Customers returned 65 percent of all empty print and copy cartridges to Xerox for recycling in 1997, an industry high. And most probably did it with little thought of closing the loop of manufacturing, use, recycling, and reuse.

Xerox has been reclaiming metals from its product components since 1967, and "unofficially" accepting trade-in machines from customers for almost as many years. The company initiated its Environmental Leadership program in 1990, with the goal of producing waste-free products from waste-free factories. Today, remanufactured machines are a significant—and profitable—part of the company's product line, and new products are designed so they can be recycled. In 1997 alone, Xerox remanufactured equipment from more than 30,000 tons of returned machines.

"The more we close the loop in the product delivery process, the more we discover the environmental and business benefits of doing so," according to the company's position statement. "By remanufacturing and designing for the environment, we reduce our costs, minimize the effect we have on the planet, and please our customers. We are convinced that being good to the environment is also good for business—and have every intention of keeping it that way."

Recycling, around since at least the first Earth Day in 1970, has long been promoted as a strictly environmental issue and is often couched in terms that pit it against business and industry. But in reality, recycling and environmental issues in general are also important economic issues, and business and industry play a vital role in the success of recycling programs.

Business and industry's efforts to find a balance between environmental and economic interests has bred a new way of thinking and created the sustainable development movement.

Birth of a Movement
Overpopulation. Rain forest destruction. Pollution. Diminishing natural resources. Concern for these and other environmental problems has resulted in consumer calls for the corporate world to take better care of the planet as they tend to their bottom lines. Yet these same consumers also want new jobs, better products, and quality services from profitable companies. Sustainable development may be the answer to these conflicting demands.


More than just a plan to balance environmental and economic issues, sustainable development has evolved into a movement; Our Common Future, a 1986 report by the World Commission on Environment and Development, is its seminal document. Also referred to as The Bruntland Report, the document defines sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Policymakers and environmental scientists spent the next decade refining the underlying ideology.

Over the same period, governments around the world embraced sustainable development efforts with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The Netherlands and other western European countries have lent substantial government support to green technology initiatives. Russia, many of the former Soviet Bloc countries, and most of the Arab world have been slower to embrace them.

In the United States, the President's Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD), established by President Clinton in 1993, spearheads national-level debate over how to achieve a new type of prosperity based on sustainable development. Its 30 members include representatives from industry, government, and environmental, Native American, and civil rights organizations. The secretaries of agriculture, commerce, energy, and interior also sit on the council, along with Carol Browner, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

PCSD will hold a National Town Meeting May 2–5, in Detroit, Michigan, to examine municipal-level activities that implement sustainable development goals. (For more information on the meeting, see

From Idea to Action
Heeding the call of the public and the government, many companies have initiated sustainable development practices. DuPont, Polaroid, and Dow Chemical rank among the many major U.S. companies that have discovered that sound environmental management of manufacturing systems gives them a competitive edge. Retooling production lines to use fewer hazardous chemicals, finding ingenious uses for recycled component parts, and producing less waste can translate into enormous savings.

Environmental concerns first surfaced as a key concern for industry in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. In the United States, this shift in attitudes followed the introduction of comprehensive environmental regulations designed to curb rampant pollution of the nation's air and water. The vast majority of these new regulations focused on the "end of pipe" pollution, such as waste discharges and atmospheric releases.

But, end-of-pipe control measures, while effective, are not the most cost-effective means of pollution control. Even as industry worked to comply with the new federal regulatory standards, it began to experiment with new approaches to controlling pollution. Two of those approaches—industrial ecology and pollution prevention—have altered standard manufacturing practice.

spot Industrial Ecology
Pioneered by chemist Thomas Graedel in the early 1990s, the theory of industrial ecology takes its cue from biology. Graedel argues that manufacturing systems can be viewed like ecological systems. The most efficient manufacturing systems optimize the use of resources, energy, and capital at every phase of production, just as ecological systems do. A completely sustainable manufacturing system would function as a closed loop, meaning that the system would reuse all of its own waste products as raw material for the next production cycle, thereby producing zero pollution.

Industry has yet to create such a system, in part because trends toward decentralization and the devolution of vertically integrated production systems make it difficult to impose company-wide changes. The high cost of changing existing infrastructure poses additional barriers. Nevertheless, industry has made great strides toward closed loop systems by developing pollution prevention practices.

Pollution Prevention
The idea behind pollution prevention flows naturally from the principles of industrial ecology. Pollution prevention is any practice that reduces the use or generation of hazardous substances prior to recycling, storage, treatment, or control. For this reason, it is also commonly known as source reduction.

Pollution prevention practices differ fundamentally from other, more typical pollution reduction practices. Rather than simply decreasing the amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment, pollution prevention reduces the quantity of toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process itself.

For example, at one of its facilities in Deepwater, New Jersey, DuPont uses phosgene, an extremely hazardous gas. DuPont redesigned the production line at this plant to produce phosgene on site and to consume most of the gas used in the manufacturing process shortly afterward. Today, DuPont no longer ships large amounts of phosgene to the plant, avoiding the risk of dangerous transportation spills or storage accidents, and produces far less of the gas at the facility as a waste product.

Polaroid achieved similar results company-wide through its voluntary Toxic Use and Waste Reduction (TUWR) program. Begun in 1987, TUWR encompasses all materials Polaroid uses by grouping chemicals into four categories and all other materials into a fifth category. Managers then set different reduction objectives for each category, such as reducing toxic chemical use or reducing the generation of byproducts, and tracked Polaroid's progress toward the goals. Over the first five years, the TUWR program helped Polaroid use 37 percent less of the most toxic chemicals and save $19 million through waste reductions.

Dow Chemical also saved big bucks thanks to several initiatives clustered under its Environment, Health, and Safety management system. For example, in 1981 one of Dow's Louisiana subsidiaries began an energy conservation program in which managers challenged employees to develop methods to improve efficiency. Each conservation project, however, had to cost less than $200,000 and produce more than a 100 percent return on investment. That first year, Dow invested in 27 projects at a total cost of $1.7 million and received a 173 percent return on its investment. Today, Dow continues to build on that foundation as a signatory to a chemical industry initiative known as Responsible Care.

The Canadian Chemical Producers Association created the Responsible Care pledge in 1985; signatories agree to implement six codes of management practice: community awareness and response; process safety; distribution; environment, health, and safety; product stewardship; and pollution prevention. Collectively, these codes focus on improving environmental stewardship in all stages of a chemical's use, from research and design through manufacturing, use, and disposal. The initiative has spread to more than 40 countries.

Dow's "Global Responsible Care Awards" recognize the success of employees at its facilities around the world in implementing these codes of practice. This year more than 80 teams competed for nine awards. Each winning team receives a $5,000 contribution to be directed to the nonprofit environment, health, and safety organization of its choice.

The New Standard
Concern for leaving our children a healthy planet played some role in business and industries' early involvement with sustainable development efforts, and the realization that design manufacturing processes to protect and preserve the earth makes sound financial sense is bringing even more companies around to this new, green way of doing business.

Kate Gibney is a freelance writer who lives in Arlington, Virginia

Building A Green Curriculum
Throughout the global business community, the influence of pollution prevention and other sustainable approaches on standard manufacturing practice is hard to miss. This fundamental change in industrial culture has not been lost on engineering educators.

As the architects of technological advancement and the experts charged with using technology to improve the human condition, engineers have an enormous role to play in implementing sustainable development. Engineering educators have acknowledged this by gradually incorporating environmental perspectives into the engineering curriculum. Engineering Criteria 2000's stipulation, however, that every engineering graduate must receive a "broad enough education to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global and societal context," lends these efforts new urgency.

Two approaches to incorporating sustainability perspectives into the engineering curriculum have evolved: the center approach and the whole curriculum approach. Each uses different strategies to achieve the same end: cultivating sensitivity to sustainability issues in students in all engineering disciplines.

The Center Approach
Engineering schools throughout the country are establishing multidisciplinary research centers that serve as the focal points for the study and research of sustainability issues. These centers provide students from many specialties with a "green" perspective. They act as a coordinating body for the hundreds of disparate green engineering research projects that engineering professors and students have often pursued independently in the past. Last but not least, the centers function as both facilitator and advocate for sustainability issues throughout the university.

The Georgia Institute of Technology's Center for Sustainable Technology is one example of this approach. Established in 1992 with a $1 million grant from the General Electric Foundation, the center's objectives include redesigning the engineering process to better reflect "the environmental imperative;" promoting the creation and dissemination of sustainable technologies; and developing and applying measures of sustainability.

To achieve these ends, the center became actively involved in a lot more than just research. One of the main thrusts of its educational programming efforts was the development of a series of pilot courses focused on sustainable development and technology.

The first sequence of three pilot courses debuted in 1996. Open to undergraduate and graduate students from any academic field, these courses are team-taught by engineering professors and faculty members from other departments, including public policy. Students can take the courses independently of one another or as a series. Jorge Vanegas, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech, coordinated the curriculum development effort. "The whole idea was to create courses that offered students who discovered that they had a real interest in sustainable technology the opportunity to get up to speed, and provided basic background for other students who just wanted to get an introduction to the subject," Vanegas explains.

The first course, Introduction to Sustainable Development, gives students the necessary grounding to get what Vanegas calls that extra edge. "Being educated in sustainable technology gives students the ability to talk the language that a lot of corporations are starting to use today," he asserts.

The pilot phase of the project recently ended and though the courses are still offered, Georgia Tech does not plan to implement a stand-alone sustainable development curriculum. Vanegas stresses that the ultimate goal of the curricular development effort was not to produce another degree but rather to create "educational material that could be incorporated seamlessly throughout all engineering disciplines."

At Georgia Tech, it seems safe to say that the effort to achieve this kind of seamless incorporation is working. Sustainable development is now an intrinsic part of the university's institutional culture. And it has not been the result of a determined effort to impose curricular changes but rather a by-product of attempts to get different disciplines working together and exchanging ideas, in part through the center. Curricular change, on the other hand, produces structures that can be quite rigid and imposes the need to tackle institutional barriers such as cross-listing courses.

"At Georgia Tech we encourage students through research opportunities and independent study to be leaders in the development of a sustainable future," says Vanegas. "Sustainable development is an interdisciplinary exercise by definition. I think the culture here makes that clear to engineering students and offers them many ways to participate."

Virginia Polytechnic Institute's college of engineering has been actively working to communicate much the same message, but has gone about the process in an entirely different way.

The Whole Curriculum Approach
Ron Kander, a materials science and engineering professor at Virginia Tech, heads the college's green engineering program. The university has made it a priority to "sensitize" the entire engineering curriculum to green engineering and to improving local and global environmental quality.

Virginia Tech's efforts grew out of the work of civil engineering professor Jon Novak, and Ron Gordon, the head of the materials science and engineering program, and their proposal to the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) for funding of a center for environmentally conscious manufacturing. CIT passed on the request, but then-acting dean Paul Torgersen (now president of Virginia Tech) asked Novak to do some additional work with the idea.

Novak says that his work in environmental engineering taught him that engineers need to be trained to consider potential environmental problems in the same way that they consider economics. "A good engineer always considers costs and benefits. In the same way, they should think about the ultimate fate of manufactured goods in a total life-cycle analysis," Novak explains. Students get this background most efficiently when the concepts are woven into the existing curriculum, he adds.

His initial proposal for the green engineering program spelled out how the integration could be achieved. Design courses could consider environmental issues. One or two weeks of specific environmental content could be added to lecture courses. New courses could be added to the second-year level that would address pollution impacts, life cycle analysis, and waste treatment and disposal issues. Novak submitted the proposal to Virginia Tech's provost and received $250,000 to get the program underway.

As chair of the green engineering steering committee, Novak spent two years developing proposals to secure the funding needed to modify existing courses and create several new ones. The committee initially identified 70 courses throughout Virginia Tech's curriculum that had an environmental component; 56 of those courses were in engineering. The committee then developed a series of baseline courses on green engineering that could suit either core or honors curricula. A green engineering minor, created in large part by steering committee member Malcolm MacPherson, professor of mining and minerals engineering, offered a more formal subject concentration.

Today, all of Virginia Tech's engineering departments offer some courses devoted to or containing significant green engineering content. As a result, regardless of discipline, Virginia Tech engineering students virtually cannot avoid being exposed to green engineering. In fact, they begin considering environmental impact from the very start in the mandatory introduction to engineering course.

The array of available green engineering course options, however, ensures that there's something to appeal to everyone. For example, materials science majors can take Design for the Environment. In this class, they explore ways to meet the demand of companies like Xerox, which mandates that all of its business equipment products be either completely reusable or recyclable. Electrical engineering majors can take Electrical Engineering and the Global Environment, which explores renewable energy alternatives and end-use technologies such as electric cars.

Looking Ahead
Both the center and the whole curriculum approach have their strengths and weaknesses and both appeal to different university cultures. Each, however, offers a way to reshape an engineering curriculum to meet the requirements of Engineering Criteria 2000. In the end, regardless of how engineering schools choose to address the issue, there's no doubt that tomorrow's engineers need to be sensitive to environmental externalities.

Industry's drive to master greener, cleaner production and disposal processes raises the bar for today's graduates and makes the need for a green perspective a job imperative. More broadly, however, today's students will be entering an engineering community that has embraced its role in realizing a sustainable future.

—Kate Gibney

Illustration by Stan Watts

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