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Educating for a Systems-Inspired and Sustainable Future: A Framework for Environmentally Responsible Engineering

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By Cindy Gilbert, M.S., M.Ed., Senior Program Officer, VentureWell


Graphic Created by VentureWell in Partnership with The Lemelson Foundation

Collectively, we are facing unprecedented planetary-scale environmental challenges that are inextricably linked to human activities with significant social and economic implications. We believe that chemists and chemical engineers are some of the very people who will be creating the innovations and ventures that will help to solve the systemic challenges we face. 

Mobilized by The Lemelson Foundation and VentureWell and in collaboration with hundreds of stakeholders across diverse disciplines and sectors, we have been working over the past few years to better understand the needs, opportunities, and barriers to integrating principles of environmental responsibility into engineering education across the US and around the world. We have a dedicated Environmentally Responsible Engineering (ERE) webpage that serves as a one-stop shop for how our efforts have expanded, deepened, and developed over the years in partnership with our stakeholders. 

In particular, we are thrilled to share the recent launch of the Engineering for One Planet: The ERE definition and framework (ERE Framework) that outlines the core and advanced student learning outcomes that all engineers—including chemical engineers—should acquire during their education to become sustainability-focused professionals. The ERE Framework was drafted over the course of six months with over 1,000 direct contributions from over 90 stakeholders from academia, industry, government, non-profits, and professional societies. We encourage you to download and test out the ERE Framework. 

The ERE Framework is grounded in systems thinking and highlights the core technical skills of design (e.g., design thinking), materials choice (e.g., supply chain, life-cycle thinking), and environmental impact measurement (e.g., life-cycle analysis, eco-labelling). We hope that the ACS GCI community will explore the potential application of the ERE Framework to catalyze change in the chemical engineering and chemistry fields within the important context of educating for a systems-inspired and sustainable future. 

We would love to garner your feedback and comments for the next iteration of the ERE Framework and to add your name to the growing list of collaborators. Please use this form to share your comments about the ERE Framework or your ideas of how you would integrate the ERE Framework into the chemical engineering curriculum. We’d love to hear from you!

Before I sign off, I would like to also connect you to a plethora of free online resources that VentureWell has created to support your sustainability-focused curricular change efforts including: 

  • Tools for Design & Sustainability which is a collection of sustainability-focused classroom exercises, videos (including the Autodesk Sustainability Workshop video series), and examples of student work on a range of sustainability topics, including cycle analysis (LCA), whole system mapping, greener materials selection, measuring impacts, etc.
  • Inventing Green: A Toolkit for Sustainable Design which is both a tool for students and a resource for instructors to help early-stage inventors understand how the lifecycle of their products will affect the environment. The toolkit includes a video series and several resources that can be used together, a la carte, or within short workshops, multi-day accelerators, or as part of a university-level engineering or design course.

About VentureWell

VentureWell is a non-profit that supports the creation of solutions and ventures from an emerging generation of science and technology inventors driven to solve global challenges and create lasting impact, and supports the faculty and innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems that are critical to their success. Since its founding nearly 25 years ago, VentureWell has supported and trained more than 7,500 science and technology inventors and innovators, and thousands of their startups are reaching millions of people around the globe. VentureWell actively supports faculty in developing courses and programs to transform I&E education through grants, workshops, training, and an annual conference called OPEN. To date, VentureWell has provided over $12M in faculty grants to over 1,000 schools that have led to the creation of more than 500 new or improved courses and programs at higher educational institutions across the country and engaging thousands of students. Learn more about VentureWell at: