Like other sustainable business practices, sustainable engineering is a mode of operation that attempts to use as few finite resources as possible to achieve a certain goal. Sustainable engineering is an interdisciplinary practice that is not limited to so-called environmental or ecological engineering. Given that most engineers are attracted to the profession because they are problem-solvers at heart, the challenge of working sustainably is something that the brightest minds in the sector are now turning to. Sustainable engineering can be found in geotechnical services, structural engineering and even big civil projects. What are the four principles that underpin the discipline?

1. Waste Reduction

There are four main ways that sustainable engineering is put into practice. One of these is in waste reduction. Essentially, this means that every part of an engineering process is designed to waste as little as possible. When cutting components, for example, you might engineer it in such a way that as few off-cuts are created as is feasible. However, the manner by which the components might be cut would also be looked at to ensure that only the minimum amount of energy is being used in the process.

2. Materials Management

In order to operate sustainably, engineers must look at all of the material choices that are being made. Of course, any material that can be derived from recycled products is a good start, but the overall energy consumption needed to reprocess a material must also be taken into account. Although long product life cycles can mitigate high reprocessing energy costs, it is usually best to choose fully sustainable materials in the first place.

3. Pollution Prevention

Many engineering processes require heat or energy consumption to take effect. All of this might create only a little pollution in the local environment, but it could add to global carbon emissions. Therefore, a very wide outlook on what constitutes pollution should be taken by engineers. It is not simply about eliminating contaminants from local water sources, doing away with nearby airborne particles and so on.

4. Product Enhancement

Whether an engineer is designing a part of a building, a manufacturing process or a consumer gadget, the aim is to produce something long-lasting and useful. Sustainable engineering is focused on enhancements that will mean the maximum amount of use can be obtained from a product or process over its lifespan so that overall consumption is driven downwards. In short, it favours long-term designs rather than those which add to the throwaway culture.