Spring 2023: Sustainability in Civil Engineering (CE G9800 / CE 59903) / Sustainable Infrastructure (SUS 7800B)

Class syllabus


Readings for Session 11

Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, "Tunneling through the cost barrier", in Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (1999)

The Transition Network, "The Essential Guide to Doing Transition" (2018)

Edmond Byrne, "Teaching engineering ethics with sustainability as context", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 13(3):232-248 (2012)

Derk Loorbach, Niki Frantzeskaki and Flor Avelino "Sustainability transitions research: transforming science and practice for societal change", Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 42:599-626 (2017); summarized here

Readings for Session 10

Paul and Percival Goodman, "Banning Cars from Manhattan", Dissent (1961)

Ralph Buehler and John Pucher, "Making public transport financially sustainable", Transport Policy 18:126-138 (2011)

Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl, "Transportation in the Post-Carbon World", in The Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises (2010)

Thea Riofrancos, Alissa Kendall, Kristi K. Dayemo, Matthew Haugen, Kira McDonald, Batul Hassan, Margaret Slattery, and Xan Lillehei, "Achieving Zero Emissions with More Mobility and Less Mining", Climate and Community Project (2023)

Readings for Session 9

Kris De Decker, "Recycling animal and human dung is the key to sustainable farming", Low-Tech Magazine (2010)

Kris De Decker, "How sustainable is high-tech health care?", Low-Tech Magazine (2021)

Lauren Valle, "Ecological design", Vermont Journal of Environmental Law 16(4):575-585 (2015)

Lisa Ianucci, "Don't trash this: recycling and garbage rules", The Cooperator (2015)

US EPA, "Zero Waste Local Government Case Studies" (choose one to read)

Readings for Session 8

Amory Lovins, "The super-efficient passive building frontier", ASHRAE Journal, 37(6):79-81 (1995)

P Raman, Sanjay Mande, and VVN Kishore, "A passive solar system for thermal comfort conditioning of buildings in composite climates", Solar Energy, 70(4):319-329 (2001)

Colin MacDougall, "Natural building materials in mainstream construction: Lessons from the U. K.", Journal of Green Building, 3(3), 3-14 (2008)

John H. Scofield, "Do LEED-certified buildings save energy? Not really...", Energy and Buildings, 41:1386-1390 (2009)

Eduardo Blanco, Maibritt Pedersen Zari, Kalina Raskin, and Philippe Clergeau, "Urban ecosystem-level biomimicry and regenerative design: Linking ecosystem functioning and urban built environments", Sustainability, 13(1): 404 (2021)

Readings for Session 7

J. D. Hanson, John Hendrickson, and Dave Archer, Challenges for maintaining sustainable agricultural systems in the United States, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 23:325-334 (2008)

Dana Cordell, Jan-Olof Drangert, and Stuart White, The story of phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought, Global Environmental Change, 19:292-305 (2009)

Timothy E. Crews, Wim Carton, and Lennart Olsson, Is the future of agriculture perennial? Imperatives and opportunities to reinvent agriculture by shifting from annual monocultures to perennial polycultures, Global Sustainability, 1:e11 (2018)

Frank Eyhorn, Adrian Muller, John P. Reganold, Emile Frison, Hans R. Herren, Louise Luttikholt, Alexander Mueller, Jürn Sanders, Nadia El-Hage Scialabba, Verena Seufert and Pete Smith, Sustainability in global agriculture driven by organic farming, Nature Sustainability, 2:253-255 (2019)

G.V. Lombardi, Silvia Parrini, R. Atzori, G. Stefani, D. Romano, M. Gastaldi, G. Liu, Sustainable agriculture, food security and diet diversity. The case study of Tuscany, Italy, Ecological Modelling, 458:109702 (2021)

Teja Tscharntke, Ingo Grass, Thomas C. Wanger, Catrin Westphal, Péter Batáry, Beyond organic farming – harnessing biodiversity-friendly landscapes, Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 36(10):919-930 (2022)

Readings for Session 6

Lester R. Brown, Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization (2009), Chapter 2, "Population Pressure: Land and Water"

David Molden, Charlotte De Fraiture, and Frank Rijsberman, "Water Scarcity: The Food Factor", Issues in Science and Technology (2007)

Mark Pires, "Watershed protection for a world city: the case of New York", Land Use Policy, 21:161-175 (2004)

Terry Thomas, "Domestic water supply using rainwater harvesting", Building Research and Information, 26:94-101 (1998)

Readings for Session 5

David JC MacKay, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air (2008), Chapters 5-18

Readings for Session 4

K.-H. Robèrt et al., "Strategic sustainable development — selection, design and synergies of applied tools", Journal of Cleaner Production 10(3):197-214 (2002)

Susan Svoboda, "Note on Life Cycle Analysis" (1995)

Geoffrey P. Hammond and Craig I. Jones, "Embodied Carbon: The Concealed Impact of Residential Construction", in Global Warming: Engineering Solutions, pp. 367-384, Springer (2010)

David Lin et al., "Ecological Footprint Accounting for Countries: Updates and Results of the National Footprint Accounts, 2012-2018", Resources 7(3):58 (2018)
Davy Vanham et al., "Environmental footprint family to address local to planetary sustainability and deliver on the SDGs", Science of The Total Environment 693:133642 (2019)

RR Heeres, WJV Vermeulen, and FB de Walle, "Eco-industrial park initiatives in the USA and the Netherlands: first lessons", Journal of Cleaner Production 12(8-10):985-995 (2004)
A Neves, R Godina, SG Azevedo, JCO Matias, "A comprehensive review of industrial symbiosis", Journal of Cleaner Production 247: 119113 (2020)

Readings for Session 3

George W. Kling, "The Flow of Energy: Primary Production to Higher Trophic Levels" (2008)

Will Steffen et al. "Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet", Science 347(6223): 1259855 (2015)

Nathan Johnson, Robert Gross and Iain Staffell, "Stabilisation wedges: measuring progress towards transforming the global energy and land use systems", Environmental Research Letters 16: 064011 (2021)

Readings for Session 2

Gus Speth, "American passage: Towards a new economy and a new politics" (2012), Ecological Economics 84: 181-186

Penn State University Center for Medieval Studies, "Colonial America's pre-industrial age of wood and water"
or Sashi Sivramkrishna, "Production Cycles and Decline in Traditional Iron Smelting in the Maidan, Southern India, c. 1750-1950: An Environmental History Perspective" (2009), Environment and History 15(2): 163-197

David JC MacKay, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air (2008), Chapters 1-4 (Pages 1-34)

Göran Wall, Exergetics (2009), Pages 1-50

Julian M Allwood and Jonathan M Cullen, Sustainable Materials with Both Eyes Open (2012), Chapters 1-3 (Pages 1-50) [The whole book is freely available and worth reading, especially if you are interested in buildings.]


Short essay to submit before Session 11

(1) Choose an engineering project that you believe would further a sustainable society. About how much funding will it need, and how would you propose financing it? You may consider both traditional and alternative/new infrastructure funding approaches. Refer to the ideas of Hawken, and you can also look here on government cost-sharing and here on the MTA's fiscal planning.

(2) Choose a current or hypothetical infrastructure problem or design. How could you as either an engineer involved or a concerned resident best promote sustainability? Refer to the possible roles of conceptual tools such as reframing, visioning, and experimenting (Loorbach and the Transition Network) and of ethical stance and professional obligations (Byrne).

Short essay to submit before Session 10

(1) Suggest three transportation initiatives that could benefit New York City life. Refer to the Goodman essay, and you can also look here for some advantages and challenges of car-free cities.

(2) Consider a (passenger or freight) longer-range (interstate or international) transportation need of you or your employer. What are some ways in which the sustainability of this transportation service is challenged, and how might it change over the next couple decades as a result? Refer to the readings, and cf. also the sections about transport in MacKay's book.

Short essay to submit before Session 9

(1) Choose a locality of interest to you. What were the some of the health concerns that shaped its current waste disposal methods (sewers, garbage collection, landfills, incineration, etc.)? Suggest one modification that would be preferable from the point of view of sustainability while continuing to protect public health.

(2) What are three steps that a city, such as NYC, could take to emulate the waste reduction and redirection initiatives of cities like Seattle and San Francisco? (Cf. the EPA and Ianucci articles and NYC's Zero Waste Design Guidelines.) What are economic incentives for, and obstacles to, taking these steps?

Short essay to submit before Session 8

(1) You are sustainability consultant for the mixed-use renovation of a block of townhouses. Prepare a list of six options for reducing operation energy (such as HVAC loads) in the development that deserve to be studied in detail, explaining the physical mechanism for how each option would work. See here and here for some inspiration from local projects.

(2) Summarize how an existing rating system or code, such as Passive Building, Living Building Challenge,LEED, Green Globes, CalGreen, or Australia's 7 Star standard, evaluates whether a building is 'green'. What are some ways (if any) in which this system or code has changed over time? From a sustainability standpoint, what do you see as the most important modifications that should be made to it?

Short essay to submit before Session 7

(1) Consider a building or infrastructure project of your choice. What are its impacts on the production and distribution of food? You can consider impact categories such as loss of agricultural land, soil erosion and water supply, access to affordable food, and climate change. How might you make these impacts more favorable?

(2) Is organic agriculture, as currently defined and practiced, sustainable? Why or why not?

Short essay to submit before Session 6

(1) How much water is used to produce the food you eat? You can base your estimate on the Water Footprint Network's calculator. Comment on the sustainability of this level of water use.

(2) Estimate the magnitude of water uses in a building of your choice. (Check utility bills, if possible.) How does it compare with the rainfall rate on the building? Propose some design improvements related to the water flow in and through the building.

Short essay to submit before Session 5

(answer one of the following, referring to the readings)

(1) New York City currently uses 6.1 GW electricity (sources: 50% natural gas, 30% nuclear, 10% hydroelectric, 10% coal); 8 GW gasoline and diesel fuel for cars, trucks, and buses; and 13 GW natural gas and fuel oil for heat and hot water (adapted from here). How would you propose NYC obtain energy without using fossil fuels? What are approximate requirements in area and investment capital if your proposal is followed? (You might want to include a small spreadsheet for keeping track of the numbers.)

(2) New York City's utility worries about being able to meet peak electricity demand, which is on hot summer afternoons. Suppose that you're doing a feasibility study of several different methods of reducing peak demand. For each method, estimate the order of magnitude of the (a) cost and (b) space required for this method to be able to reduce city peak demand by 10%. The methods are: (i) battery storage; (ii) Rooftop solar photovoltaic generation; (iii) Demand reduction enabled by smart meters. What do you see as the biggest uncertainties in your rough calculations?

(3) Choose a building or other piece of infrastructure of interest to you. What are its power requirements (quantity and type of energy) for operation and maintenance? Suggest ways in which it could be retrofitted for these energy requirements to be reduced or more eaily provided renewably.

Short essay to submit before Session 4

(answer one of the following, referring to the readings)

(1) Use tools such as the Inventory of Carbon & Energy from the University of Bath here or the NIST BEES software, which have estimates of the energy requirements and CO2 emissions associated with using different materials, to roughly assess the greenhouse gas emissions associated with constructing a building or piece of infrastructure of your choice. What are some ways for the environmental impacts associated with this construction to be reduced?

(2) What makes industrial ecology "ecological"? Describe or analyze examples for how your field or area of interest can adopt industrial ecology principles. If possible, give some quantitative estimates of the potential reduction in resource extraction or pollution, as quantified, for example, by ecological footprint.

Short essays to submit before Session 3

(answer both of the following, referring to the readings)

(1) List five steps (government policies or individual actions) that, in your view, have the potential to significantly help in mitigating and/or adapting to global warming (and/or other major disruptions to Earth's climate and biosphere), and briefly explain why each is a good idea. Also, discuss one or more ideas that have been proposed as solutions that, in your view, are ineffective or harmful.

(2) Pose and solve one or more numerical thermodynamics/exergy problems of interest to you, based on last week's reading and/or (some of) the following sources. Summarize in words what you learned from working through the problem(s).

Short essay to submit before Session 2

(answer any one of the following in about 1-2 pages)

(1) Referring to the Penn State or Sivramkrishna articles, why didn't societies without fossil fuels, such as 18th-Century Pennsylvania or India, build steel-framed structures? What resource utilization practices were facilitated by low population density (e.g. ~4 people per km2 in 18th-Century Pennsylvania)? If the population density were comparable to today's (e.g. 100 people per km2 in Pennsylvania), what would have been the alternatives?

(2) The Speth article questions the value of economic growth. What are the arguments that economic growth can be destructive? How would you expect engineering practice to be different in a world that did not see economic growth as the main goal of society? See also Chapter 17 of Allwood and Cullen.

(3) Summarize the concept of energy quality and how it relates to building and infrastructure design. Use as sources relevant sections of Wall's book, as well as the Annex 49 project website on "Low Exergy Systems for High-Performance Buildings and Communities" – this document (esp. the case studies in Chapter 7) might be particularly helpful.


Class 11: Implementation
Class 10: Transportation
Class 9: Waste
Class 8: Buildings
Class 7: Agriculture
Class 6: Water
Class 5: Energy
Class 4: Measuring and engineering
Class 3: Life and climate
Class 2: Thermodynamics
Class 1: Introduction

Additional resources

Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (Eds.), Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation (2012; open textbook at the beginning college level)