Transition to Sustainable Engineering Systems

Christopher McMahon, Susan Krumdieck

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The industrial exploitation of engineering and technology over recent centuries has had enormous impacts on the Earth’s ecosystems, ranging from extraction of non-renewable resources to the deleterious effect of many pollutants. This chapter first reviews such impacts by describing human activities in terms of material flows, the factors that contain them and the principal impacts that they engender, before considering them in the context of recent development of Earth system models of the interlinked physical, chemical, biological and human processes that transport and transform materials and energy in complex dynamic ways. The use of modelling of such systems is described, and the engineering approaches to system change to reduce the impact of human activities are outlined, ranging from efficiency improvements, sobriety and substitution through addition of functions for improved control of systems to servitisation and to the various approaches of the circular economy. Transition engineering is introduced as a systematic approach to the embedding of sustainability thinking into engineering practice. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the key questions faced by those seeking to effect sustainable transitions and of the challenges faced by engineering systems designers arising from the need for such transitions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Engineering Systems Design
EditorsA. Maier, J. Oehmen, P. E. Vermaas
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9783030811594
ISBN (Print)9783030811587
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Transition Engineering
  • Engineering Design
  • sustainability


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