Another sustainability elective I chose was Introduction to Sustainable Engineering. This course dives into the current state of sustainable development and how to design engineering systems for a changing world. We talked about the IPAT equation and its ability to measure environmental impact. It stands for Impact = Population x Affluence X Technology, showing how technology can be used can either help or hurt sustainable development. In discussing this we looked at hard and soft pathways to sustainability. Hard pathways include large centralized systems like power plants to serve more people whereas soft pathways are more localized systems like windmills and solar panels. This course provided a great background in planning for a rapidly changing future. We looked at real world soolutions to sustianability problems alongg with social, economical and environmental implicaitons behind them. This inspired me to seek a future career that can help advance new ideas in sustianble development this could be through engineering infrastructure, generating life cycle assessments or anything else!
One of the most interesting and memorable aspects of this course was our final research project. My area of focus was atmospheric carbon dioxide. I researched the agricultural system and its ability to naturally sequester carbon. As an engineer, we often look toward technological advancement to solve problems. However, I wanted to assess whether or not that was entirely the right route when looking to lower carbon dioxide levels. I looked at different farming techniques that can capture carbon and its success and economic and social feasibility. One method I discussed was carbon farming and regenerative grazing. “Regenerative agriculture” also refers to these carbon capturing techniques both with crop production and livestock grazing. A study of White Oak Pastures in Georgia integrated regenerative grazing methods in their beef production where cattle graze and cover enough land that it can rest and recover, strengthening its root structure over time before the cattle return to it. A Life Cycle Assessment was performed on their farm and it showed that net emission levels not only lowered compared to conventional practices, more carbon was stored than emitted. For my presentation I generated a diagram showing the cycle of regenerative grazing shown below.