Academic journal article Environmental Values

An Engineering Approach to Sustainable Decision Making

Academic journal article Environmental Values

An Engineering Approach to Sustainable Decision Making

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Climate change is often tackled via a two-pronged approach of behaviour change and technological advancement. Policy studies and social sciences generally take ownership of influencing behaviours, while natural sciences and engineering tackle generating newer, more efficient technologies. Fusion of these methodologies is severely lacking. Engineers are uniquely situated to contribute to positive environmental action in both technological and behavioural realms. This article explores the psychological mindset of engineers as they make decisions to dissect factors that undermine sustainable behaviour. The Theory of Planned Behaviour, Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis and the Health Belief Model are applied to engineering decision making to develop a methodology for engineers to modify their behaviour to consistently make more sustainable choices, and in turn, assist others by making actions towards sustainability more convenient.

KEYWORDS

Sustainable engineering, environmental psychology, behaviour change, decision-making tools

1. INTRODUCTION

In April 2014, the latest UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded that global warming is unequivocal, and that the causes are anthropogenic and will persist for many centuries (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). A wealth of information exists documenting the progress of climate change as well as the sources. This is widely acknowledged and is actively being tackled by the engineering community, via the development of original technologies and streamlining of existing technologies. For example, the Global Energy Assessment (GEA) provides forecasts that meet the projected 2050 global energy demand through radical restructuring of global energy consumption and mass adoption of a varied portfolio of non-carbon energy alternatives (van Vuuren et al., 2012). However, high capital costs continue to hinder the adoption of new technologies, especially in the developing world, where most of the increase in energy consumption will come from (Luthra et al., 2015).

Why does humanity struggle to make substantial progressive action? There is no simple answer to this question. Factors such as financial security and international relations sway decision making when assessing the Keystone XL pipeline in North America; resource availability and political powers play a key role in the energy breakdown of sub-Saharan Africa. Global population continues to rise, rendering any per capita decrease in resource allocation futile in our finite global ecosystem. Does monetary gain undermine all sustainability-related decisions? Can climate change be mitigated through the adoption of new technologies and adaption of those currently in use? Or perhaps there are other psychological barriers that we exhibit as humans which challenge our ability to act towards a more sustainable future?

Engineers are tasked with turning technical knowledge into solutions and innovations such as wind turbines, nuclear power, hybrid vehicles and so on. Improving technologies, increasing efficiency and modifying systems will play a role in decreasing anthropogenic changes to our environment, yet humanity's impact on Earth will grow before it diminishes (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2014). The improvement of current technologies does not decrease or mitigate consumption, a factor driven by lifestyle choices, resource availability and behavioural factors.

Climate change is an issue far too complex to be undertaken by engineers alone. Behavioural changes must be embraced population-wide to lessen the impacts that cannot be mitigated through solely relying on technological solutions. On a citizen-basis this includes individuals making conscious choices to alter consumption, modify transportation habits, demand policy strengthening etc. The importance of behaviour change is well documented, yet proof that the current behavioural responses to climate change are manifesting positively is inconclusive at best (Oppenheimer, 2013). …

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