[EAS] Greening in Academia

Peter J. Kindlmann pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Jun 18 00:15:17 EDT 2007

Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2007 08:44:40 -0700
From: Rick Reis <reis at stanford.edu>
Subject: TP Msg. #804 Live Green or Die - Can Engineering Schools "go
	green" Fast  Enough to Save Our Planet?
To: tomorrows-professor at lists.stanford.edu
Message-ID: <p06230907c28f29c65121@[]>
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The posting below looks at the growth of multidisciplinary 
sustainability programs on college campuses.   It is by Jo Ellen 
Meyers Sharp a freelance writer based in Indianapolis and is from the 
April 2007, Volume 16, No. 8. <http://www.asee.org/prism/>. ? 
Copyright 2007 American Society for Engineering Education, 1818 N 
Street, N.W., Suite 600 Washington, DC 20036-2479. All rights 
reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
reis at stanford.edu

			Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

           ------------------------------------------ 1,508 words 

	Live Green or Die - Can Engineering Schools "go  green" Fast 
Enough to Save Our Planet?

Sustainable: (adj.) using resources so they are not depleted or 
permanently damaged.

Growing up in Oregon, Brianna Dorie never cared about eco-buzzwords. 
But she did treasure the environment-to the point it determined her 
career path. "I actually decided to become an environmental engineer 
after learning about the hole in the ozone layer as a kid," recalls 
Dorie, now a first-year doctoral student in environmental engineering 
at Purdue University, where she's researching the public-health 
impact of fire retardants in electronics and other products. "I 
thought at an early age that it could be fixed."

Dorie, a University of Portland civil engineering graduate with a 
master's in environmental engineering from the University of Arizona, 
is among a new generation of students eager to protect the planet. 
Their favored tool: green engineering. The eco-friendly focus has 
prompted the nation's engineering schools to examine their offerings 
and rethink overall educational philosophies to give conservation and 
sustainability the high priority the public and industry now demand.

Purdue's College of Engineering is a leader in revamping the 
curriculum to emphasize environmental considerations across 
disciplines. The goal is to infuse sustainability principles 
throughout courses and projects. Purdue's dean, Leah H. Jamieson, 
Ransburg Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, sees the 
new eco-focus as "an opportunity for engineering and science to be 
perceived as a profession that is very squarely in the realm of 
societal responsibility and meeting global challenges." Engineers 
have enhanced life with sewer systems and power grids. Now, 
"sustainability is part of the global discussion," notes Jamieson.

Such "grand challenges for humanity" help draw students like Dorie to 
engineering. Her research, for instance, focuses on public policy and 
the life cycle of brominated flame retardants, ubiquitous organic 
compounds that prevent pajamas, electronics and other items from 
catching fire. Elevated levels have been found in mammals, raising 
concerns about their toxicological effects. Some countries and states 
have banned their use. By analyzing the environmental impact of these 
"micropollutants" from manufacture through use, recycling and 
disposal, Dorie hopes to discover ways to reduce their potential harm.

Every year, Jamieson encounters students like Dorie who "want to 
improve the world." Many once hesitated to speak up for fear of 
ridicule. Today's campus, says Jamieson, is far more welcoming. 
Revamped, multidisciplinary courses have made students more aware of 
the role their work can play in tackling global problems. At Purdue's 
Global Sustainable Industrial Systems research center, for instance, 
projects include analyzing the ecological impact of everything from 
manufacturing to political processes.

"There's a real climate of collaboration right now," says Jamieson, 
who cites such factors as the increase in public interest, industry's 
need to meet environmental regulations and concerns over the 
availability and cost of oil and gas. Biofuels research is a prime 
example of this growing cooperation. It not only brings together such 
diverse disciplines as agricultural science, chemistry and 
engineering, but government and industry as well.

To foster collaboration and spur more engineering schools to address 
environmental issues, the National Science Foundation and the 
Environmental Protection Agency have funded research to develop 
benchmarks, methods and other best practices related to teaching 
sustainability. A $2 million federal grant, for example, supported 
the development of Carnegie Mellon University's new Center for 
Sustainable Engineering (CSE)-a partnership with the University of 
Texas at Austin and Arizona State University. The goal: help future 
engineers preserve scarce resources through faculty workshops, 
peer-reviewed educational materials and benchmarks to identify 
high-quality course content at the nation's 1,500 engineering 

"We are looking at all sustainable engineering programs to see what's 
out there, which schools have them and to determine best practices," 
explains Carnegie Mellon civil and environmental engineering 
professor Cliff Davidson, CSE co-principal investigator. Engineers 
can no longer ignore arenas beyond their specialty, he says. Thus, 
CSE's partner institutions push students and faculty to develop 
solutions across traditional department lines. For example, Carnegie 
Mellon recently established a program to work with local leaders and 
businesses to restore abandoned industrial sites and other polluted 

Part of the difficulty in promoting sustainable engineering, says CSE 
co-principal investigator Braden Allenby, professor of civil and 
environmental engineering and ethics at Arizona State's Ira A. Fulton 
School of Engineering, is that it tends to invite platitudes rather 
than practice. Federal grants, he says, will aid in "figuring out 
ways to do better engineering now and to train our students to 
consider the environmental and social implications of their actions."

Some students already are blazing the way. Carnegie Mellon doctoral 
student Shahzeen Attari, who is pursuing dual degrees in engineering 
and public policy and civil and environmental engineering, is typical 
of these multidisciplined minds. The public knows "something is wrong 
with the current system," Attari says. "The fact that we consume 
resources without taking the impact into consideration, the mounting 
effects of climate change and the fact we are no longer connected to 
the land all start adding up and start people thinking." Attari seeks 
to harness psychology to change behavior by creating messages, 
procedures and incentives that communities could use to persuade 
residents to reduce consumption of materials that emit carbon 
dioxide. Some sustainability messages already are raising public 
awareness, Attari notes, such as "buy local" and consume less.

"People like the freedom to choose their lifestyles, what they 
consume and when they consume it," observes Attari. "However, the 
environment is a 'commons' that we share with other citizens of the 
world, and when individual choices start negatively impacting others, 
we need to understand how to change or alter those behaviors."

Global Greening

Academia's increased focus on environmentalism spans the globe. The 
Institution of Engineers Australia, the country's accrediting body 
for engineering education, has taken the lead in addressing the 
paucity of environmental content. It spearheaded the formation of a 
nonprofit sustainability think-tank called the Natural Edge Project, 
which pools research from myriad engineering-school and 
environmental-group partners and posts relevant textbooks, scientific 
papers and research on its Web site, www.naturaledgeproject.net/. 
Recently, the organization began developing curricula with individual 

Although Australia includes sustainability in its national 
engineering graduate competency standards, the accrediting body found 
little to support the concept in the classroom. "Anecdotal evidence 
suggests strongly that the level of integration within Australian 
universities is still marginal, even within the environmental 
engineering degree programs, which have been traditionally observed 
as the leaders in this area," says Natural Edge Project education 
coordinator Cheryl Paten. She predicts demand for environmental 
expertise is bound to surge as the region's population explodes. 
"Australia has a significant opportunity to lead by example," she 
believes, by providing engineering graduates "with the tools that can 
really make a difference."

Closer to home, a dash of internationalism has made a big difference 
for undergrads at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. 
For the past six years, groups have spent one week in Mannheim, 
Germany, touring corporations and local government offices in a 
three-credit course called GO GREEN. (The acronym stands for Green 
Organizations: Global Responsibility for Economic and Environmental 
Necessity.) Germany is a leader in sustainable development, and 
students return from overseas-host partner Berufsakademie Mannheim is 
a cooperative education university-with keener insights into the link 
between concept and commerce.

Most important, the students get to observe sustainability principles 
applied in daily life, from how employers conserve materials to "fair 
trade" products at grocery stores. "Students see how Germans recycle 
because it costs them money to throw things away," explains Patricia 
Fox, associate dean for administration and finance and assistant 
professor of organization leadership and supervision at the Purdue 
School of Engineering and Technology on the Indianapolis campus. 
"They come back asking 'Why aren't we doing this?' " Future engineers 
aren't the only undergrads learning to GO GREEN; the program includes 
majors in interior design, business, public and environmental 
affairs, art and communications.

These summer trips have spawned student as well as faculty reports on 
such topics as green roof designs, renewable energy, sustainable 
adhesives and the differences between sustainability practices in 
America and Europe. Several papers have been presented at the World 
Business Council for Sustainable Development conferences in Geneva, 
and at ASEE meetings.

Mechanical engineering student Michael Reed, a 2006 participant, says 
the Mannheim experience changed his career path. "Before this trip, I 
was certain that I wanted to use my degree for a career in 
manufacturing," he reflects. Reed now aims "to make a difference" in 
manufacturing. "I want to be one of the engineers who helps the 
United States become sustainable, along with the rest of the world."

Overseas travel "has definitely had an impact on the way I perceive 
life here in America and on the way I plan on conducting myself both 
personally and professionally," concurs Alan Benedict, another 
mechanical engineering student in the 2006 group. "I have never 
really considered myself wasteful. However, I have always measured my 
conduct against a very wasteful model. Now that I have been to 
Germany, I see waste in the United States where I did not see it 
before." Such revelations promise to transform engineering education 
even as it propels students like Benedict and Dorie toward greener 
frontiers, primed to protect Earth's future.

Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis.

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