Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Journal #2 - Valuing LCA Focuses

Well I kind of forgot about the journal for a week or so... Oh well these new entries will be so rocking that no one will notice.

In class last thursday the discussion turned to one specific topic for the last 15/20 minutes of class. The question was asked "How as engineers do you value one aspect of a design's environmental impact over another?" An example of this would be designing a product to use very little fossil fuels, but consumes a lot of electricity instead.

The discussion was pretty back and forth, where people took sides and switched positions often. It was pretty clear that the discussion could have gone on for another hour without much compromise or agreement. I felt that approaching the question from "what a moral engineer's duty is" was a poor idea and did not really address how environmental impacts were really valued in today's society.

I thought it would be better to discuss how the consumer base and marketing affect the design of a product. For example, a hybrid vehicle reduces fuel usage but may increase in electrical energy consumption. The design reduces hazardous air emissions from the vehicle but may increase in the release of other hazardous materials in the production of electrical energy. However, the design is based on the consumer's need to reduce fuel costs and increase gas mileage. The consumer can also feel moral and ethical benefits as the product is advertised as environmentally friendly. The life cycle phase that has a reduced environmental impact is then chosen by the consumer. This might not be right at all, as the technology has to be developed first by engineers and then is marketed to the consumer.

Still, this presents another angle where we can just blame the consumer and marketing instead of arguing as engineers. Booyah!

1 comment:

Deanna said...

but as designers of the products, we can dictate how the product is used, no? and in that way, can't we make improvements? we still need a life cycle perspective, but can we solve the problem?