Ibrahim Dincer

Today is June 5th, World Environment Day which brings a key question for us to address: how to achieve true sustainability?

- by Prof. Dr. Ibrahim Dincer

I really define sustainability as a function of 6Es (Education, Engineering, Economy, Environment, Ethics, Energy) as listed in Figure 1 which are very critical for local and global societies.

Figure 1. Dimensions of sustainability (copyright @ Prof. Ibrahim Dincer) © Springer NatureLet’s begin discussing them in brief by starting with education and moving in the clockwise direction. 

Education at all levels is one of the most critical components in achieving sustainable development. This may even cover information education and training activities to further educate individuals and communities for a better sustainable development. Better education will obviously make people more conscious about the environment and hence sustainability. The current COVID-19 pandemic has created a new domain of education online (and it is later expected to result in virtual education) which has technically abandoned the face-to-face education which was really a crucial requirement in true education. Online education really consists of  one-way teaching which may not really be sustainable and cannot much help achieve sustainable development. I fear that this may even lead to an educational pandemic. 

The next component is engineering which is really considered the science of converting the theory to practical solutions for individuals, systems, communities, societies, etc. In this regard, engineering disciplines appear to be very important. The next one is economy which can be classified into numerous sectors, including: food, water and agricultural, industrial, chemical and petrochemical, commercial, residential, transportation, utility. It is essential to make all these sectors and their subsectors sustainably driven for a better future. 

The next one is the environment which is actually the prerequisite for sustainable development. So, if we cannot achieve better environment, we cannot accomplish sustainable development either. We used to think in the past that the nature cleans itself and that we should not worry about. The end result has been very damaging locally and globally. Although there have been natural cycles taking place over many centuries, resulting in various catastrophic events, the prime damage was originated by a heavy use of hydrocarbon fuels since industrial revolution and obviously caused by human activities locally and globally.  We are now in an era where clean environment is more than a need. Trying to implement some partial mitigation solutions locally is good, but quite insufficient. 

There is a strong need to change the mindset, customs and practices, and the way we think and act. Today is another World environment day where we should begin right now to make positive changes to protect the environment and feel fully responsible for every damage caused, rather than blaming others and/or our past. Diagnosing the problem is not gonna help unless we implement right cures and treatments, if necessary surgeries to some extend. This is our ecosystem, and we should relate ourselves deeply to. The next is the component of ethics, which is technically defined as a set of moral principles and values that help govern the behaviour and activities of people, which is mostly attributed to individuals or personal acts. However, I want to take it  beyond this meaning and make it more societal. Thus, it is more critical to look at societal ethics in harmony with the personal ethics. I also cover social dimensions under this domain so that is critical in achieving sustainable development. The final component is energy, but its magnitude is huge. Clean energy is a key requirement for human wealth and welfare and hence ultimately for sustainable development. 

One should note, as I indicated in a recent perspective article, that humankind started with wood as their primary energy source for their daily activities and continued the use of this energy source through the centuries up until reaching the coal era (particularly with industrial revolution), oil era (primarily after the first world war) and natural gas era (increasingly after 1980s). There is now an ultimate destination in this energy journey towards hydrogen as carbon free fuel, energy carrier and feedstock. Last year after ending up with the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic that has impacted every human being directly or indirectly, I define this as a turning point that we can no longer continue fossil fuel era and leave ourselves more fragile to such coronaviruses. It is therefore a defining moment of opening a new age with hydrogen and closing the carbon age. So, this way, humanity is able to find solutions to achieve the following benefits: better environment, better ecosystem, better efficiency, better economy and economic development, better synchronization with renewable energy options, better health and healthier societies, and hence better sustainable development.

portrait images-SDG7 © Springer NatureIbrahim Dincer is a Professor at the Department of Automotive, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science at Ontario Tech University. He is an editor-in-chief of three academic journals and a board member for many more. 

He is the author and editor of numerous Springer titles.