Green Engineers

Faculty at three engineering colleges are working together on a sustainability curriculum. They want to teach students how to design things like buildings and appliances that use fewer finite resources. The Allegheny Front's Jennifer Szweda Jordan talked with professors and federal regulators who kicked off their work at Carnegie Mellon University.

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OPEN: Faculty at three colleges are trying to change the world of engineering. They want to teach students how to design things like buildings and appliances that use fewer finite resources. The Allegheny Front's Jennifer Szweda Jordan talked with professors and federal regulators as they kicked off their work at Carnegie Mellon University.

JORDAN: Carnegie Mellon Professor Cliff Davidson says traditional engineering faces some serious challenges. To avoid devastation like hunger, and wars over water, oil, and other resources, engineers will have to figure out ways of improved conservation through better transportation, building, and other systems of civilization.

DAVIDSON: Basically the global population, now at 6-point-5 billion, continues to grow and in addition um the standard of living in many developing countries is now rising very quickly which is a good thing.

JORDAN: But Davidson says this increased standard stresses the earth's resources. So he's leading the Center for Sustainable Engineering, a collaboration with the University of Texas at Austin and Arizona State University. Faculty from all three schools are working on curriculum and
textbooks to help a stressed planet. They define sustainable engineering as engineering that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

DAVIDSON: What we need to do is to look at how we can change the way people live um, so that people can be comfortable and have good satisfying lives, but taking into account the fact that the world is finite and resources are finite.

JORDAN: Davidson says the group wants engineers to address the fact that in the U-S, more than a third of energy goes into commercial buildings. He sees the movement toward green buildings as reducing this energy demand, but thinks it must go further with more research into just how much energy is really being saved. Center for Sustainable Engineering faculty would also like to see engineers of the future address how to handle power plant waste, and waste created in manufacturing of appliances. The work is partially a response to what they say is growing student demand for information on sustainability.

AUSTIN: We were talking about this at our last session -- just the enthusiasm alone of the students taking the time to push this.

JORDAN: Sharon Austin, a green engineering program coordinator in the U-S Environmental Protection Agency's chemical branch, met with faculty at C-M-U.

AUSTIN: You have the professor who takes the time to make the class and the kids come. So it's never been an issue of "I don't have enough people signed up for my class." The issue gets to be, "Where do I have the time to put the course together?" And, "Where do I get the resources, and where do I find the case studies, and gosh I need some homework problems that kids don't already have the answers to."

JORDAN: Davidson says the long-term goal is to have all engineers understand and incorporate sustainability into their work.

DAVIDSON: A goal for five years out might be more like to have a sizable number of engineering programs in this country leading to the bachelors,
masters and doctorate of engineering, to include as an important component, sustainable engineering in a way that runs throughout the courses and the
curricula.

JORDAN: For The Allegheny Front, I'm Jennifer Szweda Jordan.