course explores global impact of engineering decisions
Design choices can affect the world environment
by Jenny Gerow
you be willing to drive a species to extinction to save a human
question, posed by Braden Allenby, galvanized class discussion:
like those recently fueled the thinking of students enrolled in
Earth Systems Engineering and Management, a new undergraduate
course at the University.
course, believed to be the first of its kind, explores the effect
that engineering decisions and designs can have on the global
environment. Simple things the design of new products,
the siting of housing developments, the management of national
parks all can have unintended consequences. So, instructors
are leading students to broaden their scope of analysis when figuring
the costs of a plan of action.
need to treat environmental issues not as overhead costs, but
as strategic planning
issues as individuals, as companies and as a society,
said Allenby, AT&Ts vice president of health, environment
and safety and one of the countrys leading experts in industrial
came up with the concept for the course, which he is team-teaching
with Matthew Mehalik, a post-doc with the School
of Engineering and Applied Sciences Division of Technology,
Culture and Communication, and Michael Gorman, TCC chair. TCC
is offering the pilot course, which is cross-listed by the Department
of Environmental Sciences.
environmental problems occur on such a broad scale that no single
group has a handle on them, Mehalik said. And the
trade-offs arent always clear. This course is designed to
encourage students to take a multidimensional approach to complex
problems, considering not only their environmental aspects, but
also what is feasible from an engineering standpoint, and what
the costs are, both economically and socially.
than just encouraging an interdisciplinary view of environmental
systems, the course strives to influence the thinking of students
who one day will be corporate scientists, engineers and managers
involved in the design of new products and processes.
thinking about environmental, social and economic issues in innovative
ways at the design stage, firms can avoid adverse impacts later,
said guest lecturer Andrea Larson, an associate professor at the
Darden Graduate School of Business Administration whose teaching
and research focus on entrepreneurship and innovation.
want students to reflect on their moral obligation to society
and to be responsible for their decisions, said Patricia
Werhane, Dardens Ruffin Professor of Business Ethics, who
also is a guest lecturer for the class. We want them to
realize that something may be legal, but that doesnt make
it the right thing to do.
guest lecturers include Linda Blum, research associate professor
of environmental science; David Rejeski, director of the Woodrow
Wilson International Center for Scholars Foresight and Governance
Project; and Gary Tabor, an associate with the Wilburforce Foundation
a private, philanthropic foundation that funds environmental issues
in the western U.S. and western Canada.
multidisciplinary course has signed up 24 undergraduates, half
from environmental sciences and half from engineering primarily
civil, environmental and chemical engineering majors. AT&T
is supporting the course with a $50,000 gift to the Engineering
Schools TCC division.
course combines the case-study method, common at top business
schools such as Darden, and a systems-analysis approach, common
in engineering, which should enable students to come to grips
with the complex nature of actual environmental problems, Mehalik
said. Research projects will include studies of:
of the Atlantic by large commercial fishing fleets
involved with a plan for creating an international park that extends
from Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming through Yukon National
Park in the Yukon Territory, Canada
of a proposed plan to restore the Everglades after nearly a century
of housing development, construction of levees and drainage of
are learning about current environmental problems, using the tools
we have to analyze them, and we expect to hit a wall, Mehalik
said. That should lead us to realize how incredibly complex
these problems are and how much easier it would have been to avoid
them in the first place. We also want to understand the extent
to which our social and cultural systems are intertwined with
the problems and how they influence the shape of solutions.
fellow teaches U.Va. community to view environmental regulations
as industry innovator
Allenby, vice president of health, environment and safety
at AT&T Corp., is a leader in the field of industrial
ecology who views the interaction of industrial society
and ecological systems through a distinctive lens, said
a professor who teaches business innovation.
takes a multidisciplinary approach, combining an earth-systems
orientation with the disciplines of engineering, system
dynamics, economics, ethics and business management to show
students different facets of complicated problems,
said Andrea Larson, associate professor of business administration
at the Darden School.
with team-teaching the Engineering Schools pilot class
on Earth Systems Engineering and Management, Allenby has
numerous ties to the University, particularly at the Darden
School. As the first Batten Institute fellow in 2000, Allenby
(Law, J.D., 78; and GSAS, M.A., economics, 79)
entered actively into the intellectual life at Darden, conducting
workshops, giving faculty seminars and speaking to the larger
years ago, he contributed an article on sustainable business
to a special issue of the business operations journal, Interfaces,
that Larson edited with Elisabeth Teisberg, a professor
of business administration at Darden. Since then, Allenby
has been a guest speaker in Larsons class, Sustainable
Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which explores how
successful companies have incorporated social, environmental
and economic benefits into innovative strategies.
also has helped develop course materials for Larsons
class and recently completed a case study of AT&T
all the while keeping up with the demands of his day job
a good fit in the classroom because Brad looks at the ways
in which human activity is altering the dynamics of natural
systems and urges students to think more carefully and deeply
about why this has occurred, Larson said.
I focus on companies that are leaders in developing new
ways of dealing with environmental concerns, seeing them
not just as regulatory burdens and compliance costs, but
as profitable opportunities for innovation that can work
to companies strategic advantage. Were lucky
to have someone with Brads expertise in this path-breaking
field at U.Va.