Technology And Sustainability Professional Training

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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Professional training


The purpose of this class is to address the issues of sustainability and to expand the engineering perspective of this problem. First, we review the concept of sustainability from several points of view including economics, ecology, and business. This discussion addresses the shortcomings of several approaches including “eco-efficiency” and the “triple bottom line." We then develop a resource accounting perspective in some detail with the emphasis in four areas:

  • Energy resources analysis, energy and exergy flows, balances, efficiencies, primary energy use, energy return on investment, net energy analysis, and renewable energy – all from a thermodynamic perspective.
  • Material resources analysis, including not only the materials used in the delivery of products and services, but also the effects on major material cycles such as carbon, water, and nitrogen. This approach will be expanded to aggregate both fuels and non-fuel materials by using an exergy analysis approach.
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA) of products and services, including variations on the method such as input-output models, hybrid models, consequential LCA and exergy methods that can incorporate ecosystem services.
  • Design for sustainability accounting for the role of ecosystem services in supporting industrial activities, and an assessment of alternative sustainability solution approaches.

The class uses our book Thermodynamics and the Destruction of Resources (Cambridge University Press, 2011) and builds on these topics from a solid basis. Examples will be taken from diverse areas but with special attention to current and emerging chemical and manufacturing processes and product analysis. Participants are encouraged to bring sample cases for discussion and class will include time for hands-on LCA demonstrations.

Note: This course was previously titled "Energy, Sustainability, and Lifecycle Assessment."

Takeaways from this course include:

  • Identifying alternative interpretations of sustainability, including economic, ecological, business, and resource accounting.
  • Reviewing thermodynamic principles as an example of a rigorous approach to resource accounting.
  • Analyzing energy transformation and materials transformation processes using various resource accounting approaches.
  • Exploring life cycle assessment (LCA), including advanced LCA methods. Applying these methods to new situations and analyze products and services.
  • Examining resource accounting at multiple scales, including carbon, water, nitrogen, and ecosystem services.

Who should attend:

This class is intended for professionals from manufacturing, design, energy, and sustainability, as well as for academics (faculty, researchers, and graduate students).

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Start Date

End Date


Professional training


Cambridge , United States