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Social Impacts in Sustainability

At the end of my last article, I was starting to make a connection between resiliency and some of the societal dimensions of sustainability. As we start looking into some of the less technical aspects, like consumer response/acceptance, we get into these more esoteric aspects of green and sustainable manufacturing. My next topic is societal dimensions of sustainable design and manufacturing (the other “S” word).

To the extent that larger civil systems are involved in manufacturing supply chains or labor responsiveness, enhancing manufacturing resilience to disruptions and disasters is not a purely technical problem, but involves societal dimensions.

In perusing my latest copy of Fortune magazine I noticed an article under a discussion on “What will the Global 500 look like in 2021” (the Global 500 are the top 500 companies internationally.) The article stated that “scarcity will be the new normal” and claimed that “three billion new people will join the global middle class in the next two decades. The resulting consumption boom will drive natural-resource prices higher, opening space for companies that learn to use resources more efficiently.” You can find this online at the CNNMoney site.  Their angle is, of course, that this will offer opportunities for companies in businesses like “reducing food waste, deploying efficient irrigation systems, and improving the energy efficiency of buildings.”

And green manufacturing and supply chains? In addition to food and shelter this global middle class is going to be clamoring for all the usual ornaments of that new status – refrigerators, automobiles, televisions, etc.

Recall the IPAT equation I’ve been bandying about in several blogs and first introduced back in the September 2009 posting? The basic impact equation (or IPAT, in terms of environmental damage, consumption, etc.) which is simply:

Impact = Population x (GDP/person) x (Impact/GDP)

(and hence the acronym IPAT: I = P x A x T or  Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology)

I commented then that population grows with time and most countries strive to improve GDP/capita since that drives living standards, etc. The rate of consumption or environmental impact per unit of GDP is the “rate of damage” done as a result of the technology driving the growth in GDP and is really the only “knob” we can adjust to reduce impact.

I noted that engineers are most effective at changing technology that affects Impact/GDP. To the extent we can reduce that impact we are, effectively, greening the process. And that means we are reducing the impact.

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