Throughout history, engineers were always expected to provide innovative solutions to various societal challenges, and these expectations continue to the present day. However, nowadays, we are facing some unprecedented challenges, such as climate change, growing energy demand, resource scarcity, and inadequate access to food and water, to name but a few. With a fast‐growing population, it is increasingly clear that the lifestyles of modern society cannot be sustained indefinitely. Growing scientific evidence shows that we are exceeding the Earth’s capacity to provide many of the resources we use and to accommodate our emissions to the environment (IPCC, 2013; UNEP, 2012).
Engineers have a significant role to play in addressing these sustainability challenges by helping meet human needs through provision of technologies, products, and services that are economically viable, environmentally benign, and socially beneficial (Azapagic and Perdan, 2014). However, one of the challenges is determining what technologies, products, and services are sustainable and which metrics to use to ascertain that.
Environmental systems analysis (ESA) can be used for these purposes. ESA takes a systems approach to describe and evaluate the impacts of various human activities on the environment. A systems approach is essential for this ...