Greetings from Purdue Environmental and Ecological Engineering!
I think that for most people it is far easier to take a pill or undergo some treatment for a malady rather than implement a fundamental lifestyle change to avoid the malady in the first place. For example, eating right and losing weight is much harder to do than taking some pill to control your blood pressure. Of course, avoiding problems by thinking ahead and anticipating consequences is much harder to do, but it is by far the most cost effective approach to problems. In the case of hypertension, it is less expensive to avoid the problem through lifestyle changes than it is to take high blood pressure medicine. I think there is a growing awareness of the benefits of wellness in terms of cost and quality of life.
Historically, environmental engineering has focused on addressing problems once they are already present, i.e., there is some contaminated medium (water, air, soil) that must be dealt with to protect human or ecosystem health. Environmental engineering as a discipline and as a technological endeavor has proven to be indispensable over the last several decades in tackling such legacy and on-going environmental challenges via control, containment, treatment, mitigation, and dilution approaches. In this way, classic environmental engineering is analogous to taking medicine for a health issue. Once a problem is there, classic environmental engineering is pretty much the only option that can be used – and, let me assure you, we will need classic environmental engineering for the foreseeable future. But, again like healthcare, classic environmental engineering is often an expensive way to address problems. With classic environmental engineering, improved environmental performance and cost generally represent conflicting objectives. And, like many forms of medicine, classic environmental engineering does not solve the root cause of the problem.
Environmental and Ecological Engineering (EEE) at Purdue is pioneering a whole new approach to environmental engineering. Our approach combines two complementary themes: classic environmental engineering and industrial sustainability. This second theme has a proactive focus that seeks to avoid environmental challenges altogether by identifying the root cause of environmental issues and eliminating/circumventing them. The inclusion of industrial sustainability in our education and research programs makes EEE unique relative to other environmental engineering departments around the world. Addressing industrial sustainability requires a systems perspective that bridges environmental engineering and other disciplines to design, manage, and operate industrial systems so they can exist in harmony with the environment.
Purdue’s innovative, new approach to environmental engineering requires that students acquire a rigorous underpinning of mathematics, science, and basic engineering knowledge. Such knowledge is indispensable to prepare our students for more advanced courses in life cycle engineering, water/wastewater treatment, dynamics of complex systems, air pollution control, green manufacturing, eco-design, environmental chemistry, urban ecology, soil remediation, bio-energy, and resilient system design. As might be expected, the students who graduate from EEE are just as unique as the EEE program itself. We receive many compliments from industry recruiters about how well prepared our students are in terms of rigorous preparation, broad systems understanding, and strong communication skills. And, of course, our students are very familiar with both classic environmental engineering and designing systems that prevent environmental problems. Like healthcare challenges, evading environmental issues in the first place is almost always the most cost effective solution.
John W. Sutherland
Professor and Fehsenfeld Family Head