Beth, I agree. I also meant larger societal rewards. For instance, our current manufacturing culture of throwaway products manufactured non-sustainably of non-sustainable materials has the short-term reward of relatively low prices. The culture has decided that low price is the most important reward. So it costs more to buy products made sustainably from sustainable materials because the infrastructure is not set up to optimize those materials' production, sourcing, manufacturing, selling, and distribution processes to the main reward of low price. Yet we're getting a a different set of rewards from their sustainability. It might be possible to get both if our systems and infrastructure were optimized for sustainability.
Ann, you raise a good point about the rewards. Until management mandates and places value on sustainability as a core mission and design goal, it won't matter if an individual engineer has bought off on the practice. Design for long life might require design decisions that are not in keeping with organizations' focus on cost cutting, for example, or other marketing goals. Therefore, there needs to be top-down support across the organizational culture, not just a grass roots passion.
Drat--wave-energy harvesting efforts have been going on a long time. I wonder what the holdup is? In general, though, thanks for this article. These design-for-sustainability efforts are really encouraging. I agree it will require a lot more than engineers' willingness to move from design-for-throwaway to design-for-long-life-and-sustainability. That will take a major shift in thinking, habits, and rewards.
@Ann: I think the wave energy harvesting effort is still pretty nascent, with a handful of companies like HydroVolt experimenting with technology and trying to develop a commercial market. Pretty cool stuff.
I am no expert or novice. I just notice things that interest me from an engineering standpoint . If you look at http://ocsenergy.anl.gov/guide/wave/index.cfm there is an intersting rundown on methods and potentials. But I haven't seen any off the coasts I go by. But I wish I could, although, as a former surfer, I might not be so happy hanging 10 with half a gigawatt!
I think so much of it falls on the head of the consumer. Consumer's have been conditioned to believe that their station in society is measured by having the latest, trendy gadget. Certainly, it's not true of every consumer, nor is it true that every consumer device is designed to fall apart after a couple of years. I have a cell phone that's five years old (I keep it in my pocket so no one can see it), and except for a little chipped fake chrome, the device is still holding up.
Sustainability is an important attribute to every design and is typically specified in the product requirement. Why buy memory that can withstand a million cycles if the product will only be in the field long enough for a thousand cycles? I have a friend of mine that has a WWII war bird. He says one of the issues with his aircraft is that nothing on it was designed to last more than a couple of years for sad, but obvious reasons. The aircraft simply wasn't specified beyond that lifetime.
@Greg: I agree with you, Greg. I think RoHS and some of the other compliance directives are leading the push as are customer requirements for more sustainable products, be in the automotive space or elsewhere. I think there are a variety of different flavors and angles to sustainability in terms of design work, but they will all be a factor.
I'm seeng where design for sustainability is becoming more and more of a factor in product development and design and I expect this trend to grow. To penetrate the European market, products currently have to meet EU RoHS requirements. Also, some domestic states like California are now starting to have their own RoHS regulations. Whatever side you are on, this will continue to be a growing design consideration in the future.
Although plastics make up only about 11% of all US municipal solid waste, many are actually more energy-dense than coal. Converting these non-recycled plastics into energy with existing technologies could reduce US coal consumption, as well as boost domestic energy reserves, says a new study.
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