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In this module, the following topics are covered: 1) problem solving in a systematic and holistic manner, 2) the basic elements of life cycle analysis, and 3) the available tools for conducting life cycle analysis.

Learning objectives

After reading this module, students should be able to

  • learn to view problem solving in a systematic and holistic manner
  • understand the basic elements of industrial ecology and life cycle analysis
  • become aware of available tools for conducting life cycle analysis

Problem solving for sustainability

It should be clear by now that making decisions and solving problems in support of greater sustainability of human-created systems and their impact on the natural environment is a complex undertaking. Often in modern life our decisions and designs are driven by a single goal or objective (e.g. greater monetary profitability, use of less energy, design for shorter travel times, generation of less waste, or reduction of risk), but in most cases solving problems sustainably requires a more holistic approach in which the functioning of many parts of the system must be assessed simultaneously, and multiple objectives must be integrated when possible. Furthermore, as noted in the Brundtland Report (or see Chapter Introduction to Sustainability: Humanity and the Environment ), often our decisions require the recognition of tradeoffs – there are many kinds of impacts on the environment and most decisions that we make create more than one impact at the same time. Of course choices must be made, but it is better if they are made with fuller knowledge of the array of impacts that will occur. The history of environmental degradation is littered with decisions and solutions that resulted in unintended consequences.

An illustrative example of the role of sustainability in solving problems is the issue of biofuels – turning plant matter into usable energy (mostly liquid hydrocarbon-based fuels). When viewed from afar and with a single goal, “energy independence,” using our considerable agricultural resources to turn solar energy, via photosynthesis, into usable fuels so that we can reduce our dependence on imported petroleum appears to be quite attractive. The United States is the largest producer of grain and forest products in the world. It has pioneered new technologies to maintain and even increase agricultural productivity, and it has vast processing capabilities to create artificial fertilizer and to convert biomass into agricultural products (see Module Renewable Energy: Solar, Wind, Hydro and Biomass ). And, after all, such a venture is both “domestic” and “natural” – attributes that incline many, initially at least, to be favorably disposed. However upon closer examination this direction is not quite as unequivocally positive as we might have thought. Yes it is possible to convert grain into ethanol and plant oils into diesel fuel, but the great majority of these resources have historically been used to feed Americans and the animals that they consume (and not just Americans; the United States is the world’s largest exporter of agricultural products). As demand has increased, the prices for many agricultural products have risen, meaning that some fraction of the world’s poor can no longer afford as much food. More marginal lands (which are better used for other crops, grazing, or other uses) have been brought under cultivation for fermentable grains, and there have been parallel “indirect” consequences globally – as the world price of agricultural commodities has risen, other countries have begun diverting land from existing uses to crops as well. Furthermore, agricultural runoff from artificial fertilizers has contributed to over 400 regional episodes of hypoxia    in estuaries around the world, including the U.S. Gulf Coast and Chesapeake Bay.

Questions & Answers

anyone know any internet site where one can find nanotechnology papers?
Damian Reply
Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
Berger describes sociologists as concerned with
Mueller Reply
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Practice Key Terms 8

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Source:  OpenStax, Sustainability: a comprehensive foundation. OpenStax CNX. Nov 11, 2013 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11325/1.43
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