International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) (7th : 2015)

Harnessing sustainability complexity : a strategy to incorporate social factors into engineering education Matos, Stelvia; Petrov, Olga


As societal expectations have changed from narrowly focused environmental issues to broader sustainable development concerns, it is vital that future engineers graduate with an understanding of how social impacts may affect or may be affected by their decisions. Drawing on complexity theory and sustainability literature, this paper describes how engineering programs can incorporate a course that will enable graduating engineers to explore the interdependencies among technical, economic, environmental and social dimensions of sustainability. System’s elements and interdependences are identified using modularity, a technique that applies deductive and inductive methods. Using the example of a sustainable lignin-based product we demonstrate how such methods are performed in practice. We then discuss the implications for engineering teaching and propose an integrated sustainability analysis course that focuses on harnessing social factors within sustainability complexity, by seeking them out and exploiting interdependencies. This will prepare future engineers to work on a more realistic scenario, and more broadly explore new ideas and possible solutions.

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