Author: Aditya Johri (George Mason University). 

Topic: Sustainability implications in mobility and technology development.   

Type: Teaching. 

Relevant disciplines: Electrical, Robotics, Civil, Mechanical, Computing. 

Keywords: Design; Accessibility; Technology Policy; Electric Vehicles; Mobility, Circularity; AHEP; Sustainability; Higher education.
Sustainability competency: Normative; Self-awareness; Strategic; Critical thinking.

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 12 (Responsible consumption and production); SDG 13 (Climate action).   
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Active pedagogies and mindset development.

Educational aim: The objective of this activity is to provide students with an understanding of the complexity of technology development and different considerations that need to be made by stakeholders in the design and implementation of a technology. The activity is set up as a role-play where students are assigned different roles as members of an expert panel providing feedback on the use of E-Scooters on a college campus. 

Educational level: Beginner. 


Learning and teaching notes: 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 


Supporting resources: 

Several different ethical frameworks, codes, or guidelines can be provided to students to prepare for the discussion or to reflect upon during their discussion depending on the students’ disciplinary composition. Here are a few examples:  


Background readings and resources: 

One of the goals of this exercise is to motivate students to undertake their own research on the topic to prepare for the activity. But it is important to provide them with preliminary material to start their own research. Here are a few useful resources for this case:  





Role-play instructions: 

  1. Each student is assigned a role a week before the discussion.
  2. Students assigned to the role of Eva Walker serve as the moderator and lead the conversation based on the script below.
  3. The script provided below is there to guide the discussion, but you should leave room for the conversation to flow naturally and allow everyone to contribute.

One way to ensure students are prepared for the discussion is to assign a few questions from the script as a pre-discussion assignment (short answers). Similarly, to ensure students reflect on the discussion, they can be assigned the last question from the script as a post-discussion exercise. They can also be asked specifically about frameworks and concepts related to sustainability.  


Role-play scenario narrative and description of roles: 

Eva Walker recently started reporting about on-campus traffic issues for the student newspaper. She would have preferred to do more human-interest stories, but as a new member of the staff who had just moved from intern to full-time, she was happy to get whatever opportunity she could. Eva was studying both journalism and creative writing, and this was her dream on-campus job. She also realised that, even though many stories at first didn’t appear to her as though she would be interested in them, as she dug deeper she eventually found an angle with which she could strongly relate.  

One weekday morning, Eva was working on yet another story on parking woes when Amina Ali, one of the editorial staff members, texted her to say that there had been an accident on campus; she just passed it at the intersection of the library and the recreation building, and it might be worth covering. Eva was at the library, and within no time, reached the spot of the accident.  

When Eva arrived, a police vehicle, an ambulance, and a fire engine were all present at the scene, and near the accident site, an e-scooter lay smashed into a tree. It looked like the rider was sitting in the ambulance and was being treated by the medical staff. A little further away, Eva noticed the police speaking to a young woman in a wheelchair. Although Eva’s first instinct was to try to talk to the police or the medical staff to ascertain what had happened, she realised this probably wasn’t the best moment and she would have to wait until later for the official version of the event.  

She looked around and saw a group of four students leaning against a wall with drinks in their hands. A couple of them were vaping. Eva thought that they looked like they had been here for a while, and she walked over to ask them what had happened. From the account they gave her, it appeared as if the e-scooter rider was coming around the bend at some speed, saw the woman in the wheelchair a little too late to ride past her, and, to avoid hitting her, leapt off his e-scooter and let the vehicle hit the tree. Things happened very quickly and no one was exactly sure about the sequence of events, but this was the rough story she got.  

Later, she called the police department on campus and was able to speak with one of the officers to get an official account. The story was very similar to what she already knew. She did find out that nobody was seriously hurt and that the only injuries were to the e-scooter rider and were taken care of at the scene by the medical staff. When she asked about who was to blame or if any legal action was expected, she was told that there were no laws around the use of helmets or speeding for e-scooters yet and that she should reach out later for more information. Eva wrote up what she had so far, sent it over to the editorial staff, and considered her work done.  

But as she was walking back to her halls of residence that evening, her attention was drawn to the large number of e-scooters parked near the library. As she crossed the central campus, she noticed even more e-scooters lying about the intersections, and there was a litter of them around the residence hall. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed them before. Her attention was drawn today, she thought, because of the accident and also because she saw a good Samaritan remove an e-scooter from the sidewalk, as it was blocking the path of one of the self-driving food delivery robots. It’s a sign, Eva thought, this is what she needs to look for more in her next article, the use of e-scooters on campus.  

Eva recognised that, to write a balanced and informative article, as she had been taught to do, she would have to look at many different aspects of the use of e-scooters as well as look broadly at mobility on campus and the use of battery powered vehicles. She had also recently seen e-bikes on campus and, in addition to the food delivery robots, service robots in one of the buildings that she assumed was either delivering paperwork or mail. The accident had also made her realise that, when it came to mobility, accessibility was something that never crossed her mind but that she now understood was an important consideration. She hoped to learn more about it as her research progressed.  

As background research for the article, Eva started reading up on articles and studies published about e-scooters, e-bikes, and urban mobility and came across a range of concerns that had been raised beyond accessibility. First, there were reports that e-scooters are not as environmentally friendly as many service providers had made them out to be. This is related to the production of the battery as well as the short lifespan of the vehicles, and as of yet, there has been no procedure implemented to reuse them (Pyzyk, 2019). Second, there were reports of littering, where e-scooters are often left on sidewalks and other places where they restrict movement of other vehicles, pedestrians, and in particular, those in wheelchairs (Iannelli, 2021). Finally, it was also clear from the reports that accidents and injuries have increased due to e-scooters, especially since many riders do not wear safety gear and are often careless, even inebriated, as there were little to no regulations (2021). When she approached her editor with an outline for an article, she was advised to do some more reporting by talking with people who could shed more light on the issue.  

After some research, Eva shortlisted the following experts across fields related to e-scooters for an interview, and once she spoke with them, she realised that it would help her if she could get them to have a dialogue and respond to some of the questions that were raised by other experts. Therefore, she decided to conduct a focus group with them so that she achieved her goal of a balanced article and did not misrepresent any expert’s point of view.  


Experts/roles for discussion: 

1. Bryan Avery is co-founder and chief technology officer (CTO) of RideBy, an e-scooter company. RideBy is one of the options available on campus. Born in a small town, Bryan used to ride his bicycle everywhere while growing up, and for him, founding and leading an e-scooter company provided a chance to merge his interests in personal transportation and new forms of energy. He was a chemical engineer by training, and at a time when most of his friends ended up working for big oil companies, Bryan decided to work on alternative fuels and found himself developing expertise and experience with batteries. For most of the software- and mobile device-related development, RideBy outsourced the work and utilised ready-to-configure systems that were available. By only keeping the core device and battery functionality in-house, they could focus on delivering a much stronger product. Overall, he is quite happy with the success of RideBy so far and can’t help but extol the difference it can make for the environment.  


2. Abiola Abrams is a professor of transportation engineering and an expert on mobility systems. Her work combines systems engineering, computer science, and data analytics. Her recent research is on urban mobility and micro-mobility services, particularly e-bikes. In her research, Dr. Abrams has looked at a host of topics related to e-bikes, many of which are also applicable to e-scooters, including the optimisation of hubs for availability, common path patterns of users, subscription use models, and the e-waste and end of lifecycle for these vehicles. Increasingly, she has become concerned about the abuse of some of these services, especially in cities that attract a lot of tourists, and about the rough use of the vehicles, so much so that many do not even last for a month. In a new project, she is investigating the effect of e-vehicles on the environment and has found that there is mixed evidence for how much difference battery-operated vehicles will actually make for climate change compared to vehicles that use fossil fuels.  


3. Marco Rodrigues works as transportation director for the local county government where the university is based. As part of a recent bilateral international exchange, he got the opportunity to spend time in different cities in Germany to learn about local transportation. He realised very quickly that local transportation was very different in Germany; residents had a range of public, shared options that were missing in the United States. However, he also realised that e-mobility services were being considered across both countries. He investigated this further and found that Germany waited until it could pass some regulations before allowing e-mobility operators to offer services; helmets were mandatory on e-scooters and e-bikes, and riders had to purchase a nominal insurance policy. He also learned that there were strict rules around the sharing of data generated by the vehicles as well as the apps used by riders.  


4. Judy Whitehouse is director of infrastructure and sustainability on campus and responsible for planning the long-term development of the campus from a space perspective, but also increasingly from a sustainability dimension. As the number of students has increased, so has the need for more infrastructure, including classrooms and halls of residence. This has also resulted in greater distances to be traveled on campus. Judy regards e-mobility options as a necessary component of campus life and has been a strong supporter for them. Lately, she has been called into meetings with safety and emergency management people discussing the issue of increased accidents on campus and the littering of e-vehicles across the campus. Not only is it bad for living on campus, but it is also bad for optics. A recent photo featured in the campus newspaper was a stark reminder of just how bad it can look. She is further divided on the use of e-scooters due to misgivings about the sustainability of battery use, as new research suggests that manufacturing batteries and disposing them are extremely harmful for the environment.  


5. Aaron Schneider heads Campus Mobility, a student interest group focused on autonomous vehicles development and use. The group members come from different degree programmes and are interested in both the technical dimensions of mobile solutions and the policy issues surrounding their implementation. Aaron himself is a computer science student with interests in data science, and with some of his fellow members from the policy school, he has been analysing a range of mobility-related datasets that are publicly available online. Of these, the data on accidents is quite glaring, as the number of accidents in which e-scooters are involved has gone up significantly. Aaron and his friends were intrigued by their findings and approached some of the companies to see if they would share data, but they were disappointed when they could not get access. Although the companies said it was due to privacy reasons, Aaron was not too convinced by that argument. He was also denied access to any internal reports about usage patterns of accidents. Ideally, he would have liked to know what algorithms were used for optimising delivery and access, but he knew he was not going to get that information.  


6. Sarah Johnson is the head of accessibility services on campus and is responsible for both technology- and infrastructure-related support for students, faculty, and staff. The growth of the physical campus and the range of technological offerings has significantly increased the workload for her office, and they are really strained in terms of people and expertise. The emphasis from the university leadership is largely on web and IT accessibility, as teaching and other services are shifting quickly online, but Sarah realises that there is still an acute need to provide physical and mobility support to many members of the community. Although all the new buildings are up to code in terms of accessibility, there is still work to be done both for the older buildings and especially for mobility. Campus beautification does not always go along with access. She is also worried about access to devices, as taking part in any campus activity requires not just a computer, but also access to mobile devices that are out of reach economically for many and not easy to use.  


Role-play script: 

To help get the dialogues started and based on her prior conversation with the group, Eva has prepared some initial questions:  

  1. What role are you playing and, from your perspective, what do you see as the biggest pros of using e-vehicles, especially e-scooters on campus?
  2. From your perspective, what do you see as the biggest downside of using e-vehicles, especially e-scooters on campus?
  3. Can you confidently say that e-scooters are an environmentally friendly option?
  4. What current accessibility accommodations would be impacted by the use of e-vehicles, and what new, potential accessibility accommodations might arise from increased use of e-vehicles?
  5. Would we be better off waiting for more regulations to come before deploying these vehicles on campus and, if so, what should those regulations look like?
  6. Should we use automatic regulation of speed on the vehicle based on where it is and/or inform authorities if it is violated?
  7. Can we control where it can go or penalise if not put back?
  8. What guidelines do you recommend for e-scooter usage on campus?  


Authorship and project information and acknowledgements: The scenarios and roles were conceptualised and written by Aditya Johri. Feedback was provided by Ashish Hingle, Huzefa Rangwala, and Alex Monea, who also collaborated on initial implementation and empirical research. This work is partly supported by U.S. National Science Foundation Awards# 1937950, 2335636, 1954556; USDA/NIFA Award# 2021-67021-35329. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agencies. The research study associated with the project was approved by the Institutional Review Board at George Mason University. 


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: Diana Adela Martin (University College London), Suleman Audu and Jeremy Mantingh (Engineers Without Borders The Netherlands). 

Topic: Circular business models. 

Tool type: Teaching. 

Relevant disciplines: Chemical; Biochemical; Manufacturing. 

Keywords: Circular business models; Teaching or embedding sustainability; Plastic waste; Plastic pollution; Recycling or recycled materials; Responsible consumption; Teamwork; Interdisciplinary; AHEP; Higher education. 
Sustainability competency: Integrated problem-solving; Collaboration; Systems thinking.

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 11 (Sustainable cities and communities); SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production); SDG 13 (Climate action); SDG 14 (Life below water). 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: More real-world complexity, Active pedagogies and mindset development, Authentic assessment, Cross-disciplinarity.

Educational level: Intermediate. 


Learning and teaching notes:   

This case study is focused on the role of engineers to address the problem of plastic waste in the context of sustainable operations and circular business solutions. It involves a team of engineers developing a start-up aiming to tackle plastic waste by converting it into infrastructure components (such as plastic bricks). As plastic waste is a global problem, the case can be customised by instructors when specifying the region in which it is set. The case incorporates several components, including stakeholder mapping, empirical surveys, risk assessment and policy-making. This case study is particularly suitable for interdisciplinary teamwork, with students from different disciplines bringing their specialised knowledge.  

The case study asks students to research the data on how much plastic is produced and policies for the disposal of plastic, identify the regions most affected by plastic waste, develop a business plan for a circular business focused on transforming plastic waste into bricks and understand the risks of plastic production and waste as well as the risks of a business working with plastic waste. In this process, students gain an awareness of the societal context of plastic waste and the varying risks that different demographic categories are exposed to, as well as the role of engineers in contributing to the development of technologies for circular businesses. Students also get to apply their disciplinary knowledge to propose technical solutions to the problem of plastic waste. 

The case is presented in parts. Part one addresses the broader context of plastic waste and could be used in isolation, but parts two and three further develop and add complexity to the engineering-specific elements of the topic.  


Learners have the opportunity to:  

Teachers have the opportunity to include teaching content purporting to: 


Recommended pre-reading: 

Part one:

Part two:


Part one: 

Plastic pollution is a major challenge. It is predicted that if current trends continue, by 2050 there will be 26 billion metric tons of plastic waste, and almost half of this is expected to be dumped in landfills and the environment (Guglielmi, 2017). As plastic waste grows at an increased speed, it kills millions of animals each year, contaminates fresh water sources and affects human health. Across the world, geographical regions are affected differently by plastic waste. In fact, developing countries are more affected by plastic waste than developed nations. Existing reports trace a link between poverty and plastic waste, making it a development problem. Africa, Asia and South America see immense quantities of plastic generated elsewhere being dumped on their territory.  At the moment, there are several policies in place targeting the production and disposal of plastic. Several of the policies active in developed regions such as the EU do not allow the disposal of plastic waste inside their own territorial boundaries, but allow it on outside territories.  


Optional STOP for activities and discussion 


Part two: 

Impressed by the magnitude of the problem of plastic waste faced today, together with a group of friends you met while studying engineering at the Technological University of the Future, you want to set up a green circular business. Circular business models aim to use and reuse materials for as long as possible, all while minimising waste. Your concern is to develop a sustainable technological solution to the problem of plastic waste. The vision for a circular economy for plastic rests on six key points (Ellen McArthur Foundation, n.d.): 

  1. Elimination of problematic or unnecessary plastic packaging through redesign, innovation, and new delivery models is a priority 
  2. Reuse models are applied where relevant, reducing the need for single-use packaging 
  3. All plastic packaging is 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable 
  4. All plastic packaging is reused, recycled, or composted in practice 
  5. The use of plastic is fully decoupled from the consumption of finite resources 
  6. All plastic packaging is free of hazardous chemicals, and the health, safety, and rights of all people involved are respected 


Optional STOP for group activities and discussion 


Part three: 

The start-up SuperRecycling aims to develop infrastructure solutions by converting plastic waste into bricks. Your team of engineers is tasked to develop a risk assessment for the operations of the factory in which this process will take place. The start-up is set in a developing country of your choice that is greatly affected by plastic waste. 


Optional STOP for group activities and discussion 


Acknowledgement: The authors want to acknowledge the work of Engineers Without Borders Netherlands and its partners to tackle the problem of plastic waste. The case is based on the Challenge Based Learning exploratory course Decision Under Risk and Uncertainty designed by Diana Adela Martin at TU Eindhoven, where students got to work on a real-life project about the conversion of plastic waste into bricks to build a washroom facility in a school in Ghana, based on the activity of Engineers Without Borders Netherlands. The project was spearheaded by Suleman Audu and Jeremy Mantingh. 


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.

Author: Mark J. Heslop (University of Strathclyde). 

Topic: ESD in Chemical Engineering projects. 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Relevant disciplines: Chemical. 

Keywords: Problem-based learning; Education for sustainable development; Circularity; Circular economy; Assessment; AHEP; Sustainability; Higher education; Design; Data; Pedagogy. 
Sustainability competency: Systems-thinking; Collaboration; Integrated problem-solving.

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 2 (Zero hunger); SDG 3 (Good health and well-being); SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production); SDG 13 (Climate action). 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Active pedagogies and mindset development; Authentic assessment; More real-world complexity.

Who is this article for? This article should be read by Chemical Engineering educators in higher education who are seeking to integrate sustainability in their project modules. Engaging with this topic will also help to prepare students with the soft skill sets that employers are looking for. 



The design project (DP) is considered to be the major focus of the CE curriculum, where students work in groups to design a complete chemical process – feeds, products process routes, energy requirements, financial aspects and emissions.  It is considered challenging for various reasons including the following: the requirement to recall and combine knowledge covered previously in taught classes (some of which may have been forgotten), dealing with a huge corpus of data (unavailability, uncertainty, some being in conflict and some being superfluous) and all the design decisions that need to be made from many options.  This is a major contrast with standard taught modules where all the data required is normally provided in advance.  Just making decisions is not enough – they need to be timely and justified otherwise the project may be rushed and may not complete by the deadline.  This is why the DP is valued by employers.  Furthermore, if Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is embedded in the design project, it is more likely that students will take forward sustainability into the workplace. Figure 1 illustrates Chemical processes and the design project.   


1. Subject (CE) and DP pictorial representations:

Part (a) is a generic representation of a chemical process and shows the input-output nature of chemical processes.  A chemical process takes a feed and converts it to useful products (the process shown has two equipment units and four streams). Part (b) is a representation of the design project, where the specification (or brief) is provided to groups at the start (DSpec) and the final submission (or solution) is the information in part (a).  Part (c) shows that specifications can be product-based (the top two) or feed-based (the bottom two).  The dashed lines indicate specifications where the flowrate and composition of the feed/product is subject to design choice – a typical factor that will extend the design procedure and require more decision-making. 


 2. Inclusion of sustainability in the project topic and communication with students:

This is fairly straightforward in CE design projects, because of the circular economy and the associated waste minimisation.  So, from Figure 1, a feed-based (rather than product-based) specification can be employed.  Topics that have been used at Strathclyde in recent years have been the utilisation of coffee grounds, food waste and (in 2024) green and garden waste. It is helpful that such topics can be linked to many of the UN SDGs. Furthermore, waste products are often complex with many components, and one of the characteristics of chemical engineering is the various separation techniques. These two factors should be communicated to students to improve engagement.   


3. Inclusion of sustainability as an ESD activity to be carried out by groups:

One of the complicating factors about the UN SDGs is that there are so many, meaning that there is the possibility of a chemical process having both positive and negative impacts on different SDGs. This means that groups really need to consider all of the SDGs.  This might be conveniently demonstrated as per Table 1.  Certainly, it would be hoped that there are more ticks in column 2 than in column 3.  Column 4 corresponds to minimal change, and column 5 where there is not enough information to determine any impact. 


Table 1: Sustainability rating form for design project submissions   

As an example, consider a design project which is based on better utilisation of green waste.  Let us say that this results in less greenhouse gas emissions, as well as there being less need to plant and harvest plants.  This will result in positive outcomes for SDG12 and SDG13.  There are also positive effects because more land can be used for crops, and there will be higher plant coverage during the year.  It could be argued then that there are minor positive effects om SDG2 and SDG3.  The subsequent SDG profile in Table 1 shows two major impacts and two minor impacts – this might be typical for DPs.  


4. Assessment of sustainability in the design project:

Table 2 shows the typical sections in a DP submission.  For convenience these are shown as having equal 20-mark contributions.  One way of determining marks is to divide these sections into a number of dimensions, for example: use of the literature, technical knowledge, creativity/innovation and style/layout.  Sustainability could then be included as a fifth dimension.  It is then a case of determining the sustainability dimension for each of the marking sections.  It could be argued that sustainability is particularly important at the start of the project (when feeds and amounts are being decided) and at the end (when the final process is being assessed).  This explains the larger weightings in Table 2. Coherence refers to how well the submission reads in terms of order and consistency and is thus independent of sustainability.  The weightings are subject to debate, but they do at least give the potential for consistent (and traceable) grading between different assessors.        


Table 2: Design project assessment now including ESD   


Byrne, E.P. (2023) “The evolving engineer; professional accreditation sustainability criteria and societal imperatives and norms”, Education for Chemical Engineers 43, pp. 23–30  

Feijoo, G., Moreira, M.T. (2020) “Fostering environmental awareness towards responsible food consumption and reduced food waste in chemical engineering students”, Education for Chemical Engineers 33, pp. 27–35  

IChemE (2021), “Accreditation of chemical engineering programmes: a guide for education providers and assessors” 


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: Dr Gilbert Tang; Dr Rebecca Raper (Cranfield University). 

Topic: Considering the SDGs at all stages of new robot creation. 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Relevant disciplines: Computing; Robotics; Electrical; Computer science; Information technology; Software engineering; Artificial Intelligence; Mechatronics; Manufacturing engineering; Materials engineering; Mechanical engineering; Data. 

Keywords: SDGs; AHEP; Sustainability; Design; Life cycle; Local community; Environment; Circular economy; Recycling or recycled materials; Student support; Higher education; Learning outcomes. 
Sustainability competency: Systems thinking; Anticipatory; Critical thinking.

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 9 (Industry, innovation, and infrastructure); SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production). 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes; More real-world complexity.

Who is this article for? This article is for educators working at all levels of higher education who wish to integrate Sustainability into their robotics engineering and design curriculum or module design. It is also for students and professionals who want to seek practical guidance on how to integrate Sustainability considerations into their robotics engineering. 



There is an urgent global need to address the social and economic challenges relating to our world and the environment (Raper et al., 2022). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for individuals, policy-makers and industries to work to address some of these challenges (Gutierrez-Bucheli et al., 2022). These 17 goals encompass areas such as clean energy, responsible consumption, climate action, and social equity. Engineers play a pivotal role in achieving these goals by developing innovative solutions that promote sustainability and they can use these goals to work to address broader sustainability objectives. 

Part of the strategy to ensure that engineers incorporate sustainability into their solution development is to ensure that engineering students are educated on these topics and taught how to incorporate considerations at all stages in the engineering process (Eidenskog et al., 2022). For instance, students need not only to have a broad awareness of topics such as the SDGs, but they also need lessons on how to ensure their engineering incorporates sustainable practice. Despite the increased effort that has been demonstrated in engineering generally, there are some challenges when the sustainability paradigm needs to be integrated into robotics study programs or modules (Leifler and Dahlin, 2020). This article details one approach to incorporate considerations of the SDGs at all stages of new robot creation: including considerations prior to design, during creation and manufacturing and post-deployment. 


1. During research and problem definition:

Sustainability considerations should start from the beginning of the engineering cycle for robotic systems. During this phase it is important to consider what the problem statement is for the new system, and whether the proposed solution satisfies this in a sustainable way, using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) linked to the SDGs (United Nations, 2018), such as carbon emissions, energy efficiency and social equity (Hristov and Chirico, 2019). For instance, will the energy expended to create the robot solution be offset by the robot once it is in use? Are there long-term consequences of using a robot as a solution? It is important to begin engagement with stakeholders, such as end-users, local communities, and subject matter experts to gain insight into these types of questions and any initial concerns. Educators can provide students with opportunities to engage in the research and development of robotics technology that can solve locally relevant problems and benefit the local community. These types of research projects allow students to gain valuable research experience and explore robotics innovations through solving problems that are relatable to the students. There are some successful examples across the globe as discussed in Dias et al., 2005. 


2. At design and conceptualisation:

Once it is decided that a robot works as an appropriate solution, Sustainability should be integrated into the robot system’s concept and design. Considerations can include incorporating eco-design principles that prioritise resource efficiency, waste reduction, and using low-impact materials. The design should use materials with relatively low environmental footprints, assessing their complete life cycles, including extraction, production, transportation, and disposal. Powered systems should prioritise energy-efficient designs and technologies to reduce operational energy consumption, fostering sustainability from the outset. 


3. During creation and manufacturing:

The robotic system should be manufactured to prioritise methods that minimise, mitigate or offset waste, energy consumption, and emissions. Lean manufacturing practices can be used to optimise resource utilisation where possible. Engineers should be aware of the importance of considering sustainability in supply chain management to select suppliers with consideration of their sustainability practices, including ethical labour standards and environmentally responsible sourcing. Robotic systems should be designed in a way that is easy to assemble and disassemble, thus enabling robots to be easily recycled, or repurposed at the end of their life cycle, promoting circularity and resource conservation. 


4. Deployment:

Many robotic systems are designed to run constantly day and night in working environments such as manufacturing plants and warehouses. Thus energy-efficient operation is crucial to ensure users operate the product or system efficiently, utilising energy-saving features to reduce operational impacts. Guidance and resources should be provided to users to encourage sustainable practices during the operational phase. System designers should also implement systems for continuous monitoring of performance and data collection to identify opportunities for improvement throughout the operational life. 


5. Disposal:

Industrial robots have an average service life of 6-7 years. It is important to consider their end-of-life and plan for responsible disposal or recycling of product components. Designs should be prioritised that facilitate disassembly and recycling (Karastoyanov and Karastanev, 2018). Engineers should identify and safely manage hazardous materials to comply with regulations and prevent environmental harm. Designers can also explore options for product take-back and recycling as part of a circular economy strategy. There are various ways of achieving that. Designers can adopt modular design methodologies to enable upgrades and repairs, extending their useful life. Robot system manufacturers should be encouraged to develop strategies for refurbishing and reselling products, promoting reuse over disposal. 



Sustainability is not just an option but an imperative within the realm of engineering. Engineers must find solutions that not only meet technical and economic requirements but also align with environmental, social, and economic sustainability goals. As well as educating students on the broader topics and issues relating to Sustainability, there is a need for teaching considerations at different stages in the robot development lifecycle. Understanding the multifaceted connections between sustainability and engineering disciplines, as well as their impact across various stages of the engineering process, is essential for engineers to meet the challenges of the 21st century responsibly.  



Dias, M. B., Mills-Tettey, G. A., & Nanayakkara, T. (2005, April). Robotics, education, and sustainable development. In Proceedings of the 2005 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (pp. 4248-4253). IEEE. 

Eidenskog, M., Leifler, O., Sefyrin, J., Johnson, E., & Asplund, M. (2023). Changing the world one engineer at a time–unmaking the traditional engineering education when introducing sustainability subjects. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 24(9), 70-84.  

Gutierrez-Bucheli, L., Kidman, G., & Reid, A. (2022). Sustainability in engineering education: A review of learning outcomes. Journal of Cleaner Production, 330, 129734. 

Hristov, I., & Chirico, A. (2019). The role of sustainability key performance indicators (KPIs) in implementing sustainable strategies. Sustainability, 11(20), 5742. 

Karastoyanov, D., & Karastanev, S. (2018). Reuse of Industrial Robots. IFAC-PapersOnLine, 51(30), 44-47. 

Leifler, O., & Dahlin, J. E. (2020). Curriculum integration of sustainability in engineering education–a national study of programme director perspectives. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 21(5), 877-894. 

Raper, R., Boeddinghaus, J., Coeckelbergh, M., Gross, W., Campigotto, P., & Lincoln, C. N. (2022). Sustainability budgets: A practical management and governance method for achieving goal 13 of the sustainable development goals for AI development. Sustainability, 14(7), 4019. 

SDG Indicators — SDG Indicators (2018) United Nations (Accessed: 19 February 2024) 


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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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Author: Dr Irene Josa (University College London). The author would like to acknowledge Colin Church (IOM3) who provided valuable feedback during the development of this case.

Topic: Materials sourcing and circularity.

Engineering disciplines: Materials engineering; Manufacturing; Environmental engineering; Construction.

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Risk.

Professional situations: Conflicts of interest; Public health and safety; Legal implications; Whistleblowing; Power; Corporate social responsibility.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Gaining ethical knowledge. Knowing the sets of rules, theories, concepts, frameworks, and statements of duty, rights, or obligations that inform ethical attitudes, behaviours, and practices.


Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves an engineer responsible for verifying the source of recycled construction material to ensure it is not contaminated. The case is presented in three parts. Part one focuses on the environmental, professional, and social contexts and may be used in isolation to allow students to explore both micro-ethical and macro-ethical concerns. Parts two and three bring in a dilemma about public information and communication and allows students to consider their positions and potential responses. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s 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.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:


Learning and teaching resources:


Government site:


Journal articles:

Professional organisations:


Dilemma – Part one:

Charlie is a junior environmental engineer who started working at Circle Mat after graduating. Circle Mat is a construction products company that takes pride in using recycled materials from waste in their products, such as mortars and concretes. In fact, Circle Mat was recently nominated by the National Sustainability Association in the prize for the most innovative and sustainable production chains.

Charlie’s role is to ensure that the quality standards of the recycled waste used in the products are met. She is sent a report every two weeks from the factories receiving the waste and she checks the properties of this waste. While she is also supposed to visit all the factories once a month, her direct supervisor, Sam, advised her to visit only those factories where data shows that there are problems with the quality. While it is Charlie’s responsibility to verify the quality and to create the factory visit plan, she trusts her line manager as to how best approach her work.

Among all the factories with which they are working, the factory in Barretton has always had the highest quality standards, and since it is very far from where Charlie is based, she has postponed for months her visit to that factory.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Charlie is responsible for checking the quality from the data she receives, but what about the quality/reliability of the data? Where does her responsibility begin and end? What ethical guidance, codes, or frameworks can help her decide?

2. Activity: Research the issue of asbestos, including current science, potential risks, and legal implications.

3. Discussion: Macroethical context – What is circularity, and how does it relate to climate goals or environmental practice?


Dilemma: Part two:

After several months, she finally goes to the town where the factory is located. Before getting to the factory, she stops for a coffee at the town’s café. There, she enquires of the waiter about the impacts of the factory on the town. The waiter expresses his satisfaction and explains that since Circle Mat started operations there, the town has become much more prosperous.

When Charlie reaches the factory, she notices a pile of waste that, she assumes, is the one that is being used as recycled aggregate in concrete. Having a closer look, she sees that it is waste from demolition of a building, with some insulation walls, concrete slabs and old pipes. At that moment, the head of the factory arrives and kindly shows Charlie around.

At the end of the visit, Charlie asks about the pile, and the head says that it is indeed demolition waste from an old industrial building. By the description, Charlie remembers that there are some buildings in the region that still contain asbestos, so asks whether the demolition material could potentially have asbestos. To Charlie’s surprise, the head reacts aggressively and says that the visit is over.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Use an environmental and social Life Cycle Assessment tool to assess the environmental and social impacts that the decision that Charlie makes might have.

2. Discussion: Map possible courses of action regarding the approach that Charlie could adopt when the factory head tries to shut down the visit. Discuss which is the best approach and why. Some starting questions would be: What should Charlie do? What feels wrong about this situation?

3. Discussion: if she reports her suspicions to her manager, what data or evidence can she present? Should she say anything at all at this point?


Dilemma – Part three:

In the end, Charlie decides not to mention anything, and after writing her report she leaves Barretton. A few days later, Circle Mat is announced to be the winner of the prize by the National Sustainability Association. Circle Mat organises a celebration event to be carried out in Barretton. During the event, Charlie discovers that Circle Mat’s CEO is a relative of the mayor of Barretton.

She is not sure if there really is asbestos in the waste, and also she does not know if other factories might be behaving in the same way. Nonetheless, other junior engineers are responsible for the other factories, so she doesn’t have access to the information.

Some days after the event, she receives a call from a journalist who says that they have discovered that the company is using waste from buildings that contain asbestos. The journalist is preparing an article to uncover the secret and wants to interview her. They ensure that, if she wants, her identity will be kept anonymous. They also mention that, if she refuses to participate, they will collect information from other sources in the company.


Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Technical integration related to measuring contaminants in waste products used for construction materials.

2. Discussion: What ethical issues can be identified in this scenario? Check how ethical principles of the construction sector inform the ethical issues that may be present, and the solutions that might be possible.

3. Discussion: What interpersonal and workplace dynamics might affect the approach taken to resolve this situation? 

4. Discussion: Would you and could you take the interview with the journalist? Should Charlie? Why or why not?

5. Activity: In the case of deciding to take the interview, prepare the notes you would take to the interview.


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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