Why Sustainable Engineering Matters

Sustainability is not a new idea. It’s been around for decades, but it’s probably only during the past decade that we’ve seen a shift in attitude towards what sustainability really means. It’s traditionally been thought of as something of a hindrance; usually an increase to cost and therefore reduction in profit. When presenting clients with design and manufacturing options centred around sustainability, some years ago they’d invariably have favoured the cheapest option at the cost of sustainable design. But attitudes towards sustainability, and our future impact, are changing.

Why Sustainable Engineering Matters

We’re not just recycling and reusing any more - we’re making better choices on materials in the first instance

What is sustainable engineering?

Sustainable engineering, at its simplest, is how we engineer in a way that meets needs right now, without compromising future economical and social well-being, natural resources or the environment. When designing for sustainability, we need to consider every element of the process from concept, production, and ongoing operation, right through to end of life and disposal.

Engineering to reduce waste - the new hot topic

Minimising waste materials, improving energy efficiency and avoiding non-renewables can make a significant difference to the impact of our engineering. Minimising waste in the engineering process isn’t just about our process of design and production; we need to think about what comes next after our job is finished. If we’re talking machinery, for example, we not only need to design and build sustainably ourselves, but our designed machine needs to function efficiently and with minimal waste, too.

We’re in an exciting age of innovation - people are starting to look at sustainability, and waste, in a different way. We’re making leaps in 3D printing and additive manufacturing that significantly reduce waste materials in comparison to traditional machining methods.

Engineers are beginning to think carefully and creatively about the waste created, and what to do with it. Take a look at the Smog Free Project - Daan Roosegaarde has created a tower that acts as a smog vacuum cleaner to clean the air. And what happens to the smog particles the tower removes? They’re compressed and made into jewellery.

Choosing better materials

We’re not just recycling and reusing any more - we’re making better choices on materials in the first instance. When it comes to making decisions, there could be hundreds of suitable materials to do the job, but making a choice in favour of one area can mean there’s a sacrifice to be made in another. Balancing cost and performance demands with environmental impact can be difficult, but making sure choices are sustainable is no longer falling to the bottom of the priorities list. Take anti-corrosion coatings as an example; a decade ago, we may have seen engineers and clients alike choosing options that provided long term protection. Now we’re seeing engineers and clients alike using less toxic coating options that don’t have such negative effects on the environment, but will need reapplying several times during their lifetime.

But it’s not all sacrifice any more. The latest R&D trends for design and construction are bringing new materials choices to the forefront that mean we’re not sacrificing performance for sustainability. We’re talking bio-bricks and self-healing concrete, and we’re even rethinking materials like wood.

When it comes to sustainability, there’s a much greater awareness that we need to start doing our bit now for the generations to come. Long may this focus on engineering for the future continue.

To talk to the Parable team about your next sustainable project, contact us here.

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