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A Pathway Towards Sustainability How the engineering profession can contribute to the movement towards sustainability by William A. Wallace Sr. Vice President CH2M HILL presented to the Engineers International Roundtable National Academy of Engineering 13 September 2002

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A Pathway Towards Sustainability

How the engineering profession can contribute to the movement towards sustainability


William A. Wallace

Sr. Vice President


presented to the

Engineers International Roundtable

National Academy of Engineering

13 September 2002

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Moving Toward a Sustainable Future

  • How do you shift from a non-sustainable pathway toward a sustainable pathway?

  • Problems

    • Legacy investment in non-sustainable technologies, processes and systems

    • Sustainable development viewed as an expense, not as an opportunity

    • Poor environment for innovation

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Three Steps

  • Develop a practical awareness of the sustainable development issue

  • Create a sustainable project roadmap

  • Develop a sustainability knowledge base

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Developing a Practical Awareness of the Sustainable Development Issue

Is sustainable development an issue worthy of concern? What are the metrics of sustainability

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Social Structure Development Issue


Resource Recovery

Discarded Materials, Wastes


Ecological Resources (Renewable)

Carrying Capacity

Not Economically Retrievable

Not Economically Retrievable

Minerals, Metals, Fuels Resources (Non-Renewable)

Production - Consumption Model

Resource Extraction, Harvesting

Process, Modify Resources

Convey, Transport





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Conditions for Sustainability Development Issue

  • Renewable resources (ecological)

    • Use < Regeneration

  • Non-renewable resources (minerals, fuels)

    • Use < Development of renewable substitutes

  • Pollution emissions

    • Emissions < Carrying capacity of environment

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The Debate Over Sustainability Development Issue



Ecological Resources (Renewable)

No real resource shortages

Little ecological damage

Substantial ecological damage

Impending resource shortages

Reaching carrying capacity

Carrying capacity not in jeopardy

Minerals, Metals, Fuels Resources (Non-Renewable)

No real resource shortages

Technology not capable of making additional needed resources economically available

Impending Resource Shortages

Technological advances will continue to “save the day”

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Creating A Sustainable Project Roadmap Development Issue

If sustainability is an important issue, then how will we change course? Making progress project by project.

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Approach Development Issue

  • Create a sustainability framework for evaluation

  • Advance the state-of-the-practice

    • Determine current state of the practice

    • Set targets based on best-in-class technologies, achievements by others

    • Evaluate using sustainability-based criteria

    • Systems evaluation

  • Sustainability is a journey, not a binary choice

  • Economic viability is critical!

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Five-Step Process Development Issue

  • Step 1: Project Vision

    • Where are you going

  • Step 2: Fatal flaw analysis

    • What issues might cause the project to fail?

  • Step 3: Benchmarking

    • What existing projects can be used as indicators and benchmarks for sustainable development?

  • Step 4: Sustainable technologies

    • Which technologies can be incorporated into the design that meet SD principles?

  • Step 5: Systems integration

    • Do systems meet target benchmarks?

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World of Technologies Development Issue

World of Projects



Do integrated systems meet target benchmarks?

Project vision

Fatal Flaws?



Abandon Project

Process Flowchart

Pass SD screening?

Is project usable for benchmarking?







Define Project Concept







Final target benchmark, integrated SD systems.

Revise systems or benchmarks

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Developing a Sustainability Knowledge Base Development Issue

Develop and maintain a knowledge base of sustainable projects and technologies

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Developing a Sustainability Knowledge Base Development Issue

  • Scan the world of technologies

    • Evaluate technologies against sustainability criteria

    • Use a sustainability framework (TNS, other)

  • Scan the world of projects

    • Learn and record what has been achieved

    • Verify performance

  • Maintain and disseminate the information

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Technology Evaluation Development Issue

*1 is most sustainable, 5 is least sustainable

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Engineering for Developing Communities Development IssueThe Developing World as the Classroom of the 21st Century

Earth Systems Engineering

Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder

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Challenge Development Issue

Training of engineers:

  • who have the skills and tools appropriate to address the issues that our planet is facing today and is likely to face within the next 20 years

  • who are aware of the needs of the developing world

  • who can contribute to the relief of the endemic problems of poverty afflicting developing communities worldwide

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Earth Systems Engineering Development Issue

”ESE is a multidisciplinary (engineering, science, social science, and governance) process of solution development that takes a holistic view of natural and human system interactions. The goal of ESE is to better understand complex, nonlinear systems of global importance and to develop the tools necessary to implement that understanding”

(National Academy of Engineering, 2000)

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Earth Systems Engineering Development Issue











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University Development Issue



Engineering for Developing Communities Outreach Component

Students, Technology, Training, Education

CU Program

Engineering for Developing Countries

(Education, R&D)

Engineers Without Borders

(Field Projects, Hands-on)

Case Studies, Results, Applications, Needs

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On-Going EWB Projects Development Issue

  • San Pablo, Belize – Design, construction, and improvement of a water distribution system using ram pumps and rope pumps in wells

  • San Pablo, Belize – Installation of a water filtration system and submersible generators to generate electricity using the river water current

  • Seven Mile Village, Belize – Drilling and installation of wells to alleviate water collection problems

  • Punta Gorda, Belize – Technical assistance to the Mayan School Satal Pal Canbalnah (Learning Center for the Lost Child)

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On-Going EWB Projects (2) Development Issue

  • Foutaka Zambougou, Mali and Bir Moghrein, Mauritania - Using appropriate technology to solve water and electricity problems

  • Jalapa Valley, Nicaragua – Using appropriate technologies to improve source water, sanitation, energy and communication (in partnership with Friendship City Project, Boulder)

  • Santa Rita, Peru – Solving local rainfall-induced slope stability problems (in partnership with Peruvian Eco-Sustainable Research and Understanding, Lafayette)

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Belize Project Development IssueSan Pablo

Design and Construction of a Ram Pump System

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The End Development Issue