Stormwater Management

Why Is Stormwater Management Important?

Stormwater Management ProblemStormwater is just rain or meltwater and is not the most pressing issue on many peoples’ minds as they do their daily work.  That is…  until there’s more stormwater at their feet than the ground can absorb, and more stormwater than the rivers can carry.  Once people are facing a flood at their very own feet or in their community, then stormwater becomes very important.  And, of course, when a flood happens, there is not much to do but wait for the water to recede.

Why Does Land Development Increase the Need for Stormwater Management?

Land development is good for the economic growth of a region.  However, with land development comes fewer pervious surfaces. Therefore, stormwater has less surface area where it can soak into the ground.  Impervious surfaces can include things like a roof of a building, a road, or a parking lot. Therefore, land development results in a need for stormwater management.

Stormwater Management Options for Land Developers

Three examples of options for stormwater management include (but are not limited to):

  • surface basins – an area where water can be directed from a developed area, creating a temporary pond, until the water can soak into the ground;
  • permeable pavement – an alternative to traditional asphalt paving, which allows water to pass through the surface and infiltrate into the ground under the pavement; and
  • lastly, recharge chambers or underground stormwater infiltration basins – a structure, typically made of concrete arches or a modular plastic framework, built under a parking lot, stadium, or another impervious surface to hold stormwater until it can soak into the ground.
    Stormwater Management Plastic Recharge Chamber

Assessing the Life Cycle Impact of Recharge Chambers

Recent research work with colleagues I met at Drexel University focused on assessing the life cycle impact of recharge chambers.  We investigated the environmental midpoint impact assessment metrics of:

  • acidification;
  • eutrophication;
  • global warming; and
  • fossil fuel resources.

These four metrics were chosen since they all pertain to water resources or infrastructure development.

Taking a Life Cycle Approach to Evaluate Stormwater Management Projects

Using a life cycle approach to evaluate projects means that cradle-to-grave impacts are considered, not just one life cycle phase. A life cycle approach means we consider all inputs from nature, through manufacturing, transportation, use, maintenance, repair, recycling, and finally end-of-life.  Earlier research compared the cradle-to-grave potential impact of various stormwater management solutions, finding that the cradle-to-installation phase of the recharge chambers dominated the cradle-to-grave life cycle impact.  Said another way, the use and end-of-life phases were small compared to the manufacturing and installation phases.

The earlier research led to further studies, explicitly comparing many different manufacturers’ plastic recharge chambers through the manufacturing and installation phases.  Results from this work revealed significant differences in these plastic recharge chambers.

Type of Plastic Used (polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, recycled polypropylene)

The plastic materials used in the recharge chamber design can represent as much as 99% of the cradle-to-installation environmental midpoint impact of the recharge chamber. Additionally,

Manufacturing Process Used to Make the Plastic Components (injection molding, thermoforming, extruding)

When manufacturers use injection molding to make the plastic components, the process can create an impact of about 50% higher than if they extrude the material. In addition, the impact of injection molding is also higher than if the material is thermoformed.

Type of Backfill Material Used During Installation (sand, gravel)

The processing and transporting of backfill materials, specifically sand or gravel, to the project site can be approximately 20% of the total cradle-to-installation impact, with sand being a better choice than gravel if transported the same distance.  And finally, this work revealed that the transport distance for these backfill materials is highly significant.  The transportation impact can exceed plastic when transport distances become very long.  Using gravel, where the closest quarry is nearby, is preferred to using sand, where the nearest source of sand is hundreds of miles away.

Conclusion Regarding Recharge Chambers for Stormwater Management

In conclusion, recharge chambers produce potential environmental midpoint impacts that are less favorable than some other stormwater management infrastructure solutions. However, they play an essential role in providing flood protection.  Municipalities and developers commonly use recharge chambers in projects where limited land area prevents use of other stormwater management approaches.  For more information about this research on the life cycle assessment of recharge chambers, please refer to the published paper
Life Cycle Environmental Impact of Underground Plastic Recharge Chambers in Stormwater Management

New SEC ESG Reporting Requirements Sending Shock Waves Through the Supply Chain

SEC ESG Reporting RequirementsIn early 2022, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced a new rule planned to go into effect by the end of the year. The ruling requires publicly traded companies in the US to report Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors. Furthermore, publicly traded companies must also include these factors in their supply chain. Therefore, most companies will be affected by this new rule. So, if you’re thinking, “this doesn’t affect me because I’m not a large publicly traded company,” read on to find out how you will be affected by these reporting requirements.

What is ESG and Why Is It Important to Investors?

ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance. Companies report ESG factors to disclose consistent, comparable, and reliable information to their stakeholders about these issues. To investors, awareness and reporting on ESG factors are synonymous with risk mitigation. In the following list, I provide some examples.


  • Carbon emissions;
  • Energy efficiency;
  • Natural resource use;
  • Waste; and
  • Other environmental sustainability initiatives


  • Workforce health and safety;
  • Diversity;
  • Data security;
  • Privacy policies;
  • Employee training; and
  • Community programs


  • Business ethics;
  • Board diversity; and
  • Management policies

Digging Deeper Into Carbon Emissions

One of the aspects of the new SEC reporting requirements that will send a shock wave through the supply chain is the reporting of carbon emissions. In addition, the new rule requires the disclosure of not just the reporting company’s emissions but also the emissions associated with their supply chain.

Classifications of Emissions

When discussing carbon emissions and greenhouse gas reporting, you will hear the terms, “Scope 1 Emissions, Scope 2 Emissions, and 3 Emissions”.

  • Scope 1 – are the direct emissions from the reporting company’s facilities and their company vehicles.
  • Scope 2 – are the indirect emissions from purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling associated with the operation of the reporting company.
  • Scope 3 – are the indirect emissions from all upstream and downstream activities. These upstream and downstream activities include all the companies associated with the reporting company at any point in the supply chain, including:
    • Purchased goods and services;
    • Capital goods;
    • Transportation and distribution;
    • Waste generated;
    • Processing of sold products;
    • Use of sold products; and
    • lastly, End-of-life treatment of sold products.

While this list isn’t all-inclusive of Scope 3 Emissions, it represents the categories most relevant to our clients.

Taking a Broad View of Emissions

A broad view of emissions includes the entire product life cycle from cradle (raw materials from nature) to grave (end-of-life disposal or recycling). Therefore, emissions involve a lot of companies across an incredible breadth of industries and geographies.

Reporting on Scope 3 Emissions is considered vital by shareholders of large publicly traded companies. That’s because Scope 3 Emissions typically represent a more significant environmental impact than the large publicly traded company’s Scope 1 and 2 Emissions.

Large publicly traded companies are already reaching out to their suppliers to understand the carbon emissions of their operations. Likewise, those suppliers are demanding emissions information from their suppliers. This reach-back into the supply chain, all the way back to raw materials from nature, is how many small, privately-held companies will be involved in emissions reporting.

How Will This Impact My Company?

Typically, customers will indicate expectations from their suppliers regarding ESG or sustainability and specify what information they require. Requests can take on many forms. In the following list, I show some of the most common ones I see.

  • Complete a survey asking questions about ESG-related topics;
  • Establish and share quarterly reports on 3-5 ESG-related metrics that your company monitors;
  • Identify 3-5 goals from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, on which your company will monitor and report;
  • Become compliant with or certified to ISO 14001;
  • Provide a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for the product or service you are selling; and
  • lastly, Report on your company’s Scope 1 and 2 Emissions

When asked for this information, it’s crucial to take it seriously. Ignoring ESG requests and thinking it will go away has resulted in:

  • escalation of the data requests to higher levels within the company;
  • reduction in status on approved supplier lists;
  • cancellation of orders; and
  • as a result, even loss of that customer.


What Are the Harmful Effects of Using Excessive Fertilizers?

Video Discussing the Harmful Effects of Using Excessive Fertilizer

What Are Fertilizers and Why Are They Beneficial?

Lisa Peterson, Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering and Expert Regarding the Harmful Effects of Using Excessive Fertilizer
Lisa Peterson is highly qualified to comment on the harmful effects of using excessive fertilizer. Lisa is a professional Sustainability, ISO 14001, and Continuous Process Improvement Consultant with a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering

Fertilizers are

  • concentrated nutrients that are in a form that makes it easy to add to the soil physically;
  • typically a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, commonly known as NPK; and
  • lastly, intended to influence plant growth for root strength and top growth positively. Top growth means things like
    • larger foliage;
    • a lusher, thicker, and greener yard; and
    • more flowers, fruit, and grain.

What Are the Harmful Effects of Using Excessive Fertilizer?

Too much fertilizer can

  • result in stunted growth and withering or death to the plants commonly known as leaf scorch;
  • decrease the organic matter in the soil leading to soil acidification;
  • deplete the soil of essential nutrients resulting in less vitamin and mineral content in food crops; and
  • lastly, release the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide into the air.

What Are the Harmful Effects of Misapplying Fertilizer?

If you apply fertilizer

  • to compacted soil,  the fertilizer will lay on top and run off with the next rainstorm; and
  • right before a rainstorm, the fertilizer will go with the water.

Either case results in nutrient surplus in the water. Those nutrients fuel algae growth, resulting in a Harmful Algal Bloom or HAB.

Harmful Algal Blooms

  • reduce oxygen in the water causing fish to die (known as a fish kill event);
  • can sicken people and their pets when contacting the water; and
  • lastly, stink and are unpleasant to look at.

Ways to Reduce the Harmful Effects of Fertilizer

Modern farming methods used to mitigate the impact of fertilizers on the environment include

  • designing custom applications based on the needs of that area of the field which assures
    • crops get just the right amount of fertilizer; and
    • in addition, that the farmer isn’t wasting money on excess fertilizer;
  • using buffer strips between fields and waterways to catch excess nutrients from fertilizer that might drain off the field.

Mindful Use of Fertilizer Begins in Your Backyard

In conclusion, take personal responsibility for using fertilizers. When fertilizing your backyard, consider how much you need to apply and when to apply it. If the fertilizer doesn’t stay where you applied it, you’re sending your money down the river and into the bay.

Green Specifications Inclusive of CO2 and Energy

The Greening of Industrial Customer Specifications

Green Specifications Expert Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering.

Green Specifications have increasingly become a requirement along with traditional specifications like

  • maximum dimensions;
  • maximum weight; and
  • required materials.

Common Green Specifications include:

  • “percent reduction in carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and energy usage compared to previous models”; and
  • similarly, another version sets a cap on a product’s carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions and energy usage.

Green considerations are more than CO2 and energy and include

  • water usage;
  • percent recycled content; and
  • finally, the percentage of recyclable material.

While the above examples are quite common, there are many possible Green Specifications one might encounter.

Green Specifications and Life Cycle Thinking

Green Specifications include Cradle-to-Grave Life Cycle Thinking.  Cradle-to-Grave Thinking requires suppliers to consider the CO2 and energy usage of their suppliers. Supplier considerations include going all the way back to raw materials coming from nature.

On the customer side of Cradle-to-Grave, a supplier must consider the use, maintenance, and end of life of their product.  A supplier must think broadly, both upstream and downstream from their operation, to truly consider a life cycle perspective.

Many Industries and Companies of All Sizes Include Green Specifications

Green Specifications typically align with a company’s sustainability targets, as documented in

However, in smaller companies, these specifications can result from their larger customers’ demands.

Historically, the transportation industry led the way with these specifications to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions. However, today, many more industry sectors like

  • construction;
  • pharmaceutical;
  • food and agriculture;
  • oil and gas; and
  • lastly, tourism demand greener solutions.

Whether it’s the public, the shareholders, or the customers who are driving this transition, companies of all sizes and industries face these new specifications.

Get Ready to Think Green

Sharpen your green pencil to stay competitive whether you’re reacting to your customer’s demands or you’re being proactive. In conclusion, now is the time to think green.

Environmental Impact of Producing a kWh of Electricity

Does a kWh of electricity result in the same environmental impact regardless of where we generate it?

Sustainability and Contiunous Improvement Expert Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson is a professional Sustainability, ISO 14001, and Continuous Process Improvement Consultant with a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering

In a previous article, we explained how an inventory of all inputs and outputs is necessary to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  In addition, we explained that the benefit of an LCA is to understand environmental impact.  We also demonstrated that for corporations with facilities throughout the world, it’s essential to specify the location.  Similarly, when inputs or outputs have various processing options, it’s essential to use the appropriate process option in the LCA model to get a valid and accurate result.  For example, electricity is a typical input to most facilities, while waste water is a typical output to most facilities.  In this article, we’ll look at two examples using electricity production and waste water disposal.

Electricity Production Considerations

First, let’s look at an example that demonstrates why it’s crucial to consider where we produce a kWh of electricity. In this example, we’ll use two of the commonly known midpoint impact categories of

  • Global Warming (Climate Change); and
  • Particulate Matter (Human Health – Lung Function).

The scenario modeled below is a factory with 470K sq ft of manufacturing floor space and 150K sq ft of office space.  We are assuming that the factory uses 100kWh/sq ft, and the office uses 20kWh/sq ft annually.  Therefore, the total annual consumption of electricity is approximately 50 million kWh.

Environmental Impact from a Global Warming Perspective

The point of the chart below is not that this hypothetical factory is using 50 million kWh of electricity. Instead, the illustration shows the environmental impact differing significantly depending on the location of this facility.

Global Warming Impact on the Environment from Electricity Production

The chart above shows the midpoint impact category of Global Warming Air in kg CO2 equivalent. In this example, we see that India’s electricity production releases more than twice the CO2 equivalent compared to the United States’ electricity production.

Environmental Impact from Particulate Matter Perspective

The chart below shows the kg of 2.5 micron-sized particulate matter released in the air as a result of this amount of electricity production.

  • China’s electricity production releases more than 25 times the amount of particulate matter air pollution compared to the United States’ production.
  • India’s electricity production releases nearly 40 times the air pollution than the United States’ production.

Particulate Matter Impact on the Environment from Electricity Production

Waste Water Processing Considerations

Next, let’s look at an example that demonstrates why it’s crucial to consider process details of inputs and outputs. In this hypothetical example, the factory is located in the US and produces 10,000 gallons of wastewater per weekday.  The critical consideration here is whether the sewage treatment plant that processes their wastewater sends their sludge output to be

  • applied for agricultural benefit;
  • landfilled; or
  • lastly, incinerated for energy recovery.

Waste Water Impact on the Environment from Electricity ProductionIn this example, we see in the chart above that from the perspective of the midpoint impact category of Global Warming

  • the best solution is incinerating sludge for energy recovery;
  • the second best solution is agricultural land application; and
  • lastly, the least favorable approach is placing sludge in a landfill.


In conclusion, these two examples of electricity production and wastewater disposal highlight the importance of specifying location and process details for accurately modeling midpoint impacts and performing Life Cycle Assessment modeling.

Who Controls Your Company’s Green Reputation?

Your Company’s Green Reputation Can Be Quickly and Unfairly Maligned

Sustainability and Contiunous Improvement Expert Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson can help you defend your Company’s Green Reputation. That’s because Lisa is a professional Sustainability, ISO 14001, and Continuous Process Improvement Consultant with a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering

Your Green Reputation can be harmed when someone hears a tidbit or observes something negative about your company’s Sustainability Practices.  Suddenly, it’s trending news.

Right or wrong, you’re now on the defensive. Your communications department must do damage control. Furthermore, it’s incredibly frustrating because you’ve made significant improvements in your organization.

  • You converted all your office lighting to low energy LEDs.
  • The manufacturing floor reduced potable water usage by 30%.
  • Manufacturing improved product yield by 20% and therefore reduced both scrap and raw material.
  • You’ve implemented on-line record-keeping and reduced paper usage by 5%.

Nevertheless, suddenly the news spotlights the plastic packaging you use claiming you’re not recycling it.  All the good stuff you’ve accomplished doesn’t seem to matter. Furthermore, the news is wrong and you do recycle plastic packaging.

Your employees, customers, vendors, and neighbors can all be great ambassadors for sharing your concern and positive steps your company has taken to promote environmental stewardship.  Don’t be shy about letting people know about all the steps you’ve taken and are currently implementing.  Here’s how.

Ways to Control the Narrative Regarding Your Company’s Green Reputation

Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) Summaries

More and more companies, especially ones that are publicly traded corporations, have Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) Summaries in their annual filings.  Investors who do responsible investing or impact investing look for these ESG summaries.

That’s because they want to determine if the company is operating in a way that aligns with their views on environmental and/or social stewardship.  For example, an investor might look for investments in low carbon companies or in ones that are behaving in a “green” manner.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Customers sometimes request this environmental and/or social impact information in the form of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).  For example, customers who purchase textiles or plastics, especially when the manufacturer uses recycled content in the product, want to document the product’s positive environmental and/or social impact. The customer then includes positive impacts on their ESG information and advertising.

Furthermore, the company that makes the product wants this information as well. That’s because they want to prove that their product is a technological advance toward using recycled material and even toward a Circular Economy.

ISO 14001 Certification

ISO 14001 is the international standard certification for environmental management.  The latest standard now requires evidence of Life Cycle Thinking.  If a company is ISO 14001 certified, you know that they demonstrated to their auditor that they have considered the Life Cycle of their products and their operation.

Take the Offensive in Communicating and Defending Your Company’s Green Reputation

In conclusion, for 2020, don’t let public hype or perception tell your story.

  • Share the great accomplishments you’ve made so your investors, your customers, your neighbors, and your employees know the news.
  • Tell the world all the great stuff that you’re doing.
  • Build credibility in your story by quantifying those improvements in terms of kWh energy saved, gallons of potable water use reduced, and Life Cycle Assessment results.

We can help you. Contact Us Online or Call Us at 610-914-1356

Rethink Before You Dispose

Sustainability and Contiunous Improvement Expert Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson is a professional Sustainability, ISO 14001, and Continuous Process Improvement Consultant. Lisa also has the 3D Printing Services you need to help you successfully implement “Rethinking” in your company.

Did you ever throw away a favorite tool, an otherwise working appliance, or another unit simply because a piece of plastic broke or a piece of metal corroded, and you couldn’t get a replacement part? If you answered “Yes!”, this story might sound familiar.

One small but critical piece breaks.  So, you contact or attempt to contact the company who made the tool, appliance, or unit. You find out that

  • you have an old model without replacement parts, or
  • the company is no longer in business.

You try tape, wire or other repairs, but it just doesn’t work correctly.  Reluctantly, you then dispose of the entire item because this one small critical, irreplaceable piece is broken.  However, before you throw the item away the next time this situation arises, let’s consider an exciting new technology to make the part.

3D Printing can extend the life of an item and even improve the part making it more efficient because 3D printing

  • is especially well-suited for making custom parts for repairs so it saves you money and extends the useful life of that item,  and
  • amazingly, gives you the ability to make a modification to better suit how you use the item.

Rethinking Makes Repair, and Reuse a Reality

Whether in a home, office, or manufacturing setting, finding ways to reuse or repair an asset you already own is usually both cost-saving and environmentally-friendly.

The Sustainability Rs (R Words) include

  • Reduce;
  • Reuse;
  • Repair, and
  • Recycle.

However, without “Rethinking” (another key “R” Word in Sustainability), the item is likely to end up in the waste pile. Hopefully, the disposal process includes recycling. However, you might wind up placing the item in a landfill or incinerating it.  “Rethinking” is crucial because it makes “Repair” and “Reuse” a reality.

In conclusion, the next time a broken piece on a favorite item has you thinking about disposing of the item, “Rethink” that decision.  3D Printing might cost-effectively allow you to repair and reuse that item.

Contact Us Online or Call Us at  610-914-1356 to discuss your 3D Printing needs.

What Is the “Profit” Pillar of Sustainability?

Sustainability and Contiunous Improvement Expert Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson is a professional Sustainability, ISO 14001, and Continuous Process Improvement Consultant with a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering

The 3 Interconnected Pillars of Sustainability are;

  1. Planet;
  2. Profit;
  3. and People.

In the last blog post, we looked at the Planet Pillar.  Now let’s look at the  Profit Pillar of Sustainability.

Profit Has Been Crucial Throughout History

Our companies and families all revolve around a healthy economy.  Whether we conduct our trade in direct exchanges of goods and services, trading beads, IOU notes, or any of the world currencies, humans have engaged in the practice of commerce for at least as long as written history (including cave art) has existed.  We buy the things we need, and we sell the items we have.

Adding environmental concerns has not removed the need for a business to be profitable. Therefore, profit remains an essential component of an analysis of sustainability.  If a product we use requires a mineral or material that is scarce, the laws of supply and demand increase the price to buy it until it is no longer available and can’t be purchased at any cost.

Why Bankers and Investors Are So Concerned about Sustainability

Banks and investors care about risks in their portfolios of investments.  They are looking at the complete

  • upstream supply chain for the product in which they are investing including complementary products that are used side-by-side with the product in question; and
  • downstream consumer chain including the complementary products that are used side-by-side.

The trend from years ago, where banks and investors were only looking at the direct supply chain and the direct consumer, are changing.

Crucial questions now include:

  • Are any raw materials from nature in short supply, meaning that the price for that raw material will rise sharply, affecting the price point for the product?
  • Are there pending regulations on water utilization or air emissions that will change the operational costs of the company?

Sustainability issues represent risks to investors. Therefore, more and more annual company reports are now reporting on sustainability.

In conclusion, the Profit Pillar of Sustainability considers the viability for

  • consumers to continue to purchase the product at a price they can afford; and
  • suppliers to continue to make the product at a cost that provides a healthy profit.

What Is the “Planet” Pillar of Sustainability

Sustainability and Contiunous Improvement Expert Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson is a Sustainability, ISO 14001, and Continuous Process Improvement Consultant with a Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering.

Sustainability has three interconnected pillars, namely

  1. Planet;
  2. Profit; and
  3. People.

But what does this mean, and how does one measure or address each of these pillars?  Let’s first look at the “Planet” pillar of sustainability. The other components will be addressed in upcoming blog posts.

A common way to classify the features of planet Earth is to include

  • Land;
  • Air; and
  • Water.

Sustainability scientists use these same terms to measure the health of the Earth. Here are some measures we might consider for these terms.

  • Land Health
    • terrestrial ecotoxicity;
    • terrestrial acidification; and
    • land occupation.
  • Water Health
    • aquatic ecotoxicity;
    • aquatic acidification; and
    • aquatic eutrophication.
  • Air Health
    • smog formation; or
    • particulate matter.

What Is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is one of the tools we use to estimate impacts on our planet or the environment.  LCA considers the effects of a process or product from cradle to grave, meaning that we consider all stages of the product’s life from raw material extraction from the earth to disposal or recycling.

The LCA process is frequently used by designers to assess the potential impacts of their designs.  You might have seen a company advertise that their new packaging material design saves x billion kg of carbon dioxide equivalent from entering the atmosphere.  Or, perhaps a company will advertise that their new manufacturing process reduces sub 2.5-micron particulate matter by x tons per year.  These are examples of statements companies make to communicate that they’re thinking about the Planet Pillar of Sustainability.

4 Critical Steps for Conducting an LCA Study

Step 1: Define the Goal and Scope of the Study

This step might sound simple and unimportant, but it is the foundation of the whole study.  Ensuring that the study is well-defined allows us to draw comparisons between equivalent solutions.

Step 2: Prepare an Inventory

In the manufacturing world, we think of this as the Bill of Materials.  But in addition to just the Bill of Materials to manufacture the product, we include all

  • Upstream Materials and Transportation for movement of the materials until we have the inventory in terms of raw materials from nature,  and
  • Downstream Materials and Transportation
    • of the product to the customer;
    • materials required during use;
    • maintenance and repair; and
    • finally, disposal or recycling.

We again define this in terms of raw materials from nature.
Create an Inventory Flow Diagram to show flows from nature to nature, including

  • water;
  • energy;
  • raw materials;
  • releases to land;
  • releases to air; and
  • lastly, releases to water.

The inventory and associated flow diagram for even a simple product can be quite complex.

Step 3: Perform an Impact Assessment

Each inventory item is associated with a potential environmental impact.  Summing all the potential environmental impacts for each inventory item provide an estimated quantification of impact.  Various software packages can assist with this assessment of impact.

Step 4: Interpreting Results

The final step involves interpretation of the results, performing sensitivity analysis on the data, and making recommendations.

So hopefully, the next time you see a company advertise that their redesigned product uses x million liters less water per year or their redesigned manufacturing process releases x million tons less particulate matter per year, you’ll have an idea about the analysis that they went through to define that estimate for impact on our planet.

How are Sustainability and Continuous Improvement Related?

Reasons Why the Earth is Changing

Sustainability and Contiunous Improvement Expert Lisa Peterson
Lisa Peterson is a professional engineer and Sustainability and Continuous Process Improvement Consultant serving businesses throughout the United States.

While the terms “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” have believers and disbelievers, Earth has been in a constant state of change for many reasons. Some changes have nothing to do with human beings.

  • Scientists find bones of animals like dinosaurs on planet Earth that don’t exist anymore.
  • There have been ice ages and periods of high heat on planet Earth.
  • Meteors have hit our planet.
  • Volcanos have erupted.
  • Lastly, Tectonic plates have shifted.

In contrast, some changes are related to human beings, called anthropogenic effects,  that include

  • Increasing the impervious surfaces through our land development alters the flow of stormwater and increases the flooding effect.
  • Leaching of chemicals into our soils and waterways as a result of dumping wastes which causes toxic impact on humans, animals, and plants.

Therefore, whenever and wherever we can influence change, we should do so with an eye toward improved sustainability associated with the change.

Being Mindful of Anthropogenic Change

Another way we change planet Earth is with the extraction of resources, like materials or minerals. Resources on our planet are limited. If we use the last bit of what we have, there won’t be anymore, for perhaps many human lifetimes in the future. Lack of crucial resources could have a devastating effect on our economy and the lives of people. So, the rate at which we consume those resources is an important consideration and where sustainability comes into play.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is the ecological capacity to endure and occurs when biological systems remain diverse and productive. It is the endurance of systems and processes. When I speak about sustainability, I think about the three interconnected pillars of sustainability:

  • our natural environment (planet);
  • the vitality of our economies (profit); and
  • lastly, the health of our communities (people).

Using the definition from, “Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

An Engineer’s Perspective on Sustainability

As an engineer, my thinking next turns to the National Society of Professional Engineers’ Creed, which opens with the statement,

“I dedicate my professional knowledge and skill to the advancement and betterment of human welfare.”

This statement means that we need to be continuously looking for ways to improve

  • our planet;
  • our profits; and
  • finally, our lives as people.

Therefore, let’s join one another on our mission for continuous improvement.