TISED Newsletter 

Including nature in human decisions for innovation & sustainability in the Anthropocene

9 May 2016


Over the last few centuries, most academic disciplines have developed while taking nature for granted. For example, engineering has aimed to dominate and control nature, exemplified by the assumption of an “infinite sink” in thermodynamics, which implies that the surroundings are not affected by flows to or from it. Economics has kept nature external to the market, and its concept of a “public good” considers some goods to be unlimited despite their use. Such assumptions may have been acceptable when they were first made since the human footprint at that time was small. However, human activities have now changed the very composition of previously “infinite sinks” such as the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere. Consequently, in this era of human dominance or anthropocene, the paradigm of all disciplines needs to shift to include ecosystems within its system boundary, so that our activities can be sustained by respecting ecological limits. This talk presented a framework for including nature in engineering decisions, and establishing synergies between technological and ecological systems at multiple spatial scales. Application of this framework to case studies from manufacturing, building design, and product design will demonstrate that including nature can result in innovative solutions that can be economically and environmentally superior to traditional technological solutions. This framework encourages not just greater efficiency of technologies and their life cycles, but also restoration and protection of ecosystems. Such a paradigm shift presents many theoretical and practical challenges across disciplines, and some of these were discussed.

Dr. Bhavik Bakshi 

Bhavik Bakshi is a Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Ohio State University (OSU). He also holds appointments in Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering at OSU and as a Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Mumbai, India. His research involves developing methods and applications for assessing and designing sustainable systems that respect nature's limits and reduce the chance of unintended harm. He received his chemical engineering degrees from the University of Bombay and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), with a minor in technology and environmental policy from MIT and Harvard.



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