Is Sustainable Engineering a new discipline or Really Industrial and Systems Engineering?

Abstract: Since the 2015 adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, sustainability has become a popular term. Climate Change impacts have been tracked and projected by climate scientists. Environmentalists have championed the cause. Leading voices come from all disciplines, many with little background in STEM. Capitalizing on the passion of students, colleges started programs in sustainability and sustainable engineering.

Skills required to identify the problem, gain public engagement, and enact policies, are not those needed to solve the problem. Articles discuss efforts to develop approaches to address the issue, often recreating methods that have long been used in other contexts. Every engineering discipline has jumped on the “sustainable design” bandwagon. It is now part of ABET accreditation standards. The most visible impacts are on the environment, so Environmental Engineering programs have assumed a leadership role, focused on addressing direct impacts not the root causes – human activities. Multidisciplinary Sustainable Engineering curriculums are being developed, so is this too reinventing the wheel?

Sustainable Engineering is about waste reduction, materials management, pollution prevention, process improvement and product enhancement. For more than 100 years, Industrial and Systems Engineers have been developing a body of knowledge to accomplish these requirements.

We will review the evolution of sustainability, various disciplines efforts to address climate change and suggest that to address root causes, there is already a sustainable engineering discipline, and it is called industrial and systems engineering.

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