SSE Seminar - Steven Hoffenson "Designing a Sustainable Future Through Systems Thinking"

Monday, March 3, 2014 ( 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm )

Location: Babbio Center 321

Designing a Sustainable Future Through Systems Thinking
Steven Hoffenson
Chalmers University of Technology - Gothenburg, Sweden

ABSTRACT: Many of today’s global challenges are related to sustainability, which is about ensuring that future generations will live in an environment with (1) economic, (2) ecological, and (3) social opportunities. However, individuals and corporations tend to value economic factors over the other two, as money is the most immediate and measureable criterion for success. For example, using the most environmentally-friendly materials can be too expensive for some producers to remain economically competitive. This creates an imbalance among these three sustainability criteria, and it establishes a need for solutions that propel ecological and social values to the forefront of decision-making. A systems thinking approach can be used to encourage companies to design and offer sustainable products, individuals to purchase and use products more sustainably, and governments and other organizations to play a role in encouraging such sustainable actions.

This talk describes such an approach that accounts for the large number of competing objectives and stakeholders in design for sustainability. This multi-disciplinary systems framework simultaneously accounts for factors related to engineering design, marketing, consumer decision-making, economic competition, and regulatory policies. Case studies show how this style of thinking can be adapted to the design of a wide range of products, from smartphones to cars to aircraft engines. A common thread is the link between quality and sustainability, and one result of the research is a systems mapping of the ways that quality-related decision-making influences different economic, ecological, and social sustainability outcomes. This shows how product-developing companies that take a systems thinking approach should indeed be economically motivated to design and produce more ecologically and socially sustainable products.

BIOGRAPHY: Steven Hoffenson is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Product and Production Development at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, where his research applies systems thinking and optimization techniques to the new product development process with an emphasis on quality and sustainability. Steven earned an M.S.E. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 2008 and 2012, respectively, where his research focused on multi-disciplinary design optimization of civilian and military vehicles for safety. Prior to that, he earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland in 2007.