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Sustainability and ethics as decision‐making paradigms in engineering curricula

Abbas El‐Zein (School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
David Airey (School of Civil Engineering, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Peter Bowden (Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
Henriikka Clarkeburn (Department of Economics, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 11 April 2008

Abstract

Purpose

The aim of this paper is to explore the rationale for teaching sustainability and engineering ethics within a decision‐making paradigm, and critically appraise ways of achieving related learning outcomes.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper presents the experience of the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney in teaching environmental sustainability and engineering ethics to third‐year undergraduate students. It discusses the objectives of the course and the merits and drawbacks of incorporating ethics and sustainability in the same teaching framework. In addition, it evaluates ways of incorporating theoretical and applied perspectives on sustainability.

Findings

Ethics and sustainability overlap but do not coincide; incorporating them in the same engineering course can be effective, provided that points of linkage are clearly recognized in the syllabus, a suitable combination of theory and practical applications is drawn upon and adequate teaching methods, including decision‐making case problems, are used.

Research limitations/implications

While environmental sustainability, economic rationality and ethical reasoning can be easily fitted into the syllabus, social sustainability is more difficult to teach because it requires a significant conceptual departure from deep‐seated preconceptions on the part of students and teachers, and does not lend itself easily to conventional classroom activity, such as lectures and weekly workshops. Further research on effective ways of incorporating social sustainability in engineering curricula is therefore needed.

Originality/value

The paper evaluates sustainability issues within the context of civil engineering education.

Keywords

Citation

El‐Zein, A., Airey, D., Bowden, P. and Clarkeburn, H. (2008), "Sustainability and ethics as decision‐making paradigms in engineering curricula", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 170-182. https://doi.org/10.1108/14676370810856314

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited