Sustainability in Engineered Systems

Engineered systems manipulate natural resources to deliver energy, water, food, shelter, entertainment, healthcare, etc. to billions of people every day. The materials used as inputs and the waste flows that result from designing, implementing, and maintaining these systems often result in environmental degradation and decreased materials availability. As global populations increase and become more affluent there is a need to develop technologies to meet growing demands with the resources available from the Earth.

This course will enable students to understand how engineered systems utilize and impact natural resources and ecosystems; how technology and society interact to define our current reality; and, familiarize students with quantitative tools for evaluating the sustainability and resilience of systems. Topics include: Earth Systems Engineering and Management; Life Cycle Assessment; Industrial Ecology; and Materials Flow Analysis. 

Introduction to Life Cycle Assessment

This course will prepare students to conduct Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) for products, processes, and services. LCA is an increasingly popular approach for evaluating the environmental, energetic, economic and/or social costs of a product, process or service over the entire supply chain.


Quantitative, skillful, life-cycle thinking is critical to ensuring that society achieves intended goals when designing systems to meet needs and desires.

  • When we design electric cars are we considering the upstream emissions associated with a coal-dominated power system (and how would a solar-based system improve this possibility)?

  • Will manufacturing line A or B yield less greenhouse gas emissions? …or is the materials selection more important than either assembly line?

  • Is a vegetarian diet really better than an omnivorous diet? How does the answer change with production method, distance to consumer, post-harvest/slaughter processing?


These are all questions that can be answered with LCA thinking and techniques and these skills are increasingly of value to employers.