Quantifying Sustainability in System Design Education

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A standard definition of sustainability as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” requires the ability to identify and quantify needs as well as quantify a compromised ability of future generations to meet their needs. In a new engineering course in the “Appropriate and Sustainable Engineering” program, Seattle Pacific University is addressing how to analyze systems during the design activity to address such sustainability issues, including the use of exergy and resource depletion as measurable effects of systems; the consideration of life-cycle phases of development; manufacturing, testing, operations, and disposal; decision-making considering sustainability trade-off criteria; and managing life-cycle and design resources. Specific system design and analysis techniques are also included such as considerations for human-systems integration and safety and reliability in all life-cycle phases. Being able to quantify the sustainability measures yields an ability to quantitatively differentiate among competing alternative system designs based on specific life-cycle considerations and quantified sustainability impacts