Every man-made device that moves required energy to make it and uses energy when it moves. Heavier devices have greater inertia than small ones and hence more energy is needed to set them in motion – think about peddling an old-fashioned steel-framed bike compared to a modern alloy one. So, designing for sustainability requires engineers to minimise the quantity of raw materials and energy used to manufacture a device AND to minimize its weight if the device moves as part of its function.
Now, here comes the conflict.
Sustainability also implies that devices should have a long, maintenance-free service life so that resources used in maintenance and replacement are minimized. Service life is usually limited by fatigue and, or wear and the probability of these failure mechanisms occurring can be reduced by lowering stress levels. However, stress is inversely proportional to cross-section area and so can be reduced by adding material, i.e. increasing the mass of the device which will also increase its inertia, or resistance to motion. The probability of failure can be reduced by using stronger, more sophisticated materials that are lightweight and almost always more expensive, e.g. composites. Customers also want performance and additional expense might be acceptable if it is accompanied by additional performance – some people will pay for a carbon-fibre frame for their bicycle. Elegant engineering design requires resolution of the conflict between cost, safety and reliability, performance and sustainability.
This is why engineers are trained in conflict resolution or as it is more commonly known: problem-solving.