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Exploring sustainability themes in engineering accreditation and curricula

Edmond P. Byrne (Department of Process and Chemical Engineering, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland)
Cheryl J. Desha (School of Earth, Environment, and Biological Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)
John J. Fitzpatrick (Department of Process and Chemical Engineering, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland)
Karlson “Charlie” Hargroves (Faculty of Engineering, Computer and Mathematical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 13 September 2013




This paper aims to present key findings from an inquiry into engineering accreditation and curricula renewal. The research attempted to ascertain conceptions of requisite sustainability themes among engineering academics and professionals. The paper also reflects on the potential role of professional engineering institutions (PEIs) in embedding sustainability through their programme accreditation guidelines and wider implications in terms of rapid curricula renewal.


This research comprised an International Engineering Academic Workshop held during the 2010 International Symposium on Engineering Education in Ireland, on “accreditation and sustainable engineering”. This built on the findings of a literature review that was distributed prior to the workshop. Data collection included individual questionnaires administered during the workshop, and notes scribed by workshop participants.


The literature review highlighted a wide range of perspectives across and within engineering disciplines, regarding what sustainability/sustainable development (SD) themes should be incorporated into engineering curricula, and regarding language and terminology. This was also reflected in the workshop discussions. Notwithstanding this diversity, clusters of sustainability themes and priority considerations were distilled from the literature review and workshop. These related to resources, technology, values, ethics, inter‐ and intra‐generational equity, transdisciplinarity, and systems and complex thinking. Themes related to environmental and economic knowledge and skills received less attention by workshop participants than represented in the literature.


This paper provides an appreciation of the diversity of opinion regarding priority sustainability themes for engineering curricula, among a group of self‐selected engineering academics who have a common interest in education for SD. It also provides some insights and caveats on how these themes might be rapidly integrated into engineering curricula.



Byrne, E.P., Desha, C.J., Fitzpatrick, J.J. and “Charlie” Hargroves, K. (2013), "Exploring sustainability themes in engineering accreditation and curricula", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 384-403.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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