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Sustainable Development – Where To Begin?

Posted on February 1st, 2016 by in Chemical R&D


We’ve looked before at how our decisions can impact the environment, but sustainable development is about much more than that.

While we can’t ignore the effect our design, development and manufacturing decisions have on the environment (for better or for worse), it’s important to see that effect as just a part of the puzzle of sustainable development. Developing products and processes in a sustainable way requires us to consider a much broader spectrum of factors.

Taking the word back to it’s roots, sustainability is concerned with the endurance of systems and processes. Every product that’s developed ultimately forms a part of a larger system. Sometimes that larger system will be easy to visualize (like an engine being considered a part of an aircraft) but sometimes aspects of the larger system can become quite abstract (for instance, an aircraft being part of a system which provides an aerial defense capability for a country or region).

Quite often, the larger system or process that we’re considering has a range of components which wander quite some way from the expertise of the engineers, technicians and scientists who are making the day-to-day development decisions. Cultural, economical, ecological and political factors could all come into play.

And so to achieve truly sustainable development, we need to be able to think in broad terms. As well as designing and developing the product or process we’re focusing on, we need to think about how it fits into the bigger picture. How will it be produced? How will it be maintained? How will it be disposed of? We need to think about the whole lifecycle, not just the parts that are easiest to define or the parts that we’re closely involved with at the time.

Over my next couple of posts, I’ll take a closer look at some models or frameworks which can be used to put a design and development program in context. We’ll look at some of the lifecycle stages and questions to think about if we’re aiming for truly sustainable development.

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