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1) What Does Sustainable Development Mean?
Sustainable development has, since the 1980’s, become known to mean a reaction against the negative effects to the environment and society at large caused by man. Natural resources that had been consumed without thought of their replacement came under the spotlight of the environmental movement. In 1980 a joint presentation by the UN Environment Program, the World Wildlife Fund and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (UNEP/WWF/IUCNNR) said,
“For development to be sustainable it must take account of social and ecological factors as well as economic ones; of the living and non living resource base; and of the long-term as well as the short-term advantages and disadvantages of alternative actions.” (Adisa Azapagic et al.2005 p4)
It wasn’t until 1987 that sustainable development became widely known after the publication of the report “Our Common Future” also known as “The Brundtland Report” produced by the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Its report started from the premise that humanity was threatened by the consumption of the world’s resources with little thought to its ability to replace said resources. It concluded the report with a need for sustainable development and to reverse the present unsustainable trends. The Earth Summit 1992 followed that involved 180 countries participation. Further global summits ensued, with more and more countries in attendance. (Adisa Azapagic et al.2005)
- Ø Investigate at least three different definitions associated with this concept and determine what you consider it to be?
Sustainable development can be defined many ways, and can be defined differently in whatever field it is related to and also by whoever is providing the definition.
The Brundtland Report in 1987 defined it as “…development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Dr James McQuaid Feng.1995 p69. Engineering for Sustainable Development)
The report stated a major aim was to continue the growth in both industrial and developing countries but to improve the present destruction of natural resources to make them as sustainable as possible. “Preserve everything” was discounted as an option as the need for progress means inevitably changes will occur but controlled changes are the preferred choice. Another main point addressed in the report was the relief of world poverty by the application of sustainable growth. (Our Common Future. 1988)
From a more idealistic perspective sustainable development is defined as, “…improving the quality of human life whilst at the same time living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems.” (Caring for the Earth. 1993. p13)
In this respect sustainable is defined as lasting forever, so that an action on something will not have an effect on it that cannot be continued indefinitely. It places importance on all facets of mans affect on the earth, “….biological, environmental, economic and social,” all having equal prominence. (Caring for the Earth. 1993. p13)
“A dynamic process which enables all people to realise their potential and improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support system” (Forum for the Future 21/02/10).
This quote is given by a non profit organisation set up to help businesses implement changes to their operations that allow them to incorporate ‘social and environmental responsibility’ into the business for themselves, society at large and future generations.
Sustainable development is an ongoing process that is not static. Technology needs to become more efficient to lessen drains on resources. In industry, processes must be improved to minimise waste and also to reduce pollution. Regulations must be stepped up to cover squandering of resources, energy wastage and improved recycling of materials. On a wider scale everybody needs to join in the fight for the environment.
2) Find the Definition of Industrial Ecology and briefly report one example of this.
“Industrial Ecology is the means by which humanity can deliberately approach and maintain sustainability, given continued economic, cultural and technological evolution. The concept requires that an industrial system be viewed not in isolation from its surrounding systems, but in concert with them. It is a systems view in which one seeks to optimise the total materials cycle from virgin material, to finished material, to component, to product, to obsolete product, and to ultimate disposal.” (T.E Graedel and B.R.Allenby: 2010. p54)
Industrial ecology and metallurgy seems initially to be in contradiction with each other. Metallurgy is a closed engineering and science based area and industrial ecology takes a systems oriented approach. What is needed and in fact has been happening in metallurgy is a change in manufacturing processes, to allow consideration of it as a system to minimise energy and material discharge enabling the use and recycling of products and wastages.
Iron is of course the major ore used in industry and has a long history of study behind it. Aluminium and other metals have relatively little and from an industrial ecology perspective it is imperative to study fully, alternatives to steel, for engineers to understand properties of other metals and alloys that could be more sustainable and recyclable. Aluminium alloy castings used in the car industry equates to approximately 80% of the alloy used with over 60% of the casts utilising recycled aluminium (NB in 2000ad).
It is forecast that more aluminium will be used in vehicle production mainly for non-cast aluminium parts and these at the moment cannot utilise the recycled cast alloy due to their different property requirements. This could lead to an excess of the cast-recycled alloy with the increase in non-cast parts, unless changes in the manufacturing processes and also changes in the alloy specifications are done. This initial increase in manufacturing costs will be offset long term, as it will allow, with the development of families of the alloy, both cast and non-cast to be recycled together; industrial ecology in action! To cover the expected increase in volume of recyclable alloys, a systems approach recycling of the alloys, including sorting and handling, needs addressing with new grading techniques. (Dominique Bourg, Suran Erkman. 2003.)
- Adisa Azapagic, University of Surrey, Slobodan Perdan and Roland Clift, University of Surrey. (2005 pages 4&5) Sustainable Development in Practice: Case studies for Engineers and Scientists. John Willey and Sons, The Atrium Surrey
- Dominique Bourg, Suran Erkman. (2003.p153-160) Perspectives on Industrial Ecology. Greenleaf Publishing Ltd. Sheffield)
- Dr James McQuaid Feng (1995. p69) Engineering for Sustainable development. London. The Royal Academy of engineering.
4. Forum for the Future [online] available from
- Mitchell Beazley (1993. p13) Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Survival. Reed International
- Our Common Future. (1988 pages 11-14) A perspective by the United Kingdom on the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development produced by the department of the environment
- T.E Graedel and B.R.Allenby (2010) Industrial Ecology and Sustainable Engineering Prentice Hall, New Jersey, USA
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