Chapter 1: An Introduction to Sustainability and Engineering




We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors - we borrow it from our children


Rapid expansion of population, resource consumption and associated pollution by the human race has put a strain on the natural ecosystems of the Earth we rely upon to survive. The limits to our expansion are beginning to show, as significant issues such as resource depletion, climate change, scarcity of water, soil fertility depletion and changes in biodiversity occur.

A termsustainable developmenthas emerged and is being used increasingly by the media to describe a need for constructing a way of organising ourselves that doesn't detrimentally harm the planet or society. This chapter aims to explore the term sustainabilityand put it into context with engineering, a profession that has contributed to the current problematic system as much as providing a platform for creating solutions to the problems.

Definitions of sustainability will be given, followed by an introduction to ethical issues behind the topic. The concept of exponential growth will then be explored in detail and applied to global patterns of growth and consumption. Finally the limits to this growth will be outlined, before discussing the role of an engineer in the sustainability agenda.

Figure 1: Sustainable Development is based around 3 core considerations; economic, social and environmental (or ecologicalsee 1.2)


Source: The Open University [see reference 1]