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LIFE CYCLE AND THE APPROACHES TO
SUSTAINABILITY RESEARCH
Paper presented at International Conference
on Sustainability Engineering and Science
Auckland, NZ Feb. 20-23, 2007
Professor Michael Overcash
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
North Carolina State University
[email protected]
Sustainability Challenges
• NUMEROUS DEFINITIONS
• NO AGREEMENT FORTHCOMING
• STRATEGY IS THUS MORE
PERCEPTIONAL
• METRICS DEVELOPED PROVIDE
SATISFACTION IN MEASUREMENT
• NOT ALL ISSUES ARE TECHNICAL
Sustainability is a Complex System
• There are other complex systems that have been
addressed by the scientific community
• Research also addresses these complex systems in
a similar fashion
• Two elements are generally needed for research
on complex systems
1) A MACRO MODEL


OBEYS THERMODYNAMIC LAWS AND OTHER
ENGINEERING PRINCIPLES
IS AN INCLUSIVE APPROACH THAT RELATES
MANUFACTURING TO ENVIRONMENT
2) SET OF RESEARCH TOOLS TO
EXPLORE UNDERLYING PHENOMENA
DETAILED BRUNDTLAND
SUSTAINABILITY CONCEPT
TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THE PRESENT WITHOUT
COMPROMISING THE ABILITY OF FUTURE
GENERATIONS TO MEET THEIR OWN NEEDS,
HARMONY MUST BE ACHIEVED AMONG,
1. EXPLOITATION OF RESOURCES
2. DIRECTION OF INVESTMENTS
3. ORIENTATION OF TECHNOLOGICAL
DEVELOPMENT
4. INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE
Sustainability in Economics
This generation must save and invest for
future generations to enjoy a better quality
of life
Edmund S. Phelps
Columbia University
2006 Nobel Prize for Economics
Cleaner production (industry) is an integral
part of the overall environmental context:
 Pollution  GDP 
Population 
Pollution  

 GDP  Population 
WORLD ECONOMIC PYRAMID (Hart, 1997)
Tools for Sustainability Research
• Life cycle is a principal tool for the
environmental and resource areas
• Thus we look at life cycle of large or
complex systems
CONCLUSIONS
• SUSTAINABILITY IS BOTH A FUZZY CONCEPT AND A
PROFOUND AREA FOR QUANTITATIVE/ENGINEERING
RESEARCH
• CHEMICAL ENGINEERING PROFESSIONALS ARE
INCREASINGLY CHALLENGED TO ADDRESS ISSUES OF
SUSTAINABILITY
• LIFE CYCLE INVENTORY REMAINS A CRITICAL TOOL TO
ACHIEVING QUANTITATIVE RESULTS NECESSARY
TO ESTABLISHING NET ENVIRONMENTAL
IMPROVEMENT – THE PATH TO SUSTAINABILITY