Author: Dr Irene Josa (UCL) 

Topic: Embodied carbon in the built environment. 

Type: Teaching. 

Relevant disciplines: Civil engineering; Environmental engineering; Construction management. 

Keywords: Embodied carbon; Resilient construction practices; Climate change adaptation; Ethics; Teaching or embedding sustainability; AHEP; Higher education; Pedagogy; Environmental impact assessment; Environmental risk; Assessment. 
Sustainability competency: Integrated problem-solving; Systems thinking; Critical thinking; Collaboration; Anticipatory.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.  

Related SDGs: SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 9 (Industry, innovation and infrastructure); SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities); SDG 13 (Climate action). 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: More real-world complexity; Active pedagogies and mindset development; Authentic assessment; Cross-disciplinarity.

Educational aim: To foster a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities in balancing environmental sustainability and profitability/safety in construction projects. To develop critical thinking and decision-making skills in addressing social, economic, and environmental considerations. To encourage students to propose innovative and comprehensive solutions for sustainable urban development. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 


Learning and teaching notes: 

Before engaging with the case study, learners should be familiar with the process of calculating embodied carbon and conducting a cost-benefit analysis. The case study is presented in three parts. In Part one, an ambitious urban revitalisation project is under development, and a project manager needs to find a balance between financial considerations and the urgent need for sustainable, low-embodied carbon construction. In Part two, the project being developed is located in a coastal area prone to climate change-related disasters. The team needs to ensure that the project is durable in the face of disasters and, at the same time, upholds sustainability principles. Lastly, in Part three, stakeholders involved in the two previous projects come together to identify potential synergies. 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 


Supporting resources 


Learning and teaching resources: 

Environmental impact assessment: 

Social impact assessment: 

Economic impact assessment: 

Systems thinking and holistic analysis approaches (PESTLE, SWOT): 

Real-world cases to explore:


Part one: 

In the heart of an urban revitalisation project, the company CityScape Builders is embarking on a transformational journey to convert a neglected area into a vibrant urban centre which will be named ReviveRise District. This urban centre will mostly be formed by tall buildings. 

Avery, the project manager at CityScape Builders, is under immense pressure to meet tight budget constraints and deadlines. Avery understands the project’s economic implications and the importance of delivering within the stipulated financial limits. However, the conflict arises when Rohan, a renowned environmental advocate and consultant, insists on prioritising sustainable construction practices to reduce the project’s embodied carbon. Rohan envisions a future where construction doesn’t come at the cost of the environment. 

On the other side of the situation is Yuki, the CFO of CityScape Builders, who is concerned about the project’s bottom line. Yuki is wary of any actions that could escalate costs and understands that using low-embodied carbon materials often comes with a higher price tag.  

In light of this situation, Avery proposes exploring different options of construction methods and materials that could be used in the design of their skyscrapers. Avery needs to do this quickly to avoid any delay, and therefore consider just the most important carbon-emitting aspects of the different options.  


Optional STOP for questions and activities 


Part two:

CityScape Builders is now embarking on a new challenge, ResilientCoast, a construction project located in a coastal area that is susceptible to climate change-related disasters. This region is economically disadvantaged and lacks the financial resources often found in more developed areas.  

Micha, the resilience project manager at CityScape Builders, is tasked with ensuring the project’s durability in the face of disasters and the impacts of climate change. Micha’s primary concern is to create a resilient structure that can withstand extreme weather events but is equally dedicated to sustainability goals. To navigate this complex situation, Micha seeks guidance from Dr. Ravi, a climate scientist with expertise in coastal resiliency. Dr. Ravi is committed to finding innovative and sustainable solutions that simultaneously address the climate change impacts and reduce embodied carbon in construction. 

In this scenario, Bao, the local community leader, also plays a crucial role. Bao advocates for jobs and economic development in the area, even though Bao is acutely aware of the inherent safety risks. Bao, too, understands that balancing these conflicting interests is a substantial challenge. 

In this situation, Micha wonders how to construct safely in a vulnerable location while maintaining sustainability goals.  


Optional STOP for questions and activities 


Part three: 

Robin and Samir are two independent sustainability consultants that are supporting the projects in ReviveRise District and ResilientCoast respectively. They are concerned that sustainability is just being assessed by embodied carbon and cost sustainability, and they believe that sustainability is a much broader concept than just those two indicators. Robin is the independent environmental consultant working with ReviveRise District officials and is responsible for assessing the broader environmental impacts of the construction project. Robin’s analysis spans beyond embodied carbon, considering local job creation, transportation effects, pollution, biodiversity, and other aspects of the project. 

Samir, on the other hand, is a municipal board member of ResilientCoast. Samir’s role involves advocating for the local community while striving to ensure that sustainability efforts do not compromise the safety and resilience of the area. Samir’s responsibilities are more comprehensive than just economic considerations; they encompass the entire well-being of the community in the face of climate change. 

Robin and Samir recognise the need for cross-city collaboration and information sharing, and they want to collaborate to ensure that the sustainability efforts of both projects do not create unintended burdens for their communities. They acknowledge that a comprehensive approach is necessary for analysing broader impacts, and to ensure both the success of the construction projects and the greater good of both communities. They believe in working collectively to find solutions that are not only sustainable but also beneficial to all stakeholders involved. 


Optional STOP for questions and activities 


The above questions and activities call for the involvement of cross-disciplinary teams, requiring expertise not only in engineering but also in planning, policy, and related fields. Ideally, in the classroom setting, students with diverse knowledge across these disciplines can be grouped together to enhance collaboration and address the tasks proposed. In cases where forming such groups is not feasible, the educator can assign specific roles such as engineer, planner, policymaker, etc., to individual students, ensuring a balanced representation of skills and perspectives. 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 
To view a plain text version of this resource, click here to download the PDF.

Authors: Professor Raffaella Ocone OBE FREng FRSE (Heriot-Watt University); Professor Thomas Lennerfors (Uppsala University); Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Soil carbon sequestration and Solar geoengineering.

Engineering disciplines: Chemical engineering; Energy and Environmental engineering.

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Social responsibility; Risk.

Professional situations: Public health and safety, Communication.

Educational level: Beginner.

Educational aim: To develop ethical awareness. Ethical awareness is when an individual determines that a single situation has moral implications and can be considered from an ethical point of view.


Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves a dilemma that most engineering students will have to face at least once in their careers: which job offer to accept. This study allows students to consider how personal values affect professional decisions. The ethical aspect of this dilemma comes from weighing competing moral goods –that is, evaluating what might be the better choice between two ethically acceptable options. In addition, the case offers students an introduction to ethical principles underpinning EU environmental law, and a chance to debate ethical aspects surrounding emerging technologies. Finally, the case invites consideration of the injustices inherent in proposed solutions to climate change.

This case study addresses two AHEP 4 themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:


Learning and teaching resources:



Olivia is a first-generation university student who grew up on a farm in rural Wales and was often frustrated by living in such a remote environment. When she received excellent A levels in maths and sciences, she took a place on a chemical engineering course in London.

Olivia became passionate about sustainability and thrived during her placements with companies that were working on innovative climate solutions. One of the most formative events for her  was COP26 in Glasgow. Here, she attended debates and negotiations that contributed to new global agreements limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Following this experience, Olivia has been looking for jobs that would allow her to work on the front line combating climate change.


Dilemma – Part one:

Olivia has received two job offers. One is a very well-paid position at CarGro, a small firm not far from her family farm. This company works on chemical analysis for soil carbon storage – the ability of soil’s organic matter to sequester carbon-rich compounds and therefore offset atmospheric CO2

The other offer is for an entry-level position at EnSol, a company developing the feasibility of stratospheric aerosol injection. This technology aims to mimic the effect that volcanic eruptions have on the atmosphere when they eject particles into the stratosphere that reflect sunlight and subsequently cool the planet. EnSol is a start-up located in Bristol that has connections with other European companies working on complementary technologies.

While considering these two offers, Olivia recalls an ethics lesson she had in an engineering design class. This lesson examined the ethical implications of projects that engineers choose to work on. The example used was of a biomedical engineer who had to decide whether to work on cancer cures or cancer prevention, and which was more ethically impactful. Olivia knows that both CarGro and EnSol have the potential to mitigate climate change, but she wonders if one might be better than the other. In addition, she has her own goals and motivations to consider: does she really want to work near her parents again, no matter how well-paid that job is?


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Personal values – what personal values will Olivia have to weigh in order to decide which job offer to accept? 

2. Activity: research the climate mitigation potential of soil carbon sequestration (SCS) and stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).

3. Discussion: Professional values – based on the research, which company is doing the work that Olivia might feel is most ethically impactful? Make an argument for both companies.

4. Discussion: Wider impact – what impact does the work of these two companies have? Consider this on local, regional, and global scales. Who benefits from their work, and who does not?

5. Discussion: Technical integration – undertake a technical activity in the areas of chemical engineering, energy and / or environmental engineering related to the climate mitigation potential of SCS and SAI.


Dilemma – Part two:

To help her with the decision, Olivia talks with three of her former professors. The first is Professor Carrera, whom Olivia accompanied to COP26. Professor Carrera specialises in technology policy, and tells Olivia about the precautionary principle, a core component of EU environmental law. This principle is designed to help governments make decisions when outcomes are uncertain.

The second is Professor Adams, Olivia’s favourite chemical engineering professor, who got her excited about emerging technologies in the area of climate change mitigation. Professor Adams emphasises the opportunity at EnSol provides, to be working on cutting-edge research and development – “the sort of technology that might make you rich, as well!”

Finally, Olivia speaks to Professor Liu, an expert in engineering ethics. Professor Liu’s latest book on social responsibility in engineering argues that many climate change mitigation technologies are inequitable because they unfairly benefit rich countries and have the potential to be risky and burdensome to poorer ones.

Based on these conversations, Olivia decides to ask the hiring managers at CarGro and EnSol some follow-up questions. Knowing she was about to make these phone calls, both her mother and her best friend Owen (who has already secured a job in Bristol) have messaged her with contradictory advice.  What does Olivia ask on the calls to CarGro and EnSol to help her make a decision? Ultimately, which job should Olivia take?


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity and discussion: research the precautionary principle – what have been the potentially positive and negative aspects of its effect on EU policy decisions related to the environment?

2. Activity: identify the risks and benefits of SCS and SAI for different communities.

3. Activity: map the arguments of the three professors. Whose perspective might be the most persuasive to Olivia and why?

4. Activity: rehearse and role play phone calls with both companies.

5. Activity: debate which position Olivia should take.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

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