Chemical engineering in an unsustainable world: Obligations and opportunities

Byrne, E. P. and Fitzpatrick, J. J. (2009) Chemical engineering in an unsustainable world: Obligations and opportunities. pp. 51-67. ISSN 17497728 (ISSN)


Human society faces a set of unprecedented challenges emanating from the unsustainable nature of the current societal model. The creation of a new sustainable societal construct is required, essentially adopting a needs based approach over one based on ever increasing consumption. Failure to achieve this will result in the widespread destruction of our increasingly stressed environment followed quickly by inevitable collapse of society as we know it, both socially and economically. Technology alone is insufficient to meet the challenges at hand; ecological, social and economic considerations must be incorporated through a multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary approach. Because chemical engineers possess a core set of threshold concepts which are central to a sustainable society, and because engineers will ultimately help design any new society, they bear a moral and ethical responsibility to play an active and indeed central role in its development. A new engineering paradigm is required therefore, whereby sustainability becomes the context of engineering practice. To achieve this, a sustainability informed ethos must prevail throughout engineering curricula. Both professional institutions and educators bear responsibility in ensuring this happens without delay. Some key threshold concepts are presented here to demonstrate how this can be advanced through the chemical engineering curriculum. © 2009 The Institution of Chemical Engineers.

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