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Assessing education for sustainable development (ESD) within engineering

  • Waste Recycling Industry Association (Queensland)

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Engineers can play a key role in the development and implementation of sustainable development principles into everyday living. Therefore, it is essential that engineers have a practical understanding about, and can make engineering decisions for, sustainable development. In this paper, the authors highlight the importance of the assessment and evaluation of sustainable development within the engineering curriculum, and introduce the results from a self-reported knowledge survey on sustainable development, which was administered to engineering students at the University of Bristol in Bristol, England, UK. The results indicated that while students at the University of Bristol had a good knowledge of the terminology associated with both environmental and sustainable development principles, their understanding of some of the diverse subject areas and tools for sustainable development was discrepant. The need to deliver more effective Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) for engineers is briefly discussed and strategies for improvements are presented. Yes Yes
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World Transactions on Engineering and Technology Education © 2007 UICEE
Vol.6, No.2, 2007
In 2005, the United Nations (UN) declared a decade (2005-
2014) for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). The
UN’s aim here is to challenge global educational policymaking
by highlighting the global significance and importance of ESD,
and actively encourage the coordination and dissemination of
best practice. According to the World Federation of
Engineering Organisations (WFEO), it is critical that
engineering graduates are equipped with the relevant
knowledge and skills to effectively address such challenges in
society [1]. The most significant challenge currently viewed is
climate change.
One of the roles of ESD is to question the current educational
systems that are in practice and determine their effectiveness at
fostering how the principles associated with sustainable
development and growth are taught.
The importance of sustainable development was clearly
identified by the Engineering Council, UK, with its publication
of the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence
(UK-SPEC) [2]. This stated that Chartered Engineers must
undertake engineering activities in a way which contributes to
sustainable development. This commitment highlights the need
for the increased use of appropriate technologies and practices,
both in the developed and developing world, where resource
consumption and environmental pollution have come to the
forefront of scientific and public opinion.
In 2006, the Higher Education Academy (HEA), UK, produced
a progress report on the subject of ESD for senior managers in
higher education [3]. The document discusses the concept of
sustainability literacy and defines it as learning about how
human actions affect the immediate and long-term future of the
economy and ecology of our communities; stating that
sustainability literacy needs to be a core competency for
professional graduates. The purpose of the HEA report was to
determine how 17 different subject disciplines (including
engineering) were contributing to developing graduates who
are sustainability literate, identifying and disseminating good
practice in both teaching and curriculum development. The key
findings of the report indicted that ESD is rising across all
disciplines, but despite this rise, the overall coverage of ESD in
the curriculum is uneven both within and across disciplines.
The report concluded that there were three broad levels of
progress in the embedding of ESD by subject disciplines: those
who had effectively adopted ESD into their undergraduate and
postgraduate courses (such as engineering); those who have
made limited progress into embedding ESD (such as
economics); and finally those who had an interest in ESD but
had not embedded it into their curricula (such as mathematics).
There are numerous publications addressing the role that
universities have on the creation of a more sustainable world
future [4-6]. However, care must be taken to ensure that all
sustainable development education is delivered within the
context of engineering. If engineering content is watered down
and too much emphasis is given on other subject areas
pertinent to sustainable development, there is a risk of
producing poor engineers. The aim is to produce a new breed
of professional engineers who have proper regard to
environmental, social and economic factors.
It is necessary to determine the definition or purpose of any
teaching programme prior to its delivery. There is a clear
distinction between education about sustainable development
and education for sustainable development. The former simply
implies an awareness of the issues and the ability to discuss
them in context, while education for sustainable development
implies not simply an understanding of the issues, but an
ability to apply, design and operate systems which are
sustainable [7]. An additional issue is the perceived format that
sustainable development education should take. For example,
Assessing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) within engineering
Georgina Davis† & Mohammed Wanous‡
Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia†
University of Bristol, Bristol, England, United Kingdom‡
ABSTRACT: Engineers can play a key role in the development and implementation of sustainable development principles into
everyday living. Therefore, it is essential that engineers have a practical understanding about, and can make engineering decisions
for, sustainable development. In this paper, the authors highlight the importance of the assessment and evaluation of sustainable
development within the engineering curriculum, and introduce the results from a self-reported knowledge survey on sustainable
development, which was administered to engineering students at the University of Bristol in Bristol, England, UK. The results
indicated that while students at the University of Bristol had a good knowledge of the terminology associated with both
environmental and sustainable development principles, their understanding of some of the diverse subject areas and tools for
sustainable development was discrepant. The need to deliver more effective Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) for
engineers is briefly discussed and strategies for improvements are presented.
should it be taught as an independent subject or in the context
of the traditional engineering subjects as case studies? The
type of approach is dependent on what individual lecturers or
institutions feel is most applicable to their teaching and
curriculum, and will also be influenced by any existing
materials/teaching resources. For either option, the lecturer/tutor
needs to be at least familiar with the principles of sustainable
development, ensuring that the taught skills base is sufficient to
fulfil the educational requirements of the course and any
external accreditation requirements such as the UK SPEC [2].
In order to achieve education for sustainable development, it is
necessary to give individuals/students more than simply the
knowledge and skills for recognising sustainable development,
but also the capacity to develop sustainable development
practices in their own world. Thus, the scale of the focus of the
education must also be considered.
An early paper from 1984 reflecting an author’s views on the
education of engineers acknowledged a shortfall in the level of
public education for the understanding of social, industrial or
technological innovations; and made the observation that
unless wider technological understanding is applied, the rising
demand for products will be accompanied by a rising
resistance to its social impacts [8]. The same paper also
discussed the growing need for engineers to be familiar with an
increasing range of disciplines in order to impart the necessary
breadth of experience and learning. Overall, the paper stressed
the importance of engineers having a new range of skills and
knowledge, in particular relating to the overall UK economy
and social aspects (such as communication and management
skills) but failed to directly mention a role for engineers to
consider the environment, resource consumption or those
subjects currently considered to be integral to sustainable
Today, the focus has changed; the question is how engineers
can potentially save the planet by making all their decisions
with the correct consideration to the potential environmental,
social and economic impacts.
The theme of Sustainable Development (SD) is now high on
the agenda and people are starting to look beyond the concept
to some practical solutions. This vital component has been
introduced across the engineering programmes at the
University of Bristol in Bristol, England, UK, with a particular
focus on design and project activities.
Professional Studies (PS) is a cross-faculty programme
(Aeronautical; Electronic; Civil; Mathematics; Mechanical;
Computer) at the University of Bristol. This programme has
been innovatively structured around the latest requirements of
the Engineering Council for professional accreditation. It
complements the technical tools of engineering with the
knowledge and skills of business and management, with a
special emphasis on sustainable development. PS comprises
two units, which are taken by more than 600 students each
year. The PS course is designed to provide the generic
professional knowledge and awareness required to meet the
accreditation criteria of relevant professional institutions. It is
structured around the five Principle Learning Outcomes
specified in the latest professional accreditation guidelines issued
by the Engineering Council covering the following topics:
Commercial and economic;
Management techniques;
Sustainable development;
Legal framework, and health and safety;
Professional and ethical conduct [2].
In addition to enabling professional accreditation, the PS
programme aims to stimulate the acquisition of knowledge and
skills. It also is aimed at introducing visionary goals for the
role and value of engineering in society.
The programme was designed to provide guidance and insight
into the professional engineer’s personal, organisational, and
health and safety roles and responsibilities. The course
addresses the interrelationship between engineering processes
and the wider context within which they operate, focusing on
sustainability and covering commercial drivers, legal
frameworks, health and safety, environmental, and professional
and ethical issues. As part of the PS units, students work in
teams to audit real life engineering companies regarding their
sustainable development practices and make recommendations
for possible improvements.
Sustainable energy and transport are now afforded additional
attention within the PS units and other specific engineering
programmes, for example, through research and design
projects. There are also other taught units such as Engineering
for the Built Environment (sponsored by the Royal Academy of
Engineering, UK and ARUP), Building Systems, Energy
Management, Power Generation for the 22nd Century, and a
cross-faculty open unit (Sustainable Development).
Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning [9]. It is
an ongoing process that is aimed at the following:
Understanding and improving student learning;
Involving making course and institution expectations
Setting appropriate criteria and standards for learning
Disseminating how well performance matches those
Using the information available to improve performance [10].
Elizondo-Montemayor goes on to state that the main purpose
of the assessment process is to evaluate the standard of
competence, based on a framework of reference criteria that
clearly emphasises the achievements of standards [11].
There has been little previous research undertaken to determine
the level of knowledge on sustainable development attained by
engineering students. One international study, which sought to
evaluate student’s knowledge on sustainable development,
surveyed undergraduate engineers from 21 different universities
in nine different countries [12]. The survey was carried out
between October 2000 and June 2002, and involved a brief
two-page tick-box style survey being delivered to a total of
3,134 engineering students across several disciplines and at
different stages of their courses. The survey was divided into
four parts starting with information about the students, their
level of knowledge and understanding of the environment and
sustainable development, the perceived importance of
sustainable development by the students, and previous
environmental/sustainability education.
The survey results indicated that although the engineering
students were knowledgeable about high profile environmental
issues, such as acid rain and global warming, the level of
knowledge relating to 15 particular aspects, including
ISO 14001, the Kyoto Protocol and the Rio Declaration,
industrial ecology, components and approaches to sustainable
development and inter- and intra-generational equity, was very
poor, with some students acknowledging that they had not
previously heard of these concepts. The survey also highlighted
differences between countries, with students from some areas
of Europe (Sweden and Germany) and the Far East (Vietnam)
having the highest knowledge and understanding of sustainable
development. More encouragingly, however, despite a
relatively low understanding of sustainable development by the
engineering students overall, most students recognised
sustainable development to be either important or very
The authors of this research acknowledged their perceived
difficulties of teaching sustainable development to engineers as
engineering students needed to see an immediate and direct
relevance between the theory of sustainable development and
engineering practice [12]. One reason for this is the perception
by engineering students that sustainability is often perceived as
soft-science rather than the hard-science of engineering [13].
Although course evaluations are conducted for every module
and a wide range of student assessment techniques (eg
examinations, assignments, reports) are used to determine the
effectiveness of student learning and understanding; a greater
rationale of the student knowledge of SD is required in order to
determine the level of understanding of SD among engineering
students undertaking the PS programme at Bristol University.
The survey design was identical to that used within the
previously-discussed study as its parameters accurately
reflected the educational topics administered in the PS
programme, and also to facilitate the direct investigation and
comparison of results [12]. The survey was posted to the
electronic Blackboard network during March 2006, following
the completion of the PS programme. This approach allowed
access to all participating PS students (608 in total).
Unfortunately, by this time, many students did not access their
PS learning resources, but to present the survey earlier would
have been prior to the completion of the programme. It is also
understood that not all students access the electronic
Blackboard system, or have the capacity to do so, once outside
the teaching environment.
The survey received a response rate of 18% (108 students).
Table 1 provides the breakdown of responses by different
variables. The variables stated in the survey responses are
reflective of the overall variables/demographics across the
Faculty of Engineering at the University of Bristol. It is
appreciated that the results from the Bristol study did not
canvass the same number of students as the previous study [12].
As such, the specific analysis and comparison of participants’
nationalities and engineering disciplines was not undertaken
due to a lack of significance.
Figure 1 shows the level of understanding of environmental
issues across Years 1 and 2, and Years 3 and 4 at the
University of Bristol compared to the results of the Azapagic et
al study [12]. While the level of understanding is similar
between year groups, it is clearly lower than the previous
findings [12].
Figure 2 shows the level of understanding of the principles of
sustainable development. Year 3 and 4 Bristol University
students were particularly confident with the definition,
concepts, components and approaches to SD. Figure 3 shows
the level of students’ self-reported knowledge regarding the
range of environmental tools and technologies.
Table 1: The breakdown of responses by different variables.
Number %
Male 89 82
Gender Female 19 18
Year 1 or Year 2 54 50
Year of Study Year 3 or Year 4 54 50
Civil Engng. 30 28
Mechanical Engng. 29 27
Electrical Engng. 10 9
Aeronautical Engng.
23 21
Engineering Maths 3 3
Computer Science 6 6
Engineering Design 7 6
UK 86 80
France 7 6
Other European 6 6
Other Countries 9 8
Total 108 100
Acid rain
Air pollution
Depletion of
Solid waste
Water pollution
Environmental Issues
Average Score
Azapagic etl Survey
Bristol Y1&2
Bristol Y3&4
Figure 1: Understanding of environmental issues.
SD definition
and concept
of SD
to SD
Inter- and
Actions that
can be taken
Understanding of SD
Average Score
Azapagic etl Survey
Figure 2: Understanding of SD principles.
Design for
Fuel cells
Life Cycle
Environmental Tools & Technologies
Azapagic etl Survey
Figure 3: Knowledge of environmental tools and technologies.
While the previous survey shows a consistent level of
knowledge across the range, the students at Bristol University
(across both year sets) demonstrated variable levels of
knowledge across the range of tools. This may be as a result of
the differences in the sample sizes. However, all survey results
indicated increased knowledge (or possibly confidence)
regarding renewable energy and waste minimisation, perhaps
because these areas contain synergies to a range of core
engineering subjects. Correspondingly, the level of knowledge
for certain areas, such as industrial ecology and product
stewardship, were all low, which was consistent with previous
results [12]. This may be due to these concepts not being
closely related to engineering and also possibly beyond the
comfortable teaching scope of some engineering tutors/
lecturers, consequently reinforcing the importance of inter-
disciplinary teaching opportunities.
Overall, the results indicated that education for SD at Bristol
University is progressive. For example, in all cases, the level of
knowledge and understanding of environmental and SD
principles increased over the duration of study, with Year 3 and
4 students exhibiting higher levels than Year 1 and 2 students.
There is an increasing demand for engineering graduates who
have experienced joined-up learning experiences and have
developed interdisciplinary skills that are essential for modern
forward-thinking organisations, and it is essential that
universities provide students with the best opportunities for
success in the job market and furnish them with enough
understanding to make decisions that assist rather than hinder
the advancement towards sustainable development [7].
Therefore, it is essential that institutions can qualify the level
of understanding of SD by their students. However, a
demonstration of the ability to work within SD principles and
to best practice may only be effectively exhibited within the
workplace or during practical industry-based projects.
Universities who fail to deliver high quality education for
sustainable development will find that their courses do not
meet the requirements of the accrediting institutions and the
Engineering Council, resulting in their students being unable to
demonstrate their ability to undertake engineering activities in
a way which contributes to sustainable development and
ultimately unable to gain Chartered status without further
study. Engineering courses that do not furnish students with the
ability of becoming Chartered will ultimately be unpopular
and, in the increasingly competitive higher education sector,
will become obsolete while potentially harming the reputation
of the institution. The PS programme at the University of
Bristol allows engineering students to meet their requirements
under the UK SPEC without further study requirements after
graduation. However, the survey has indicated that some
principles and tools for SD appear not to be adequately covered
or that engineers are failing to understand the significance of
these principles. To address this, additional teaching and
learning resources are being made available during lessons and
also via electronic media. These resources include case studies
that demonstrate SD in practice [7].
The authors of this paper wish to thank Dr Azapagic for her
kind permission to use the survey and for providing an
electronic copy of the survey [12].
1. World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO)
2. Engineering Council, UK, UK Standard for Professional
Engineering Competence (UK SPEC) (2004),
3. Higher Education Academy, Sustainable Development in
Higher Education: Current Practice and Future
Development. Progress report for Senior Managers in
Higher Education, January, York: Higher Education
Academy (2006).
4. Clift., R., Engineering for the environment: the new model
engineer and her role. Trans. of the Institution of Chemical
Engineers, 76, 151-160 (1998).
5. Jucker, R., Our Common Illiteracy: Education as if the
Earth and People Mattered. Frankfurt am Main: Peter
Lang: (2002).
6. Bowers, C.A., Educating for an Ecologically Sustainable
Culture: Rethinking Moral Education, Creativity,
Intelligence, and Other Modern Orthodoxies. New York:
State University of New York Press (1995).
7. Davis, G.U., The role of case studies for the integration of
sustainable development into the education of engineers.
World Trans. on Engng. and Technology Educ., 5, 1,
159-162 (2006).
8. Corfield, K., Getting the engineering we need. Proc.
Institution of Mechanical Engineers, 198B, 4, 243-248
9. Brown, S. and Knight, P., Assessing Learners in Higher
Education. London: Kogan Press (1994).
10. Angelo, T., Doing assessment as if learners matter most.
AAHE Bulletin. 51, 9, 3-6 (1999).
11. Elzondo-Montemayor, L.L., How we assess students using
an holistic standardized assessment system. Medical
Teacher, 26, 5, 400-402 (2004).
12. Azapagic, A., Perdan, S. and Shallcross, D., How much do
engineering students know about sustainable
development? The findings of an international survey and
possible implications for engineering curriculum.
European J. of Engng. Educ., 30, 1, 1-19. (2005).
13. Azapagic, A., The place for sustainable development in
chemical engineering education. Proc. 6th World Congress
of Chemical Engng,, Melbourne, Australia, 210-219
... In or der to developing and implementing ESD principles it is essential for engineers to have a practical understanding about it into their everyday living. Furthermore, it also can become helpful to make engineering decisions for sustainable development (Wanous & Davis, 2007;Devis, 2006). Lukman, Irfan and Kwami's (2013) study revealed that the lecturers agreed on the sustainability status of university Kebangsaam in Malaysia (UKM) academic programs, but differ significantly in their means in their departments. ...
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Purpose: The major purpose of current study was to explore the awareness regarding education for sustainable development (ESD) of the Pakistani prospective teachers. It is necessary to explore the understanding and awareness of prospective teachers for further implementation process of ESD in the Pakistan general education to achieve UNESCO’s aim of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014). As future generation can shape society in a sustainable manner so it is necessary to investigate the comprehension of prospective teachers regarding ESD Methodology: Population of the study was all prospective teachers. Total 115 prospective teachers of a public university were taken as a sample of this study in Lahore. It was cross sectional study and quantitative in nature. The data was collected through standardized instrument questionnaire which was consisted on 19 statements (International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2009). Findings: Current study found that students have already much awareness about ESD before teaching the course of ESD thus there is not major difference of awareness about ESD among students before teaching and after teaching the ESD course. Implications: It is recommended that as students already have awareness about ESD without teaching ESD as a course thus awareness might be given through multimedia, advertisements in T.V, radio, banners and other colorful sources from early education. So such subjects should be included in elementary education.
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Sustainable development and integrated bio-refineries are modern concepts in the chemical and biological engineering discipline for the economic development and sustainability of all countries. An integrated system approach based on system theory is used to investigate the systems and subsystems and their relation to education. Introduction of sustainable development into chemical and biological engineering education is suggested using two general approaches. Decentralized approach introducing them in a well-chosen good number of courses and centralized approach introducing specific courses on sustainable development and its subsystems as compulsory courses. This paper will discuss both approaches with special emphasis to possible application to a Malaysian and USA departments.
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Although ‘Sustainable Development’ is invoked in current political and environmental debates, the concept has eluded precise definition. In general terms, ‘sustainability’ means working within three sets of constraints: techno-economic, environmental and social. Traditionally, engineering has been concerned with techno-economic issues. Explicit recognition of environmental and social issues has led to the way of thinking called Clean Technology, and to the use of more holistic analytical tools including Life Cycle Assessment. Howeover, it is argued here that a paradigm shift is needed in the way engineering skills and knowledge are used, as inputs to deliberative processes which go beyond techno-economic decisions. The need for this new paradigm is illustrated by the waste management sector, which is increasingly seen as needing the skills of the ‘New Model’ chemical engineer.
This paper presents the author's views on the importance of education in future wealth creation, in particular the education of engineers, and on the need for industrial/academic co-operation. It points out that there will be an increasing demand for engineers in high technology and that providing the resources for their education and training is vital if the UK economy is to survive and prosper. It concludes by outlining the proposals of the Engineering Council for the future education and training of engineers.
This paper addresses the issue of engineering education for sustainable development. In an attempt to facilitate a better integration of sustainability teaching into the engineering curriculum, it seeks to provide answers to the following fundamental questions: (1) How much do engineering students know about sustainable development? (2) What are the knowledge gaps? (3) What could be the best approach to educating engineering students for sustainable development? Some answers to the first two questions have been provided by carrying out a world-wide survey of engineering students on their level of knowledge and understanding of sustainable development. The survey results suggest that, overall, the level of knowledge is not satisfactory and that significant knowledge gaps exist. However, an encouraging result is that students believe that sustainable development is important for engineers, although they often have difficulties in making a direct link between the theory of sustainable development and engineering practice. To address the third question, the paper then discusses the implications of these findings for the engineering curriculum. It also illustrates an approach to teaching sustainability that could help to stimulate students' interest in this subject during their studies and to ensure their commitment to practising sustainable engineering later as professionals.
Educating for an Ecologically Sustainable Culture: Rethinking Moral Education, Creativity, Intelligence, and Other Modern Orthodoxies
  • C A Bowers
Bowers, C.A., Educating for an Ecologically Sustainable Culture: Rethinking Moral Education, Creativity, Intelligence, and Other Modern Orthodoxies. New York: State University of New York Press (1995).