The Natural Edge Project The Natural Advantage of Nations Whole System Design Factor 5 Cents and Sustainability Higher Education and Sustainable Development

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Principles and Practices in Sustainable Development for the Engineering and Built Environment Professions 

Unit 2 - Efficiency/ Whole Systems


Educational Aims

Lecture 5: Efficiency – A Critical First Step towards Sustainability
To reinforce the critical point that efficiency is a vital sustainability strategy. The rate of return on investment makes it economically viable to further investment in sustainability initiatives such as renewable energy, and recycling of water and materials. To achieve sustainability will involve a transition. Engineers have a critical role to help society find the most cost effective ways to achieve this. Engineers need to become better at communicating the multiple benefits of engineering sustainable solutions to business, government or any organisation they work with. The concept of efficiency will help engineers better communicate how cost-effective reducing environmental impacts can be. Businesses, governments and other organisations are embracing efficiency because it improves performance, reduces costs and pollution. This is also an important topic to cover since engineers play a key role in often both managing and implementing efficiency.

Lecture 6: Efficiency: Engineering Efficiencies (Energy, Water, Materials)
Effective practitioners have shown that it is possible to achieve significant energy, water and material efficiencies with numerous everyday products and industrial processes. The goal here is to introduce and start to explain how to achieve such results, and how still greater results can be achieved in the future. A succinct overview of these exciting opportunities for engineers is outlined with checklists to provide guidance for those seeking to achieve greater energy, water and materials efficiencies. These checklists have been developed and formally published by The Institution of Engineers Australia and the Institution of Professional Engineers, New Zealand.

Lecture 7: Whole Systems: Achieving Whole of Systems Optimisation - Pipes and Pumps
To introduce RMI’s Pipes and Pumps case study as an existing whole system engineering example of redesigning industrial pumping systems, where optimising the whole of the system for multiple benefits can yield Factor 4 – 10 productivity improvements. To also show how this case study can be emulated for the Whole System Design (WSD) of numerous other engineering systems. Few people or organisations have done as much as Amory Lovins and RMI to communicate the benefits of whole of system engineering design (WSD) to engineers. This case study is therefore provided as a tribute to their leading work.

Lecture 8: Whole Systems: 10 step Operational Checklist to Achieve Whole System Design Optimisation
The goal here is to demystify the art of Whole System Design (WSD) as practised by WSD practitioners into easily understood operational steps. This operational check list will help to show how through Whole System Design big efficiency gains can be achieved. Some of these steps overlap with each other and some may seem obvious, however, each step is reinforcing aspects that are of importance in successfully implementing Whole System Design.



The engineering profession will play a significant part in moving society to a more sustainable way of life. Recognising this, the Engineering Sustainable Solution Program (ESSP) seeks to provide engineers and built environment professionals with a basic understanding of sustainability issues and opportunities as they relate to their practice. The ESSP is designed to facilitate the effective incorporation of key pieces of information, or ‘critical literacies’, relating to sustainability into engineering curricula and capacity building. This program provides an alert to sustainability principles and activity in the engineering profession.

In the preparation of any education program, and in particular an introductory course, it is a challenge to cover all possible questions or uncertainties that may arise during delivery of the material. In response to this challenge, this program will be supported (in its critical academic rigour and structure) by engineering related material in the publication, The Natural Advantage of Nations, and its companion web site ( along with other key texts.

Required Reading

Hargroves, K. and Smith, M.H. (2005) The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century, Earthscan, London.

The Text Book along with each of the units has an online companion to provide additional supporting material. Optional reading material is provided after each lecture for those who wish to explore the content in more detail.

The development of the Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program – Critical Literacies Portfolio has been supported by grants from the following organisations:

  • UNESCO, Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences, Natural Sciences Sector (with particular support and mentoring from Tony Marjoram, Senior Programme Specialist - Engineering Sciences, and Françoise Lee).

  • The Institution of Engineers Australia, College of Environmental Engineers (with particular support and mentoring from Martin Dwyer, Director Engineering Practice, and Peter Greenwood, Doug Jones, Andrew Downing, Tim Macoun, Julie Armstrong and Paul Varsanyi).

  • The Society for Sustainability and Environmental Engineering (with particular support and mentoring from Terrence Jeyaretnam).

Expert review and mentoring has been received from Janine Benyus and Dayna Baumeister, The Biomimicry Guild (USA); Paul Anastas, Green Chemistry Institute (USA); Alan Pears RMIT University (AUS); Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute (USA); Tom Conner, KBR (AUS); and Mia Kelly, TNEP Working Group (AUS). We would like to add a special thank you to the Engineers Australia review panel Trevor Daniell, Thomas Brinsmead and David Hood.


Smith, M., Hargroves, K. and Paten, C. (2007) Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program: Critical Literacies Portfolio, The Natural Edge Project, Australia (TNEP).


The Natural Edge Project Engineering Sustainable Solutions
Program is supported by the Australian National Commission
for UNESCO through the International Relations Grants
Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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