Sustainable Engineering

Michael E. Chang
Georgia Institute of Technology
Board of Associate Editors

The concept of sustainability recognizes that human activities have impacts in three dimensions: environmental, economic, and social. Further, the value of these impacts and the methods and norms by which they are evaluated can change over time. As innovators, designers, and problem solvers, sustainability encourages engineers to evaluate their ideas and practices within this four dimensional space, and to find an optimum balance that meets project, program, or system objectives now, while also preserving or enhancing future opportunities for others to do the same later. Behind efforts such as lean manufacturing, green building, green chemistry, design for the environment, bio inspired design, carbon neutrality, systems thinking, resilience engineering, life cycle assessment, cradle-to-cradle, and many others, engineering researchers and professionals are now developing the fundamental laws, rules, and procedures on which the future of human progress will be based. They are also testing these ideas, designing experiments and means for evaluation, and implementing them in the field and in the marketplace. And rather than emerging from deep within the individual disciplines of the different engineering professions, these efforts are, more often than not, materializing at the edges of the fields where the interests of the different agents intersect.

Elementa‘s Sustainable Engineering domain seeks to publish novel research papers that address all aspects of engineering including the designing, building, and operating of structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. This includes specifically research in the energy, manufacturing, transportation, buildings, water, and materials domains. In accordance with the aims and scope of Elementa and with the precepts of sustainability, however, manuscripts are specifically sought from investigators conducting trans-disciplinary research on coupled human, built, and natural systems. To this end, it is expected that Sustainable Engineering will fill the publishing void that exists in the spaces between the social, natural, and engineering sciences. Accepting original research articles, reviews that synthesize and interpret key fields or topics, and relevant policy analyses, all papers should provide sufficient context to be understood by a well educated but broad audience that can take advantage of the cross-pollination of ideas.

Though not limited to these, examples of the type of research topics sought by this journal include:

  • Studies of biological analogs for engineered systems (or vice versa)
  • Environmental change and its effect on human habitats and inhabitants (and vice versa)
  • Management of energy and materials in manufacturing
  • Tools for decision making at different organizational scales (e.g., household, enterprise, nation)
  • Integration of models across media, disciplines, time, or space
  • Pedagogy of sustainable engineering
  • Multivariable optimization for sustainability
  • New economic, regulatory, or policy paradigms for the built environment
  • Organic or bio-based computing / chemicals / energy / materials
  • Metrics and indices for assessing sustainability and resilience

Michael E. Chang reflects on his discussions with Dr. Wayne Clough

Anthropocene: The epoch of engineering


Michael E. Chang reflects on his discussions with Dr. Wayne Clough

On a hot summer day in Atlanta, Georgia, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Dr. G. Wayne Clough about the advent of the Anthropocene. Having just completed his service as the 12th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Dr. Clough now returns to academia at the Georgia Institute of Technology as President Emeritus. A civil engineer by training, Wayne is the worldly scholar that other scholars seek out when they need advice, and the visionary leader that other leaders call on when they need direction. In 2004, he chaired the National Academy of Engineering’s Committee on the Engineer of 2020 that repositioned “engineering education in the United States for what lies ahead.” As a new editor of a young journal that reports on novel engineering advances in an emerging epoch, I was glad to have his counsel.

Excerpts of our discussion that day are available online. With these accompanying comments, I hope to convey the sense of responsibility and purpose that I felt after our talk. Wayne said directly that the Anthropocene was “the age of humans.” Perhaps he was being kind to spread the onus across all of humanity. But as I listened to him describe every way in which future generations would define this time period, it was clear to me that the Anthropocene will be the age of engineers. It already is. All the atmospheric, oceanic, biological, and geological markers that are causing the science community to consider amending the geologic calendar are a result of technological innovation and efficient scaling, i.e. the purview of engineers. We engineers can rationalize that the Anthropocene is an unintended consequence of tremendous human progress over the last 250 years that we made happen, but now that we know the whole story, we can’t ignore the faults in our good faith efforts.

That day in Atlanta, Wayne Clough challenged me to accept this burden of my profession. But he didn’t just weigh me down, he also picked me up. Engineers invent. We make. We fix. Now we must also lead. Wayne called it “voice” and it was a practice he said engineers don’t exercise enough. Voice is not just contributing technical expertise on how to achieve goals, but participating in the discussions and decisions about what the goals themselves should be. Some of these will pull us out of our comfort zones and will require engineers to communicate with scientists, politicians, business persons, philosophers, and so many others. If the Anthropocene is an epoch that has been and will be created by engineers, shouldn’t the creators have a say? What do engineers think about climate change? What do engineers think about urbanization? What do engineers think about mass extinctions? What do engineers think about poverty and inequality? In short, what do engineers think about the Anthropocene?

Exercising our engineering voice requires effort, and it also requires a platform. But to be effective in the way that Dr. Clough encouraged, it must be a platform from which other voices are also speaking and towards which other ears and eyes are turning. A mission-driven, nonprofit collaborative, Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene is a trans-disciplinary, open-access journal committed to the facilitation of collaborative, peer-reviewed research. With the ultimate objective of accelerating scientific solutions to the challenges presented by this era of human impact, it is uniquely structured into six distinct knowledge domains, including sustainable engineering, and gives authors the opportunity to publish in one or multiple domains, helping them to present their research and commentary (voice!) to interested readers from many disciplines. As Editor-in-Chief of Elementa’s Sustainable Engineering knowledge domain, I look forward to hearing you express your voice and using all the resources of the journal to amplify and share it broadly for maximum impact.”


Editor-in-Chief Michael E. Chang introduces the Sustainable Engineering domain

Why is publishing with Elementa a pragmatic choice for Engineers?

“…the most important benefit is impact – not just the kind that is measured in counts of citations, but the kind that is measured in lives improved, profits made, species saved, and ecosystems maintained.”

Editor-in-Chief of the Sustainable Engineering domain gives his views on the opportunities that publishing with Elementa provide.

‘It is hardly surprising that the first articles and commentaries that will be published in Elementa are originating in the ocean, atmosphere, ecological, and earth sciences, for it is in those domains that the effects of a world in geologic transition are most urgently manifesting. How mankind responds to these changes, however, will largely be determined by our ability to reimagine, redesign, and rebuild all of humans’ industrial, technological, and urban advances that led to the closing of the last epoch. This new reality will demand an engineered hybrid world of natural and human built systems that work well together, and it is here where Elementa serves those that will craft it. Because this journal is intentionally broad in scope, freely available to everyone, accessible in a variety of formats on multiple devices, and committed to actively promoting authors and their work, those that publish in Elementa have the opportunity to share their ideas and innovations with a worldwide community of scientists, engineers, and decision-makers that is much larger and deeper than most academic publishing platforms. The benefits of this are many, but the most important benefit is impact – not just the kind that is measured in counts of citations, but the kind that is measured in lives improved, profits made, species saved, and ecosystems maintained. These are the goals of Sustainable Engineering and Elementa is its primary vehicle of communication.’ is neither affiliated with the authors of this page nor responsible for its contents. This is a safe-cache copy of the original web site.