Date of Thesis

Spring 2012


Projects for the developing world usually find themselves at the bottom of an engineer’s priority list. There is often very little engineering effort placed on creating new products for the poorest people in the world. This trend is beginning to change now as people begin to recognize the potential for these projects. Engineers are beginning to try and solve some of the direst issues in the developing world and many are having positive impacts. However, the conditions needed to support these projects can only be maintained in the short term. There is now a need for greater sustainability.

Sustainability has a wide variety of definitions in both business and engineering. These concepts are analyzed and synthesized to develop a broad meaning of sustainability in the developing world. This primarily stems from the “triple bottom line” concept of economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Using this model and several international standards, this thesis develops a metric for guiding and evaluating the sustainability of engineering projects. The metric contains qualitative questions that investigate the sustainability of a project. It is used to assess several existing projects in order to determine flaws. Specifically, three projects seeking to deliver eyeglasses are analyzed for weaknesses to help define a new design approach for achieving better results.

Using the metric as a guiding tool, teams designed two pieces of optometry equipment: one to cut lenses for eyeglasses and the other to diagnose refractive error, or prescription. These designs are created and prototyped in the developed and developing worlds in order to determine general feasibility. Although there is a recognized need for eventual design iterations, the whole project is evaluated using the developed metric and compared to the existing projects. Overall, the success demonstrates the improvements made to the long-term sustainability of the project resulting from the use of the sustainability metric.


Engineering Sustainability, Sustainable Design, Developing World Design

Access Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Type

Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Charles Kim