life cycle analysis, environmental impact, face masks, COVID-19, sustainability


Meeting the UN’s sustainable development goals requires designers and engineers to solve multi-objective optimization problems involving trade-offs between social, environmental, and economic impacts. This paper presents an approach for designers and engineers to quantify the social and environmental impacts of a product at a population-level and then perform a trade-off analysis between those impacts. In the approach, designers and engineers define the attributes of the product as well as the materials and processes used in the product’s life cycle. Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) tools that have been developed to model the social impacts of products are combined with Life- Cycle Assessment (LCA) tools that have been developed to evaluate the pressures that different processes create on the environment. Designers and engineers then evaluate the trade-offs between impacts using Pareto frontiers to find non-dominated solutions that minimize environmental impacts while maximizing positive and/or minimizing negative social impacts. Product adoption models generated by ABM allow designers and engineers to approximate population-level environmental impacts and avoid Simpson’s paradox, where a reversal in choices is preferred when looking at the population-level impacts versus the product-level impacts. This analysis of impacts has the potential to help designers and engineers create more impactful products that contribute towards the UN sustainable development goals.

Original Publication Citation

Liechty, J. C., Mabey, C. S., Mattson, C. A., Salmon, J. L., and Weaver, J. M., “Trade-off Characterization Between Social and Environmental Impacts Using Agent-Based Models and Life-Cycle Assessment,” Proc. ASME 2022 International Design Engineering Technical Conferences & Computers and Information in Engineering Conference.

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Conference Paper

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Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering


Manufacturing Engineering

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Manufacturing Commons