Addressing Sustainability Issues

Save our fragile planet! Go green! How should the engineering faculty address the complex issues of sustainability? How should the Materials Engineering faculty take a leadership role?

For most of the 20th century, the hallmark of an engineering education was the ability to design structures, systems, components, or processes. Today, engineering design continues to be the capstone of the engineering curriculum. In 1997, ABET, Inc. (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), through its Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) strengthened the accreditation criteria (EC2000) for the design experience. This national treasure, this human resource—engineering design—is the technological key to sustainability on planet earth.

The Purdue engineering faculty has a unique responsibility to the engineering profession. As one of the largest and best colleges of engineering in the United States, the college faculty should lead with a global perspective and a commitment to a sustainable future:

  1. The new Division of Environmental and Ecological Engineering (DEEE) needs to develop programmatic identity in both undergraduate and graduate engineering education. DEEE should provide leadership to create and codify the body of knowledge emerging as “green” engineering. A special DEEE responsibility is to catalyze green engineering design throughout the College of Engineering.
  2. Engineering faculty members in the College need to address sustainable issues about greener industrial systems in their respective disciplines. Simple tools like materials selection, substitution, and recycling are not strong enough. Engineering design must meet new green constraints in economics, politics, ethics, health and safety, manufacturing, and, eventually, sustainability.
  3. The Materials Engineering faculty already has the spirit, temperament, and course offerings in place to go greener. Courses in materials properties and materials processing illustrate structure-properties-processing-performance relationships. The senior-level sequence Materials Processing and Design I and II is the capstone for undergraduate engineering design. Renewed attention to performance may be central to achieving greener engineering design education.


The Materials Engineering faculty should pool their talent and take on a new leadership role in metallurgical and materials education. Together, teams of faculty, senior students and graduate students should create and document case studies that have a green engineering design component. As new case studies are created, the best of the older case studies would work their way into the junior and sophomore laboratories. In fact, with promotion at international meetings, new case studies eventually would be exported to other materials engineering programs around the world.

My case for sustainability needs a final perspective. The engineering faculty has to design the right mix of subject matter for each of the engineering curricula. I have lived long enough to see the demise of coursework in mineralogy, ore dressing, assaying, foundry, welding, heat treating, graphics, descriptive geometry, vacuum tubes, instrumentation, and more. If green is coming in, what's going out?

-Richard E. Grace (BSMetE '51) held many positions during his 46 years at Purdue. He was head of the School of Metallurgical Engineering from 1965 to 1972; founding head of the Division of Interdisciplinary Engineering Studies; head of Freshman Engineering; vice president for Student Services; and founding director of the Undergraduate Studies Program. He retired in 2000,but is still an active presence at the school.