Beyond rationality in engineering design for sustainability


If you try to ensure long-term human well-being within the limits of the natural world, then you design for sustainability. This Review organizes research describing how cognitive biases can hinder and help engineering design for sustainability. For example, designers might overlook climate change implications because of nearsighted thinking, a bias which can be overcome by vividly imagining the future. For researchers, this Review illuminates needs at the convergence of decision science and engineering design. For designers (that is, all of us), the Review promises new routes to sustainability, through changes to decision environments and through insights into our own design thinking.

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Fig. 1: Common stages in engineering design.
Fig. 2: Convergent research is applied and interdisciplinary.
Fig. 3: Present-day sustainability goals require closer links between behavioural science and engineering.


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This material is based on work supported by the US National Science Foundation through grant number 153104.

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L.K., E.W., E.J., T.S. and M.H. contributed to designing, scoping, performing, analysing and writing the review. B.G. helped perform, analyse and write the review.

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Correspondence to Leidy Klotz.

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Klotz, L., Weber, E., Johnson, E. et al. Beyond rationality in engineering design for sustainability. Nat Sustain 1, 225–233 (2018).

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