Sustainability Methods and Metrics
Leader: Dr Dick Fenner
Timing: Michaelmas Term
Structure: Eight 2-hour sessions in Weeks 1 to 8: plus coursework assignments.
The module will examine representations of sustainable development, as a value laden term and contrast classical reductionist approaches to engineering problem solving with the need for a multi-perspective view of defining problems in complex socio-technical systems. The role of engineering decision making in an uncertain world operating under the new paradigm of post normal science will be explored with the core aim of achieving a mindset change in how graduates from the MPhil programme think about engineering problems. The focus will be on the introduction of a range of tools and techniques which can lead to quantifiable metrics and indicators that can test whether engineering decisions are sustainable, with a balanced critical overview of their applicability and limitations. The module will include introductions to techniques including basic System Dynamics, Life Cycle Analysis, ecological footprinting, carbon accounting, and whole life costs and ecosystem services valuation Such techniques can generate a wide range of disparate output information and this needs to be structured in a systematic way using multi criteria decision making tools, whilst uncertainty in future engineering design will be addressed through a consideration of real options appraisal and agent based modelling. Social science tools and paradigms will be introduced.
Dealing with complexity requires a systems approach
Dealing with uncertainty through risk based decision making
Dealing with other disciplines by building multidisciplinary teams
Dealing with environmental limits by assessing the impact on resources and ecosystem services and ensuring pollution control
Dealing with project externalities by calculating whole life costs and ecological evaluation.
Principles, mindsets and complexity; discussion of sustainability as a contested concept; engineering consequences at the systems level, uncertainty, multi-perspective viewpoints, working from the rational to the post normal. Widening horizons: enlarging the system boundary ( to include values, constraints and processes).
Introduction to systems thinking, patterns of behavior and system structure, feedback loops and causal loop diagrams, leverage points, stocks , flows and dynamic equilibrium, stock flow models, effect of time delays on system behaviour; system surprises and non-intuitive outcomes
Introduction to Life Cycle Analysis ; goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, impact assessment ( impact categories) , interpretation and presentation of results (normalization and weighting procedures) ; functional units, ISO allocation procedures, calculating environmental burdens what can go wrong, eco auditing, case study examples . Unresolved problems in LCA. Carbon accounting procedures and carbon footprints, PAS 2080: (2016) for carbon management in Infrastructure: UKWIR carbon accounting in the water industry.
Multi criteria decision analysis (MCDA): The decision making process: structuring the problem, modelling the preferences, alternative evaluations, making recommendations. Specific techniques: simple comparison matrix; Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP), pairwise comparisons, comparison matrices, consistency ratio, generating global priorities. Rank reversal Electre method, concordance / discordance analysis. Designing for uncertainty, real options analysis.
Ecosystem services valuation; ecosystem functions and structure: provisioning, regulating, cultural and support services types of value (use value, option value, bequest value, non-use value, existence value). Principles of ecological economics. Total economic value (TEV) framework, Economic valuation (revealed preference methods, stated preference methods); examples using hedonic pricing, travel cost methods, contingent valuation. Valuation tools for appraising multiple benefits
Social science tools and paradigms. Qualitative research methods. Conducting qualitative interviews. Agent based modelling, determining agent rules and behaviours, opinion dynamics, Use on Net Logo. Example for flood evacuation.
( also supported through the Seminar Programme and other related activities including the self reflective learning logs):
To enable students:
- To explore mechanisms by which sustainability can be introduced into engineering practice and its implementation assessed and evaluated.
- To examine ways of providing better problem definition and needs assessment, when formulating engineering plans and conducting option appraisals.
- To develop an engineering discipline mind-set which is capable of meeting pressing
- environmental and social concerns as well as pursuing commercial opportunity.
- To select suitable methodologies for the evaluation of sustainability in a variety of contexts and to understand their limitations
- To converse with specialists from different disciplines and to think critically about issues in these disciplines (economics, social science etc) and their relationship with engineering practice.
Assessment: 100% coursework (3 items: systems dynamics; MCDA, general )