One perspective provides the knowledge and the formal rules and framework that affects the understanding and actions of the system actors because the individual actor may be limited through these frameworks. This framework could isolate information about new technology or make legislation that ensure that new initiatives will find it difficult to be put into operation, in spite of these new initiatives could be sustainable and ecologically beneficial compared to the current system (Geels, 2007). It is thus possible through legislation and disposal of information to isolate actors or users of the system from getting the knowledge that new approaches are possible.
The second perspective of the path dependency constitute the system is the networks of actors established in the system, as these through mutual addiction can get to work against the emergence of new systems (Geels, 2007). This may be given if the network of actors will have to change their workflow fundamentally by introducing a new system (Geels, 2007). It will therefore not be possible for smaller parts of the network actors to redirect their operation, as they are dependent on the rest of the network. An example could be if you took the place of an electrical planning engineer want to change the entire national power grid to only be powered by renewable energy from wind turbines as wind energy would be more sustainable than electricity from an incineration plant powered by coal. Then you had to replace the entire socio-technical system that underlies the electricity generation and distribution of earnings of electricity from coal powered plants. This would put some players completely out of action or force them to adapt to the new system, whether it is small or fundamental changes in their workflow.
The third perspective of path dependence in the socio-technical system technical and material structure of the regime, as these can make it harder to implement or innovate with additions of new parts for the system (Geels, 2007). The conversion to sustainable wind energy will as a supplier of electricity be a matter of how the grid can pull, store and transform of the energy extracted from the wind to a steady flow of electrical outlets. In the current power grid, there is no real opportunity to store the energy from wind turbines, so that you can not generate electricity on days with light winds. An additionally challenge is that many windmills are placed at sea or rural destinations, but for this to take place there must be an expansion of the original grid if a wind powered extraction of electricity should be possible.
One of the challenges a sustainable design engineer may face could be locating the boundary between when a transition becomes a sustainable expansion of the electricity grid instead of a main driver for environmental impact because establishing a new system often requires the use of several tonnes of materials. There must be a time when a wind turbine can have environmental impact because a course hardly be sustainable from the first second it produces power. A more or less fundamental replacement of an existing functional system that I describe here the replacement of power plants to renewable energy can be described as innovation in the system through either the introduction of new socio-technical Niche, new parts of the socio-technical Regimes or new influences in the socio-technical landscape. Thus these are the areas that a engineer could influence. As seen in Geels (2007) engineers influenced the transition of mobility both by technical developments, introduction of new law and regulations on mobility and health, but they also influenced the socio-technical landscape by changing the narrative of free mobility as a human right and everyday life luxury.
- You could question if it was engineers that influenced all the level of the system here and in Geels (2007), it depends on where you see the boundaries for been an engineer stops. Engineers could have taken part in all of the system challenges or only in some but that is an entire other discussion.
Blewitt, J. (2012). Understanding Sustainable Development. Routledge. Chapter 1
Geels, F. W. (2005). The dynamics of transitions in socio-technical systems: a multi-level analysis of the transition pathway from horsedrawn carriages to automobiles (1860–1930). Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, 17(4), 445-476.
Mom, G., & Kirsch, D. A. (2001). Technologies in tension: Horses, electric trucks, and the motorization of american cities, 1900-1925. Technology and Culture, 42(3), 489-518.