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Completion status: this resource is ~25% complete.

BaSE, Spring 2009

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Course Background, Description, and Expectations

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The goal of the course is to learn how to approach sustainability as an engineer and entrepreneur. Many students are interested in joining the field, but don't know how it works day-to-day, or about the wide range of opportunities available in the field. I hope to have a speaker each week to talk about how they got into sustainability, and what sort of challenges they tackle each day. Additionally, I'd love to talk about why some green technologies have succeeded or failed, and have discussions about what to expect in the future.

As a one-credit pass/fail course, each week includes three hours of expected work time. This translates into a one-hour seminar and a two-hour project work requirement. The course will be colored E!, although I'm largely interested in the interplay between business and technology.

For example, what's a big reason you don't see more solar concentrators like the one on the right?

Is it because they take up too much space? Nope!

Is it because those mirrors are so expensive? Nope!

One of their biggest costs is actually water use!

Like when they have to wash the mirrors?

Wrong again!

Washing the mirrors only accounts for 1.5% of their usage. The rest is used simply cooling their heat engine by evaporation, because the plants are necessarily situated in hot, dry climates that suck at convection. So one of the most important technological breakthroughs for solar energy could be a cheap, large-scale cooling apparatus for these situations. Who knew?

But what really killed this technology was the misapplication of government subsidies intended to promote green energy, which scared away a large investor and bankrupted the promising company instantly. This 1990 solar concentrator company, LUZ, was the topic of my independent study, and I'll cover the whole story in class. Examples like this pop up again and again, so I want to discuss the whole picture, including financial, social and governmental issues.


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Hosted by an outside industry speaker, professor or student presenting their research.

For example, the Senior Engineer at GreenMountain Engineering, a mechanical engineering consulting firm that specializes in sustainable technologies, will talk about how he went from a BA in English in California to his current position in Boston.

Later in the term, students will be expected to complete a small research project in a sustainable topic of interest, and we'll do a round of presentations on that.

Feedback and Reflection

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Periodically taken via email and awkward lunchtime conversations

Recording and Archiving

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All talks will be recorded and potentially uploaded for posterity.


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Olin College employs a competency system. The following competencies will be addressed by the course:

  • Life Long Learning
  • Communication
  • Opportunity Assessment

What is a Good Seminar?

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Here's the general format that I'm envisioning:

  • Background- what got you interested in sustainability? What did you want to be as a kid? What did you love in school?
  • Career – Where did you work before your current position? Did you like it? How did you find your current position?
  • Daily Life- What’s it like in your position? What sort of skills come in handy? What sort of person seems to like it?
  • The future- Will there be a need for many more people in your position? What do you think is the Next Big Thing in your field?

Things that I would be excited to learn in a seminar (feel free to add!):

  • What it's like to be an engineer at a normal company who's trying to push them to make some green changes
  • How to convince people to buy a product that's sustainable, despite higher price or other undesirable attributes
  • What sort of companies, besides the obvious solar-type companies, you can work at and be doing green projects
  • What sort of special skills are required to consider yourself a 'sustainable engineer'

Also, we'd love to get companies to present about how great they would be to intern at, and accept resumes.


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Signing up is as easy as adding your name here, putting your availability here, writing your name on a standard IS form that Matt sends you, and coming to class!

Being on this list is no longer enough to guarantee advance notice for lectures! (Our standards are going up, I suppose) If you'd like to join that elite group, just sign up for our email list:

  • Matt Ritter (Olin College)
  • Steve Schiffman, Faculty Adviser (Olin College)
  • Kelcy Adamec tentatively (Olin College)
  • Jeffrey Atkinson (Olin College)
  • Elsa Culler (Olin College)
  • Kevin Simon (Olin College)
  • Chen Wang (Olin College)
  • Yiyang Li (Olin College)
  • Katherine Elliott (Olin College)
  • Matt Huang (Olin College)
  • Johannes Santen (Olin College)
  • James Regulinski (Olin College)
  • Boris Taratutin (Olin College)
  • Victoria Carlson (Babson College)
  • Jacob West (Olin)
  • Jef Gluckstein (Olin)
  • Gavin Boggs (Olin)
  • Andrea Striz (Olin)
  • Rebecca Belisle (Olin)
  • Phil Dirkse (Olin)

For Credit:

  • Matt
  • Jeff
  • Elsa
  • Yiyang
  • Johannes
  • James
  • Kelliot


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  • Johnson Controls: Building sustainability (Feb 20)
  • Eric Munsing '08: An Olin alum's path to sustainability consulting (March 27)
  • Herbert: Getting dragged into Taiwan's environmental scene
  • Christie Lee '07: Green Consumer products, (Feb 25)
  • Bruce Fulford: Alternate Revenue Streams from Municipal Compost
  • Ron Guerriero: Green energy business plan competitions (Feb 13)

What Do You Want to Learn About?

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Fill this space with topics you would like to learn about. Maybe someone knows a lot about it.

  • Why do big companies decided to go green? Are they serious about it?
  • Is the offsetting of your emissions with carbon credits a cop-out, or effective investment in the future?
  • How does a sustainable engineer's job differ day-to-day from a normal career path?
  • Are there entrepreneurial opportunities that don't require $100 million up front?

Suggested Reading

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Grist Overly optimistic articles intermixed with some real gems- sort of like popular science for green issues

Brandon Stafford's personal blog Extremely insightful articles. If you don't understand, it was probably a joke, or Assembly


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Collapse We don't really hear about civilization collapse, except for the Romans. Turns out that it happens a fair amount, and many of them can be traced to environmental degredation


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The startling power of efficiency This whole concept that capitalism naturally stamps out waste is demonstrated to be pretty idealistic

Saul Griffth explains what sacrifices you'd have to make to achieve carbon sustainability- it's a whole different lifestyle

Sustainability in Construction