Classroom: Industrial Ecology
By Kathryn LoConte
On a Thursday evening in April, Professor Benoit Cushman-Roisin walked into his ENGS 171: Industrial Ecology class in Cummings Room 200 holding a large cardboard box. He opened it and took out a smaller box, then another box, then paper filling, then plastic wrapping, then a tough plastic package that held a tiny electronic item. “All this just to make you believe you’re getting something useful,” he said as he held it up to the class. “To me, it is just so wasteful.”
Waste is one of the many topics Cushman-Roisin covers in the course, in which he encourages students to think in terms of everything from product redesign to ecological responsibility.
“I want my students to be able to think broadly about the many ramifications of one’s technological activities and to consider the entire life cycle of the product,” he says. “They also need to structure their thinking.” He instructs his class that they need to be industry-minded and realistic. “We need to design a system that makes what’s good for the environment also good for business.”
Cushman-Roisin tries to impart the sense of environmental responsibility he clearly feels. “Engineers are the technology professionals, and technology has caused countless environmental problems,” he says. “For some time, environmental engineers have been those called upon to mop up after the other engineers. This is no longer acceptable, and all engineers ought now to incorporate environmental thinking into their practice. Industrial ecology offers a framework to do this.”
Cushman-Roisin’s students put their studies to use by redesigning real-life products, including home appliances, sneakers, office chairs, disposable plates, and automotive parts. “While most redesigns have revolved around increased energy efficiency and material substitution, some have been radical, going for complete elimination,” he says. For example, one student suggested replacing paper lift tickets with a reusable plastic card.
“I want to give my students hope and optimism,” Cushman-Roisin says. “There are many green technologies available and, although technological barriers exist here and there, for the most part much can be accomplished when we approach the problem in an organized way, learn the lessons from the pioneers, think creatively to adapt these lessons to our own case, and have the will to go forward.”comments powered by Disqus