February 10, 2017
Humanitarian Engineering Principle Eight: Design for Sustainability
contributor: Kevin M Passino
This is the eighth in a series of principles based on the textbook Humanitarian Engineering: Creating Technologies that Help People, by Kevin Passino. The series is adapted by the author for Engineering for Change. Download Humanitarian Engineering, 3rd Edition, for free.
Designers and engineers must design for sustainability and keep the concept in mind at all stages of a humanitarian engineering project. With forethought, you may realize that there are some projects you will not even want to engage in as they use too many non-renewable resources or pollute too much, or both (e.g., during construction, operation, or maintenance of a technology).
You want the design and use cycle to be compatible with natural resource cycles so that the environment can absorb pollution or re-generate resources. You do not want the rate of resource use and pollution generation to be so high that the environment cannot absorb it. Sometimes, product design that takes into account resource use and pollution in all its facets, is called “life-cycle design” or “design for the environment.” It takes into account each and every step in the design process.
During needs assessment, some needs may be immediately dismissed if meeting those needs will result in too much damage to the environment. Often, however, it is a challenge to the engineer to provide a technology that can meet the need without excessive resource depletion or pollution. This can require great competence on the part of the engineer, sometimes departing from standard (old) practices on how to deploy a technology.
It is incumbent on humanitarian engineers to respect the environment, more so than has been done in the past. In this way we can ensure that while promoting human development we do not at the same time destroy the planet.