It's hard to shake the feeling that our engineering profession has missed something about "sustainability". Something fundamental in our society that interferes with understanding how it fits our code of ethics. I wondered if I could find our profession truly integrating "sustainability" into our engineering.

Read Leena Iyengar's piece in The community resilience reader and you get stark perspective.

We often use our individual perspectives and gut understandings to get closer to sustainability. We often green our offices. Yet are we only now, after more than forty years, beginning to apply rigorous methods to integrate "sustainability" into our actual engineering practices? Let's explore.

Successfully practising engineering and geoscience that helps achieve a sustainable human society demands deep study beyond our professional practice guidelines.

As a mid-career professional, I must make sure that my practice meets or exceeds the professional practice guidelines that Engineers and Geoscientists British Columbia publishes. For sustainability, we need to follow Sustainability Professional Practice Guidelines, BC, V1.1.

Our sustainability guideline reminds us of how our profession defines sustainability as well as the five recognized guidelines for professional practice. We primarily use the three-part Brundtland definition with some added perspective under each element: environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability. Let's explore.

Let's recap a good foundation for understanding sustainability.

Alex Magnin summarizes sustainability best in his short Youtube videos [1] [2] and crash course [3]. He covers the three pillars of the Brundtland Report definition and how to see the relationship between life (the biosphere) and the earth (lithosphere) through thermodynamics, including the funnel between carrying capacity and societal pressure -- the Natural Step Framework [4] (28 years ago).

We live in the biosphere... a cycle that is well balanced... Very slow geological cycles bring matter from the lithosphere... to the biosphere... these cycles are also well balanced... Sustainability is the capacity of our human society to continue indefinitely within these natural cycles.

20 years ago

John B. Robinson, George Francis, Sally Lerner, and Russel Legge, provided an excellent summary of sustainability in "Defining a Sustainable Society" [5].

Sustainability is the persistence over an apparently indefinite future of certain necessary and desired characteristics of the sociopolitical system and its natural environment.

(still developing article)

Download this file (Begin-sustainability.pdf)Begin-sustainability.pdf[Draft Broad Summary]389 kB
Download this file (sustainability-misc.pdf)sustainability-misc.pdf[Questions and notes]616 kB

Engineers often think of two types of resilience. [1] The complex and adaptive nature of reality forces us into one type of resilience: social-ecological resilience.

Resilience is the capacity to deal with change and continue to develop. [1]

The very nature of the intricate inter-dependencies between human society and the ecology within which we live demands we consider all our systems as social-ecological ones.