Engineers should take into account the long-term viability and environmental impact of materials they use. I can see this taking strategic decisions away from management, though. Traditionally managers want engineers to worry about a limited scope of whether material properties allow the product to do the job.
In industries where there are a lot of smaller, fast-moving players, people can wear many hats. These industries tend to have companies with flatter hierarchies.
Industries where there are a lot of start-ups seem to be the ones that deal with innovation rather that a mature technology. Where there's a lot of innovation, taking the long-term viability of sourcing and processing raw materials is appropriate. As technology matures, companies that leverage economies of scale can benefit from this.
Tom, thanks for reminding me of "Industrial Ecology". I looked at it several years ago and need to revisit it. As I recall it's, again, pretty high level and broad but certainly more focused on assessing environmental impacts of products than typical environmental engineering programs.
Michigan is a leader in this field, and I think it's a great area to study, but I think we also need to determine how to imbue environmental thinking throughout engineering and science fields as well. It should not be the sole domain of "experts" (but we need the experts to define and set up the systems and provide guidance). Just as every Electronics Engineer (EE) knows Ohm's Law, every EE should understand fundamentals of environmental parameters.
My reading of Anastas' "Green Engineering" principles is that it's narrowly defined in the chemical engineering world, but could be applicable more widely. I agree it needs expansion and focus for our world of "articles", and the infrastructure necessary to enable education on and implementation of the rules both in academia and industry.
Industrial ecology teaches one how to perform a LifeCycle Assessment (LCA) for a product and also how to measure overall energy use in products and processes. Industrial ecology is a much better fit with the design process than environmental engineering, which -- in its traditional sense -- is about eliminating effluents, often after the design decisions and at the tail end of the production process.
A class exercise in industrial ecology might have you work out which is better -- a paper bag or a plastic bag? (spoiler: choose your poison, both are bad, bring your own). I did an LCA (with a classmate from HP) on an inkjet printer -- where we learned that the paper and electricity used over the life of the printer dwarf other impacts, so printer manufacturers should facilitate duplex printing and minimize power use. In an environmental engineering class, one test question asked how high a smokestack should be built to avoid exposing people to illegal levels of pollutants. That is important, too, but the product design engineer need not consider this directly.
"Green engineering" for lack of a better term does exist, but has not been supported (by universities/industry) as much as I think it needs to be.
Courses in "sustainability" are pretty high-level and are certainly part of what's important. But I want to see coursework at a level below that, and integrated in to existing EE and ME courses. For instance, when you're designing a resistor(let's pick something "simple", hah!), you already know that need to understand functional parameters of the materials you're using, like sheet resistivity, impedance, melting temperature, tensile strength, etc. In addition, you should be looking at toxicological properties like carcinogenicity, reuse and recovery properties (like how extractable is this substance in the recycling stream), energy properties, process waste generation, and so on.
To deal with these sorts of environmental performance parameters in the electronic product (or component) design process, design engineers need first to understand that they exist and how to assess them. That will mean, of course, that these parameters will need to be measured or extracted, and provided on the datasheet right next to all the AC, DC, time and thermal parameters. Imagine that.
The training that exists today in civil engineering courses is directed at a different class of problems; the information is probably there to some degree but it needs to be reassessed and courses revised and refocused so it can be taught to the electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, material science, and other classes of students. Environmental impact of electronic product design and manufacture is a somewhat different problem than environmental impact of bridge design and implementation, for instance. One example is that bridges use an enormous amount of a handful of materials often souced locally; electronics are made of tiny amounts of thousands of substances sourced all over the planet. How you deal with that is necessarily different.
Then there's the whole area of the Business School's interest in this area. Stay tuned!
yeah definitely i agree with you , now most of the undergraduate colleges in Asia have already started different programs on environmental engineering as a part of their curriculum. it is interesting to realize all these initiatives are taking place.
Colleges are also offering Masters programs specifically for Environmental Engineering. My sister who is a chemist and has spent all her career in the environmental field, seeing a need in the industry, decided to go back to school for her masters in the subject. I do believe that we will start to see this migrate into an undergraduate degree.
Thanks for the post Barbara. Lot of institutions are included environmental sciences as a part of their undergraduate curriculum. This will really give an insight into why we need to worry environment and what are the implications on environment. This will give them a foresight on environmental effects.
Barbara, very thought provoking.I think many of the engineering programs will have to start, if they have not already done so, include “environmental engineering” aspects into their curriculums.I know for a fact that some of the leading universities and colleges for Packaging Engineering have already started to include subjects on sustainability into their programs.Without these subjects on environmental factors added to many of the engineering course work, new graduates will not be as prepared for the workforce as they should be.
EBN Dialogue enables and encourages you to participate in live chats with notable leaders and luminaries. Not only editors and journalists, but the entire EBN community is able to comment and ask questions. Listed below are upcoming and archived chats.
Thailand Stages a Comeback Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Microsoft Surface: Potential Winners & Losers What are the implications for the electronics industry supply chain of Microsoft Corp.'s decision to launch its own tablet PC? Join industry veteran and EE Times' systems and OEM expert Rick Merritt on Tuesday, July 3, at 12:00 pm EDT for a Live Chat on this subject.
Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Peter Drucker famously said "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." Yet in the razor's-edge world of electronics—with a lean supply chain and just-in-time demands—the need to know the future is vital.
While no one really can accurately predict the future, we can take guidance from another Drucker saying which is the best way to predict the future is to create it.
You've heard the saying "the No. 1 supply chain risk is your people." That hasn't always been the case. But today's complex global supply chain requires a new type of multitalented employee. It's one who understands, finance, marketing, economics, is savvy with technology, graceful with relationships and can think analytically.
Where are these people? Are universities properly preparing the next generation supply chain professionals? How do train your existing workforce for these new, demanding positions?
Brian Fuller, editor-in-chief of EBN, will lead a 60-minute Avnet Velocity panel discussion that will ask and answer these and other questions swirling around today's supply-chain talent challenges.