The Natural Edge Project The Natural Advantage of Nations Whole System Design Factor 5 Cents and Sustainability Higher Education and Sustainable Development




"There is no question that sustainable development and its related issues is one of the most important agendas facing every Australian."
Paul Anderson, BHP Billiton





Principles and Practices in Sustainable Development for the Engineering and Built Environment Professions 


Unit 1 - Redefining Roles

 

Lecture 4: Innovation to achieve Factor 4-10

         

The engineering knowledge and technology currently exists to make significant progress towards meeting basic human needs and advancing more quickly towards sustainable development. It is imperative to apply it now where it is needed the most and can make the most difference.

UNESCO/WFEO, Engineering for a Better World[1]


Educational Aim
 

In order to take advantage of opportunities for innovation and deliver sustainable solutions, a shift must be achieved in the way engineers design and implement projects. But also there is much government and R&D bodies can do as well to ensure that all future research into new technologies seeks to ensure these will be sustainable technologies. Engineers leadership in sustainability would be greatly assisted if governments, R&D bodies, business and engineers worked together to work out how best they can achieve innovations of Factor 4-10.

 

Required Reading

Hargroves, K. and Smith, M.H. (2005) The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century, Earthscan, London:

  1. Chapter 13: National Systems of Innovation (Weaver, P. et al.) (26 pages), pp 244-270.


Learning Points

* 1. It is important for the engineering profession to give careful consideration to the benefits and disadvantages of emerging technologies. Although innovations are intended to provide benefit, there are numerous historical examples of unsuccessful and harmful consequences. But still more innovation for sustainable development is needed. Also Sustainable Technology Assessment processes are needed to ensure all future technological innovations indeed solve problems rather than creating further ‘unforeseen problems’.

* 2. From a technical and an economic perspective, the World Bank in 1992 argued that,[2]

If the environmental policies required are put in place, it is possible to reduce pollution by factors of 10 or more in the most serious cases, even if energy consumption levels (in countries) rise fivefold. Furthermore, developing countries would find themselves better off both economically and environmentally.

* 3. Engineers’ leadership in sustainability would be greatly assisted if governments, R&D bodies, business and engineers worked together. What is needed is for each nation to make the goal of achieving sustainability a key part of its national system of innovation and to work out how best they can achieve innovations of Factor 10 or more.

* 4. A notable example of such a program is the Netherlands’ Government’s Sustainable Technology Development Programme. The Programme found that given future trends in population and consumerism, the Netherlands needs to reduce their load on the environment by at least 90 percent by 2040 to prevent irreparable ecosystem damage. To meet this target, the Programme sought to bring about fundamental changes in the nation’s innovation processes across the major industries and infrastructure sectors.[3] The Netherlands Programme showed that through research it is possible technologically to achieve Factor 10-20 reductions in environmental pressures by 2040 through a range of innovative technological approaches.

* 5. Often due to limited resources and time, engineering innovation has delivered incremental improvements to existing designs or processes over a period of time. In order to radically innovate over the whole system, significant continual improvements are required - in energy efficiency and resource productivity - over a short amount of time, across multiple industry sectors. Furthermore, in many cases designers recognise that the market acceptance of radical technological innovation can only come about with a change in societal behaviour through ‘social’ innovations such as ‘green marketing’. What was remarkable about the Netherlands work was that they had the courage to re-examine whole systems of urban infrastructure, industry, supply chains to investigate how they could move beyond incremental improvements to achieve Factor 10-20 over the next 40 years.

* 6. Such research is vitally important to make sure truly sustainable technologies are developed from now on to ensure, as much as is possible, that new technologies will not create more problems for future generations. Such research by engineers compliments efforts by practicing engineers to keep up to date with the latest new design for sustainability strategies. Such research also is helpful for the engineering profession to successfully deal with increasingly dynamic, sporadic and specialised problems caused by events associated with climate change and a decline in fresh water and the threat of peaking world oil production this century.


Brief Background Information
 

Dr Ir Ron McDowall from the New Zealand Society for Sustainability Engineering and Science, has stated the following:[4]


Efficiencies and design changes will go a long way towards reducing resource consumption but it is not clear if they will be sufficient. Research by Weaver et al (2000) indicates that, in order to achieve sustainability, efficiencies will have to improve by factors of 10- to 50-fold, much higher than can be achieved using cleaner production technologies. This will require a new design concept, new thinking and new methods of producing and harnessing energy.


To achieve such targets, engineering leadership in sustainability would be greatly assisted if governments, R&D bodies, business and engineers worked together to work out how best they can achieve innovations of Factor 10 or more. What is needed is for each nation to make the goal of achieving sustainability a key part of its national system of innovation and to work out how best they can achieve innovations of Factor 10 or more, such as the Netherlands’ Government’s Sustainable Technology Development Programme.


Increased regulatory standards are also prompting companies to reassess their technological products and processes. For many industries and companies they simply must change their technologies to meet higher environmental standards around the world and thus ensure their products can be sold in lucrative markets such as Europe. In the case of the electrical and electronics industry the European Union is setting strict directives as to allowable levels of waste and hazardous substances. These directives will have a direct and immediate impact on the ability of many countries manufacturing industries to export to the European Union. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, enforced as of August 31st 2005, imposes ‘take back’ obligations on producers and distributors of a wide range of products such as appliances, IT, lighting and telecommunications equipment, tools, medical devices and motor vehicles. The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive; enforced as of July 1st 2006, enforces the reduction or elimination of hazardous substances within products (such as lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium).


Rather than being reactive to such new regulation some countries are being proactive. The German government has developed an ingenious form of regulation that helps drive better environmental outcomes while making German industry more competitive. The rest of Europe, including Eastern Europe, have now followed Germany’s lead. The ‘German Best Available Technology’ legislation does not involve mandating specific technologies, rather, the German Government upwardly adjusts standards that industry has to meet based on the standards met by the best and most cost effective available technologies. In theory then, whenever a new and improved technology is created globally, German industry is expected to meet the environmental standard achieved by that technology. Of course, regulatory practise is more flexible, ambiguous and much less instantaneous. However, it is sufficient to provide significant incentive for German firms to develop new technologies that make it cheaper for them to meet the competition from the best available technologies globally.

Extract: Innovation Practices and Sustainable Technology (Sustainable Technology Development)
[5]

The STD programme was established with the ambition of bringing about fundamental changes in innovation practices. It arose from an inquiry by the Dutch Commission for Long-Term Environmental Policy (CLTM) into the role of tech¬nology in achieving sustainability, whose main conclusion-that usual innovation practices offer no prospect of technology playing anything other than a peripheral role in achieving sustainable development-was one of enormous significance. It even cast doubt over the feasibility of ever achieving sustainability… In effect, usual innovation practice was declared incapable of delivering technologies and business plans compatible with sustainability.


However, this diagnosis of why usual innovation practices are generally incapable of delivering sustainable technologies also provides opportunity. The conclusion of the CLTM inquiry was not that technology would be incapable of playing a major role in the achievement of sustainability or that technologies capable of delivering substantial resource productivity improvements are not, in principle, feasible. On the contrary, members of the inquiry panel were convinced about the possibilities of developing and implementing sustainable technologies. Their concern - reflected in their conclusion - was that usual innovation processes and practices would not lead automatically to technologies compatible with sustainable development. To change the situation, a substantial effort would be needed to try to influence long-term research, technology development and innovation practices in the direction of sustainability.


Programme Aspect The Challenge Set Achievements
Overall
To achieve Factor 10 - 50 in 50 years from 1990 (i.e. by 2040) - depending on the issue (For example, fossil carbon emissions: Factor 25, oil: Factor 40, copper: Factor 30, acid deposition: Factor 50).
Nutrition
High technology closed-cycle horticulture
  CO2 waste can be cut by Factor 8 (87%) and water by Factor 18 (94%).
Chemical and industrial materials
By 2040 no fossil fuel use to source industrial organic chemicals/materials and Factor 20 improvement in efficiency of eco-capacity use. Many promising technology changes identified but no quantitative results reported.
Sourcing organic chemical feed stocks To supply sufficient biomass to source organic chemicals and materials (plastics, liquid fuels, etc), and to find effective chemical pathways from biomass to needed organics chemical materials.

The quantity of biomass that can be produced is adequate for chemicals and materials, but there is a shortfall for liquid fuel.

Feasible synthesis routes were available for practically all major commodity products. The quantity of phenolic compounds sourced from biomass may not be adequate.

Biomass production on saline soils To find halophytic plants that produce useful biomass as feedstock for the production of chemical products so that biomass production can be expanded by utilizing otherwise unavailable salinised land. Several appropriate halophytic plants are available.
Motor vehicle propulsion
Hydrogen fuel / fuel cell cars
To find alternative renewable energy ‘carrier’ fuel(s) (with high end-use conversion efficiency to offset any inefficiency of initial production) that can provide the based for a significant Dutch industry to replace fossil fuel oil in the refinery sector.

Hydrogen fuel (or hydrogen-rich liquid carriers, such as cyclohexane and methanol) were identified as possible alternatives.

A hydrogen-fuelled fuel cell car could have an increased energy efficiency of Factor 1.75 (43%) compared to conventional internal combustion engine cars. Renewable energy use with carbon removal from the fuel and carbon sequestration could enable CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere.


Table 4.1.
Results of the Netherlands Sustainable Technology Development Programme
Source: Weaver, P. et al (2000)[6]

 

Key References


- Boyle, C., Te Kapa Coates, G., Macbeth, A., Shearer, I. and Wakim, N. (2006) Sustainability and Engineering in New Zealand Practical Guidelines for Engineers. Accessed 5 January 2007.


- Weaver, P., Jansen, L., van Grootveld, G., van Spiegel, E. and Vergragt, P. (2000) Sustainable Technology Development, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK. First chapter available at http://www.greenleaf-publishing.com/content/pdfs/stdch1.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007.

- Hawken, P., Lovins, A.B. and Lovins, L.H. (1999) Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, Earthscan, London, Chap 1: The Next Industrial Revolution. (www.natcap.org)


- Lovins, A.B., Datta, E.K., Feiler, T., Rabago, K.R., Swisher, J.N., Lehmann, A. and Wicker, K. (2002) Small is Profitable: the hidden economic benefits of making electrical resources the right size, Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, Colorado. (www.smallisprofitable.org)


- Lovins, A., Datta, E.K., Bustnes, O., Koomey, J.G. and Glascow, N.J. (2004) Winning The Oil Endgame: Innovation for Profits, Jobs, and Security, Rocky Mountain Institute, Colorado/Earthscan, London. Available at www.oilendgame.org. Accessed 5 January 2007.

 

Key Words for Searching Online


National systems of innovation, Netherlands Sustainable Technology Development programme. Biomimicry, distributed generation, emerging enabling technologies, fuel cell technology, materials science, nanotechnology, optoelectronics.

 

[1] World Ferdation of Engineering Organisations (n.d.) Engineering for a Better World. Available at http://www.wfeo.org/. Accessed 5 January 2007. (Back)

[2] Anderson, D. (1992) ‘Economic Growth and the Environment’, Background Paper for the World Bank (1992) World Development Report 1992, World Bank, Washington D.C. (Back)

[3] Weaver, P., Jansen, L., van Grootveld, G., van Spiegel, E. and Vergragt, P. (2000) Sustainable Technology Development, Greenleaf Publishing, Sheffield, UK. (Back)

[4] Boyle, C., Te Kapa Coates, G., Macbeth, A., Shearer, I. and Wakim, N. (2006) Sustainability and Engineering in New Zealand Practical Guidelines for Engineers. Available at www.ipenz.org.nz/ipenz/media_comm/documents/SustainabilityDoc_000.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007. (Back)

[5] Extract taken from Weaver, P et al. (2000) Sustainable Technology Development, Greenleaf Publishing, London, p 18. (Back)

[6] Weaver, P et al. (2000) Sustainable Technology Development, Greenleaf Publishing, London. Summarised by Phillip Sutton in Hargroves, K. and Smith, M.H. (2005) The Natural Advantage of Nations, Earthscan, London, Chap 13: National Systems of Innovation by Paul Weaver, Table 13.1. (Back)

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