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Sustainable Engineering Minor

The Sustainable Engineering Minor prepares students in all engineering disciplines to ask questions and analyze problems from a sustainable engineering perspective and develop sustainable solutions.

What is Sustainable Engineering?

Sustainable Engineering may be defined as engineering for human development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs1. Due to population growth and expanded global development, the next generation of engineers must be able design with fewer resources for a wider variety and greater number of end users2. In other words:

" . . . engineers of the future will be asked to use the earth's resources more efficiently and produce less waste, while at the same time satisfying an ever-increasing demand for goods and services. To prepare for such challenges, engineers will need to understand the impact of their decisions on built and natural systems, and must be adept at working closely with planners, decision makers, and the general public. Sustainable engineering emphasizes these and related issues."3

Examples of sustainable engineering include:

  • Design and manufacturing techniques that improve energy efficiency, use recycled materials, minimize pollution, and/or reduce water use;
  • Using methods that minimize environmental damage to provide sufficient food, water, shelter, and mobility for a growing world population,
  • Designing products and processes so that wastes from one are used as inputs to another,
  • Incorporating environmental and social constraints as well as economic considerations into engineering decisions.

Why Minor in Sustainable Engineering?

A minor in sustainable engineering can broaden job options. According to the Houston Chronicle, engineers with training in sustainability are often employed by government agencies (e.g. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NASA), conservation groups, and private industry (e.g. automotive, aerospace, and defense industries and electric utilities). They help agencies and industry reduce their impact on the environment and use energy more efficiently.

What is the Difference Between Sustainable Engineering and Environmental Engineering?

Environmental engineering historically has been treatment-process focused, or end-of-pipe focused: once pollution is created, environmental engineers use principles of chemistry, biology, and physics to clean it up. Air pollution control engineers, for example, design devices which can be used to remove pollution from coal-fired power plant exhaust before it is discharged into the atmosphere.

A more efficient approach, however, is to ask the question: how can we avoid generating the air pollution in the first place? This question leads to consideration and design of sustainable power systems, such as biogas from waste, solar power, and wind power. This forward-thinking approach is the approach of sustainable engineering.

In addition, sustainable engineering, like all sustainable decision-making, emphasizes balancing environmental along with social and economic factors.

  1. World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future, Oxford University Press, 1987.
  2. Davidson, Cliff I.; Matthews, H. Scott; Hendrickson, Chris T.; Bridges, Michael W.; Allenby, Braden R.; Crittenden, John C.; Chen, Yongsheng; Williams, Eric; Allen David T.; Murphy, Cynthia F.; and Sharon Austin. “Adding Sustainability to the Engineer’s Toolbox: A Challenge for Engineering Educators.” Environmental Science & Technology, 2007, pp. 4847-4850.
  3. Center for Sustainable Engineering. , accessed July 2008.