What Is Green Engineering and How Does It Work?

What Is Green Engineering?

Green engineering is a design philosophy affecting processes and products. Its core principle is to simultaneously decrease the amount of pollution that is generated by a source, minimizes exposures to potential hazards, and protect human health. All without relinquishing the economic efficiency and viability of the product of the process. As such, green engineering is not actually an engineering discipline in itself, but an overarching engineering framework for all design disciplines.

NOT Environmental Engineering

While on the other hand, environmental engineers are concerned with principles related to the protection of human populations. Their primary concern is to protect humans from potentially deleterious effects of natural and human activities. Their secondary concern is the overall improvement of environmental quality.

The Difference Between Green Engineering and Environmental Engineering

Simply said, the difference comes down to the field of study and the mindset behind the practice. Green engineering is comprised of various guiding principles that can be applied to a variety of engineering fields. While on the other hand, environmental engineering is a specific field of engineering with environmental concerns. In other words, green engineering applies to all fields of engineering while environmental engineering is its own stand-alone field. 

Principles of Green Engineering

Currently, there are two separate, and somewhat intertwined, sets of guiding principles regarding green engineering. 

The following are the nine guiding principles a designer must strive to incorporate:
  1. Engineer processes and products holistically, use systems analysis and integrate environmental impact assessment tools.
  2. Conserve and improve natural ecosystems while protecting human health and well-being.
  3. Use life-cycle thinking in all engineering activities.
  4. Ensure that all material and energy inputs and outputs are as inherently safe and benign as possible.
  5. Minimize depletion of natural resources.
  6. Strive to prevent waste.
  7. Develop and apply engineering solutions, while being cognizant of local geography, aspirations, and cultures.
  8. Create engineering solutions beyond current or dominant technologies; improve, innovate, and invent (technologies) to achieve sustainability.
  9. Actively engage communities and stakeholders in the development of engineering solutions.
The following 12 principles are provided by the American Chemical Society:
  1. Inherent Rather Than Circumstantial – Designers need to strive to ensure that all materials and energy inputs and outputs are as inherently nonhazardous as possible.
  2. Prevention Instead of Treatment – It is better to prevent waste than to treat or clean up waste after it is formed.
  3. Design for Separation – Separation and purification operations should be designed to minimize energy consumption and materials use.
  4. Maximize Efficiency – Products, processes, and systems should be designed to maximize mass, energy, space, and time efficiency.
  5. Output-Pulled Versus Input-Pushed – Products, processes, and systems should be "output pulled" rather than "input pushed" through the use of energy and materials.
  6. Conserve Complexity – Embedded entropy and complexity must be viewed as an investment when making design choices on recycling, reuse, or beneficial disposition.
  7. Durability Rather Than Immortality – Targeted durability, not immortality, should be a design goal.
  8. Meet Need, Minimize Excess – Design for unnecessary capacity or capability (e.g., "one size fits all") solutions should be considered a design flaw.
  9. Minimize Material Diversity – Material diversity in multicomponent products should be minimized to promote disassembly and value retention.
  10. Integrate Material and Energy Flows – Design of products, processes, and systems must include integration and interconnectivity with available energy and materials flows.
  11. Design for Commercial "Afterlife" – Products, processes, and systems should be designed for performance in a commercial "afterlife."
  12. Renewable Rather Than Depleting – Material and energy inputs should be renewable rather than depleting.

Current Trends in Green Engineering

Currently, there are 8 popular trending strategies in the world of green engineering.

SUSTAINABLE CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS:

One of the largest recyclable products is steel, which is used for structural building materials. Furthermore, advanced engineering concepts are expected to lower construction costs without loss to its durability and maintenance. The steel industry remains a leader of recycled structural steel with a recovery rate of 98%. Additionally, plastics, concrete, and stone have been added to the list of recyclable materials. Unfortunately, it’s a slow process, yet sustainable, bio-degradable, and recycled materials have slowed the depletion of the earth’s natural elements.

SOLAR ENERGY:

Green engineering involves some basic principles of science to produce energy efficiency enhancements. Energy is the largest uncontrollable operating cost in most buildings. And solar energy continues to be the first choice when using natural power resources. Currently, New York, Texas, and California are all seeking total renewable power production by 2020. These three states are providing a great example for the remaining 47 states. 

ZERO-ENERGY BUILDINGS:

Zero-energy or Net Zero buildings operate entirely on renewable sources of energy. Currently, the three most popular sources are solar, wind, or hydro. The buildings are designed to independently use renewable energy for the building’s electricity and HVAC needs. Net Zero buildings are able to generate the exact amount of energy needed for the site. Because Zero-energy buildings manage the use of renewable energy, there is no waste. Therefore, the longterm benefits of energy-saving are surpassing the initial setup costs. The greatest value is a result of independence from traditional electrical grids.

RETROFIT AND RENOVATIONS:

Green retrofits and renovations of existing buildings and houses are a strong trend for 2018. And it’s estimated the innovations will recoup the initial costs in fewer than five years. The green engineering advancements are speeding up the returns of natural resource investments. Depending on the variables, green solution properties can expect a 20% increase in value. Along with energy savings, better interior features have increased the quality of intangible values. There’s more natural lighting, and a decreased amount of toxins improving the indoor air quality. Currently, the basic green upgrades consist of electrical, mechanical, and thermal systems, followed by moisture protection.

WATER PROTECTION AND CONSERVATION:

Freshwater is a scarce resource. And sustainable building solutions have responded to this concern. Today, the demands for water are increasing faster than it can replenish itself. Science and engineering have come together to ensure adequate water supply for future generations. Design efficiencies are maximizing water supply by decreasing the need for more water. It’s done by minimizing the treatment and transport methods on site. Natural energy resources collect, pump, heat, and store clean water. These water-saving features are reducing the use of water by 35% percent. All of these efforts translate into a savings of more than 44,000 gallons of water per year per household.

LEED CERTIFICATIONS:

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards is a rating system created by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). As of May 2016, globally more than 15 billion square feet of building space is LEED certified. That’s an increase of 851 million square feet representing a 10% expansion from 2014. And by 2018, U.S. LEED-certified buildings will generate $1.2 billion in energy savings. Water savings will accumulate $149 million. Additionally, green engineering will prompt less maintenance, saving over $715 million dollars.

BUILDING PERFORMANCE RATINGS:

There are several green building rating organizations. They all share the same goal of creating an environment sustained by natural resources. LEED is the most recognized. Although all of the ratings are based on performance, they each have certification perquisites. LEED involves more paperwork, requiring information as part of the building plans and specifications. The reason is the durability verification and contents of materials and products being used for construction. Fortunately, federal, state, and local offices now have LEED-certified facilities. In 2010, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) upgraded building requirements.

Furthermore, new construction, renovations codes, and ordinances have mandated all government buildings to meet LEED certifications. LEED Gold certifications are now a minimum for new construction and substantial renovation projects. Currently, GSA LEED certifications include 49 Gold and 10 Platinum ratings. With more than 30% of GSA LEED buildings being historic sites. A total 44 million square feet was renovated. Furthermore, all LEED certification projects earn points supporting environmental impacts during design and construction. Currently, LEED points for GSA include 71 in new construction and 60 in existing buildings.

PRODUCT DECLARATIONS:

New green concepts for 2017 include Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Health Product Declarations (HPDs). Product content declarations and lifecycles are critical factors impacting environmental and health concerns. Manufacturers are required to disclose all ingredients used in building materials according to EPD and HPD regulations. Therefore, consumers must be informed of the potential hazards or exposure factors of building materials. There are several components that make up the building’s shell, interior, and furnishings. Unfortunately, HPD is an emerging practice with limited impact but has several industry product libraries available online. EPD has an office established in the state with red lists accessible to builders and the public.

Conclusion

As you can see, the principles of green engineering can easily be applied to nearly every field of engineering. In addition, these principles can also be applied to daily living and home renovation. Making the change can be gradual, or all at once. But keep in mind, it is as easy as changing an old light bulb out for a new LED one. As long as you are aware of these principles and think about them, they are super easy to apply to your daily life. 

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Tyler Farr
 

Tyler is an energetic nature enthusiast who is currently considering moving into a tiny house. Tyler and his wife enjoy hiking, mountain biking, camping, and doing anything in the great outdoors. He hopes that the articles he writes will help others learn how important it is to take care of the environment.

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