Exploring decision tradeoffs in sustainable design

Sustainable design involves three essential areas: economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, and social sustainability. For even the simplest of products, the complexities of these three areas and their tradeoffs cause decision-making transparency to be lost in most practical situations. The existing field of multiobjective optimization offers a natural framework to explore the tradeoffs in the sustainability space (defined by economic, environmental, and social sustainability issues), thus offering both the designer and the decision makers a means of understanding the sustainability tradeoffs. To facilitate this, a decision making approach that capitalizes on the principles and power of multiobjective optimization is presented. This paper concludes that sustainable development can indeed benefit from tradeoff characterization using multiobjecive optimization techniques – even when using only basic models of sustainability. Interestingly, the unique characteristics of the three essential sustainable development areas lead to an alternative view of some traditional multiobjective optimization concepts, such as weak Pareto optimality. The sustainable engineering design of a hypodermic needle is presented as a simple hypothetical example for method demonstration and discussion.