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Industrial Engineering: Ideally Positioned To Address The Sustainability Challenge

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Lean and Green

Tagged Division

Industrial Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.729.1 - 15.729.8



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Paper Authors

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Terri Lynch-Caris Kettering University

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John Sutherland Purdue University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Industrial Engineering: Ideally Positioned to Address the Sustainability Challenge


Industrial Engineers (IEs) have embraced efficiency principles in the design and improvement of manufacturing systems. The lean concept defined by the Toyota Production System has augmented traditional Work Design courses as a tool for eliminating waste in the manufacturing environment. As systems thinkers, the unique skills and tools of the professional IE will build on the idea of eliminating waste to include the complete life cycle of a product. The IE skill set is necessary to support sustainable engineering practices in the design and analysis of products and processes. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the importance of integrating principles and practices of sustainability into IE higher education.


The need for sustainable engineering design practices has never been more apparent than in today’s scientific and public media. Climate change, chemicals released into the environment, land use changes, and the depletion of natural resources are frequent headlines in the media and the focus of a growing number of scientific journals. The National Academy of Engineering unveiled The Grand Challenges for Engineering in a public statement on February 15, 20081 and sustainability was noted as one of four broad realms of human concern. Six (out of 14) of the engineering challenges are related to environmental sustainability: (1) Make solar energy economical, (2) Provide energy from fusion, (3) Develop carbon sequestration methods, (4) Manage the nitrogen cycle, (5) Provide access to clean water, and (6) Restore and improve urban infrastructure.

Industrial Engineers (IEs) are in a unique position to play a key role in the effort to bring sustainability concepts to the mainstream of engineering education. Their historical figures and initiatives are aligned with the current need for sustainable products and processes. The IE skill set includes a systems approach to decision-making required for sustainable design. Traditional topics of study in IE curricula include Systems Analysis, Computational Modeling (Statistics, Engineering Economy, Operations Research, Discrete-Event Simulation) and Work Design. Such courses lend themselves to a discussion of sustainability. The orientation and preparation of IE students puts them in an excellent position to embrace the goal of sustainable design in order to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.2 This is particularly the case for IE undergraduate students.

Figure 1 shows the factors that define a sustainable state of development. The three rings represent systems that support humanity: the economy, the environment, and society. The overlap between the rings suggests that we cannot degrade/ignore any one of the rings without adversely affecting another and every ring must be healthy and in balance within the system.3 The basic framework of Figure 1 may also be viewed by expressing sustainability in terms of three pillars: (i) the Industry/Economy/Technology Systems Pillar, (ii) the Environment/Natural Systems Pillar, and (iii) the Behavior/Society/Individual Systems Pillar.4,5 All of the pillars must

Lynch-Caris, T., & Sutherland, J. (2010, June), Industrial Engineering: Ideally Positioned To Address The Sustainability Challenge Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--15990

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