Introduction to Industrial Engineering

By Jane M. Fraser

Chapter 5

The IE Approach

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5.6 Sustainability

The Brundtland Commission (also called the World Commission on Environment and Development) defined sustainable development as

development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Recycling is an important part of sustainability. For example, consumers can buy carpet made from nylon fiber recycled from old carpet. When the consumer wants to dispose of carpet made from Nylon 6, manufacturers will take back the old carpet and recycle it into new carpet. According to a March 2000 article from Flooring Magazine, reproduced at the website of Floortec Sales, Inc., other types of old carpet are being used to manufacture products such as "engine fan shrouds, air cleaners, plastic lumber, car­pet cushion and resilient flooring."

The collection, analysis, and reuse of old carpet has presented challenges. For example, the old carpet must be analyzed in order to determine its content and to plan its reuse. The Carpet and Rug Institute has developed a Carpet Component Identification Code (CCIC) to make identification and reuse easier. The carpet industry and government are working together through Carpet America Recovery Efforts (CARE) to prevent used carpet from being sent to landfills. Initiatives include designing ways to economically collect used carpet, developing new products, and finding markets for the new products.

The benefits of recycling have been long known, but the reverse logistics of collecting items for remanufacturing is daunting. In 1981 Brown wrote (page 191):

The energy required to recycle aluminum is only 4 percent of that required to produce it from bauxite, the original raw material, while the energy to recycle copper is only a tenth that used to produce the original materal. For steel produced entirely from scrap, the saving amounts to some 47 percent. Recycling newsprint saves 23 percent of the energy embodied inthe product and also reduces the pressure on forests: a ton of recycled newsprint saves a ton of wood, a dozen trees. Recycling glass containers saves 8 percent, but returnable glass containers, of course, save far more energy.

The EPA gave the following recycling rates for 2003 for paper products.

The EPA stated that "36 percent of all aluminum in containers and packaging was recovered for recycling in 2003" and that "about 22 percent of the 10.9 million tons of glass was recovered for recycling." The EPA website on municipal solid waste has many interesting facts. Electronic waste (computers, cell phones, and so forth) is an increasing problem because of the toxic chemicals in such equipment: fire retardant, cadmium, mercury, and lead.

Recycling is difficult because of the need to collect waste from consumers (at curbside or at drop off centers), the need to sort waste (for example, sorting glass containers by color and removing contaminants such as metal caps), and the need for companies to have a steady source of supply of high quality waste material.

The same supply chain that delivers a company's product to consumers can, to some extent, be used to return that product. The phrase "reverse logistics" refers to the return of goods for refund, repair, and recycling. UPS, for example, offers to help companies with Asset Recovery and Recycling Management. Reverse Logistics Provides Green Benefits describes how Coors, Dell, and other companies are recovering and reusing material from consumers.

Sustainability involves more than recycling. Hawken (page 12) states that production processes that use nonrenewable resources, that require excessive amount of energy, or that generate waste are not sustainable.

All engineers have a role to play in achieving sustainability. Some aspects of sustainability relate more to civil engineering - building design - or mechanical engineering - product design. IEs have a large role to play in designing sustainable practices because we focus on the reduction of waste and because we recognize that optimizing a part of system may cause suboptimization of the entire system. The concepts of life cycle analysis and systems analysis that underlie sustainability clearly relate to industrial engineering and industrial engineers should be leading in this new field.

In "Life" is Our Ultimate Customer: From Lean to Sustainability, Gary Langenwalter points out that

"Only six percent of materials actually end up in products"

and that

"Short-term financial returns always trump longer-term issues such as caring for the environment and social well being until the long term suddenly becomes short term - like Hurricane Katrina."

Langenwalter discusses the reasons to aim for sustainability and the way that lean manufacturing methods apply. The green@work magazine reports on efforts by companies to move toward sustainability. Companies work together through the United States Business Council for Sustainable Development. CERES “is a national network of investment funds, environmental organizations and other public interest groups working to advance environmental stewardship on the part of businesses.” Its “mission is to move businesses, capital, and markets to advance lasting prosperity by valuing the health of the planet and its people.”

Some engineering societies have added sustainability to their codes of ethics. In November 1996, the ASCE (American Society for Civil Engineering) amended the first Fundamental Canon of its code of ethics to read:

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.

The ASCE gave this definition of sustainable development:

“Sustainable development” is the challenge of meeting human needs for natural resources, industrial products, energy, food, transportation, shelter, and effective waste management while conserving and protecting environmental quality and the natural resource base essential for future development.

In January 2006, the NSPE (National Society of Professional Engineers) amended its code to include the following statement:

Engineers shall strive to adhere to the principles of sustainable development in order to protect the environment for future generations.

The Institute of Engineers in India, The Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand, The World Federation of Engineering Organisations, and The Japan Society of Civil Engineers, among others, have statements about sustainability in their codes of ethics. The code of ethics of the Institute of Industrial Engineers does not include any statement about sustainability.

Some universities have created centers on topics related to sustainability.

The Board of Directors of the ASEE (American Society for Engineering Education) adopted a statement in 1999 including this sentence:

ASEE believs that engineering graduates must be prepared by their education to use sustainable engineering techniques in the practice of their profession and to take leadership roles in facilitating sustainable development in their communities.

Many universities and colleges are offering courses in some aspect of sustainable engineering.

Sustainable Pueblo is a group working to help Pueblo apply sustainable practices. Sustainable Pueblo lists five principles:

Meetings of Sustainable Pueblo committees are open to anyone. You can sign up to receive information.