Thoughts on the application of thermodynamics to the development of sustainability science

Timothy G. Gutowski, Dušan P. Sekulić, Bhavik R. Bakshi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Introduction The term sustainability is used frequently now in many different contexts. For example, in the area of engineering, there have been claims of sustainable products, sustainable manufacturing, sustainable designs, and so forth. Although these uses may be well intended, they actually marginalize the term by implying that just getting better in some way is sustainable. Instead, sustainability needs to be connected to a worldview that encompasses how human society can maintain a good quality of life over a long time. Without this worldview framework, these claims of sustainable this and sustainable that ring hollow. In this context, we are inspired by the work of the authors (mostly economists with biological scientists) of the paper, Arrow et al. [1]. By starting with the well-known statement of sustainability from the UN Brundtland Report [2], they developed a measurable and workable (though controversial) criterion for sustainability. The Brundtland UN Commission statement on sustainability says, “sustainable development is the development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This statement brings up many value-laden issues and at first blush seems unworkable. For example, what is a need for one person could be considered excessive consumption for another. Furthermore, who is to speak for future generations and to articulate their needs? In addition, what development means is of crucial importance, in particular, does development require growth, and if so, what kind.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThermodynamics and the Destruction of Resources
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9780511976049
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering (all)


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