traffic, road congestion, air, and noise pollution, changing land-use patterns, and taking care of future generations in terms environmental and financial capacities, this article stresses on the need for the development of a sustainable transport system in the western city of Pune in India. With the city witnessing large-scale urban sprawl and rapid growth in car ownership, traffic congestions and air pollution are increasing at an alarming rate and in that regard, this articles calls for the development of mass rapid transit system in the city covering long distances. The article also surveys the primary advantages of such a rapid transport system such as reduction in greenhouse emissions due to the reduced number of cars on the road, lower levels of pollution, reduced energy conservations amongst others. Furthermore, various initiatives like urban planning, strict control of parking spaces and access regulations will influence people’s choice of transport and lead to an increase in the use of the rapid transit system. However, a successful completion of this project requires large-scale land acquisition and this issue must be resolved at the earliest.

2.7 Journal Article 7

Urbaniec, K, Mikulčić, H, Wang, Y & Duić, N 2018, ‘System integration is a necessity for sustainable development’, Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 195, pp. 122-132.

This article highlights the importance of integrating various engineering systems by utilising the waste from one system as a resource for another and at a time when it benefits all to foster a sustainable, balanced and inclusive development. By reviewing the recent advances, the article provides a good insight into different areas strategic to sustainable system integration including water and energy issues, sustainable engineering solutions, environmental engineering and management, and large-scale sustainability approaches. By surveying different ways of integrating various systems pertaining to energy, water, and the environment in relation to sustainability, the article has touched many important aspects of sustainability in engineering. Various aspects of sustainable energy use like biomass as a replacement for solid fuels in iron producing factories to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, using flammable waste gases instead of fossil fuels from the steel industry for iron-ore sintering process have been mentioned in this article. By modifying those process, these principles could even be applied in coal-based power plants and other factories responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions and thereby contribute to sustainability. However, this article does not mention the limitations of any of these technologies as it is critical to consider the limitations of each process, assess the system as a whole, examine its sustainability in relation to the triple bottom line framework so that we reap the benefits of a fully functioning, efficient and a truly sustainable system.

3.0   Towards Effective Sustainable Engineering Management Practices – Lessons from Literature

Increasing existential threats to ecosystem services, our future generations, and the environment calls for engineers across the world to not only provide solutions by solving problems within fixed boundaries but to also pay special attention to the upstream and downstream impacts of the proposed perfect solution. In others words, engineers must have an innovative and a holistic approach to account for the whole of life impacts so that there is a net sustainability benefit in terms of its social, environmental and economic aspects. Moreover, there is a need to practice responsible engagement with the community and relevant stakeholders from the private sector as well as various non-governmental organisations and eventually practice engineering to promote an environment where health, safety and well-being of the environment and the broader community is of paramount importance. It is required that the governments, industries, and enterprises must embrace sustainable business models and integrate sustainable best practices into their operations so that sustainability engineering becomes the new corporate world order. Diffusion of renewable energy technologies must be accelerated to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and to facilitate this, the engineering cohort must actively work with government agencies to design relevant policies. Furthermore, the Life Cycle Assessment approach must be made mandatory to assess every engineering activity, process, and product from its infancy till handover so that the environmental, social and economic impacts of that activity are addressed appropriately. Embracing “Design Thinking” in engineering products or activities is an efficient way of achieving sustainability because of the human-centric approach of the concept. It is recommended that practicing engineering professionals work closely with engineering students so that sustainability principles are embedded in the students and they help develop the responses to our sustainability challenges that will shape our current and future life. Table 3.1 shown below summarises the sustainability approaches in engineering.

Table 3.1 Sustainability Approaches in Engineering

4.0   Conclusion

After reviewing the literature, it is seen that sustainable engineering is not only about designing and constructing economically efficient systems, but it is also about addressing the social and environmental aspects of sustainability so that we do not compromise the natural environment or the rights of the future generations to live and satisfy their own needs. Even though the current technologies are in their nascent phase, investments directed towards the research and further development of these technologies is the need of the hour. Furthermore, future engineers must adapt and increasingly engage with society so that the ultimate potential of sustainable engineering is realised and societies across the world become truly sustainable in all respects. Finally, it is worth noting that through sustainable engineering, we can further accelerate the shift towards overall sustainability since engineering activities are embedded in almost every activity in the society and plays a major role in economic development as well as enhancing living standards.

References

Hood, D 1999, Lecture Series for Engineers Australia, Canberra.

PennState College of Earth and Mineral Sciences 2018, Principles of Sustainable Engineering, v

World Commission on Environment and Development 1987, Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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