Sustainable Ergonomics: A New Path to Environmental and Human Well-Being 

Written by Madeline Shoot

Ergonomics and sustainability may seem like two distinct concepts at first glance. Nonetheless, as the world shifts its focus towards environmental consciousness and sustainable practices, the bond between these two fields becomes increasingly evident. Let’s explore the pivotal role of ergonomics in championing sustainable practices. 

A Journey Through Time: Understanding Sustainability 

The concept of sustainability has evolved over the years. Originally synonymous with reducing consumption, the term has broadened its meaning to encompass environmental concerns, among others. According to Roger Haslam & Patrick Waterson (2013), sustainability today is deeply tied to wide-ranging international actions aiming to: 

  • Reduce consumption and production 
  • Improve built environments and resource utilization 
  • Advocate sustainable land use and agriculture 
  • Enhance transportation, energy generation, and supply systems 
  • Promote waste management and recycling 

This evolution isn’t isolated from human behavior. In fact, there’s a tangible synergy between ergonomics and these sustainability goals. Such an alliance ensures not just environmental sustainability, but also the sustainability of products, human resources, and business ethics. Successful businesses of today have realized that adopting sustainable practices isn’t just ethically right but also economically beneficial in the long run. 

Designing for Tomorrow: The Daciano Perspective 

Moreira Da Silva’s study in 2015 introduced us to Daciano, a celebrated Portuguese designer who firmly believed in shared responsibility toward achieving sustainable products. His designs were a testament to: 

  • A balance between social, environmental, and economic facets 
  • Emphasis on durable materials and local technologies 
  • Harmonizing the designer’s vision with the needs of the producer, workers, and local resources 

Daciano’s office furniture system exemplifies this approach (Moreira Da Silva., 2015). By incorporating long-lasting materials and reusing industrial production techniques, he paved the way for more sustainable designs that resonate with both cultural and economic contexts. 

Building a Sustainable Future: Ergonomics Throughout a Building’s Life Cycle 

A building, whether commercial or residential, has a significant environmental footprint. However, integrating ergonomics can redefine this impact as highlighted in “The Importance of ergonomics to sustainability throughout a building’s life cycle” by Linda Miller, Julie Dorsey, and Karen Jacobs (2012). It ensures that the building not only meets the environmental, social, and economic demands of today but is also prepared for the needs of future generations. 

Sustainable design has gained traction due to its evident returns on investment, increased occupant satisfaction, and rising public interest in environmental protection (Miller, Dorsey, and Jacobs., 2012). By considering human factors throughout a building’s lifecycle, from design and construction to operation and decommissioning, ergonomics promotes both individual well-being and system-wide sustainability. Through integrating ergonomics in the design process, practitioners have a platform to advocate for workplace safety, proactively, thus integrating ergonomic principles into the design process. This saves the future worker from workplace hazards as they were designed out before the building was opened for use.  

For a holistic approach to sustainable design, Miller and colleagues (2012), noted that it’s paramount to factor in the human element throughout every phase, from design and construction to operation and eventual decommissioning of a building. Integrating ergonomic principles not only enhances human performance, productivity, and well-being but also catalyzes sustainability at both individual and systemic levels. 

Ergonomists have several roles in this setting: 

  1. Optimized Spaces for Health and Performance: Ergonomists can ensure that workspaces are tailored to foster health, wellness, and optimal performance. Such an approach minimizes resource wastage, aligning with sustainability principles. 
  1. Behavioral Change Advocacy: Ergonomists’ insights can drive designs that naturally encourage sustainable practices among occupants. 
  1. Leadership in Sustainable Certification: It’s essential for ergonomists to familiarize themselves with certifications like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. By understanding and advocating for such certifications, ergonomists can drive sustainable building practices. 

Promoting Sustainable Designs: The Ergonomist’s Role Today 

Sustainable design begins at the manufacturing of the product, as depicted in Daciano’s office furniture system (Moreira Da Silva., 2015), and extends into the creation of new structures (Miller, Dorsey, and Jacobs., 2012), but it does not stop there. As ergonomists, providing lasting products to end users contributes to the sustainability initiative. This entails doing our due diligence in recommending products that can withstand the application while providing lasting ergonomic benefits. Not only does this practice reduce consumption but entails a stronger return on investments as repurchasing is not an elevated concern. This is advantageous to ergonomists as lasting products will provide assurance that risk is averted for an extended period. Coupled with manufacturers’ commitment to making high-quality, durable, and lasting products, this will greatly benefit sustainability initiatives.  

Ergonomics as a Sustainable Champion

To truly harness the potential of ergonomics in sustainability, it’s crucial for ergonomists to comprehend certifications like the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and incorporate them into their practices. By championing a proactive, sustainable approach, ergonomists can lead the way in reducing overconsumption and promoting waste reduction. 

In this journey towards a sustainable future, ergonomics and sustainability aren’t just allies; they are two sides of the same coin. Together, they hold the promise of a world where environmental well-being harmonizes with human prosperity. 

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