Authors: The Lemelson Foundation; Cynthia Anderson, Sarah Jayne Hitt and Jonathan Truslove (Eds.) 

Topic: Accreditation mapping for sustainability in engineering education. 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Engineering disciplines:  Any.

Keywords: Accreditation and standards; Learning outcomes; AHEP; Student support; Sustainability; Higher education; Students; Teaching or embedding sustainability.
 
Sustainability competency: Critical thinking; Systems thinking; Integrated problem-solving; Collaboration.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4). See details about mapping within the guide. 

Related SDGs: SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production). 

Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes; More real-world complexity; Cross-disciplinarity.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This guide maps the Engineering for One Planet (EOP) Framework to AHEP4. The EOP Framework is a practical tool for curricular supplementation and modification, comprising 93 sustainability focused learning outcomes in 9 topic areas. 

The Lemelson Foundation, VentureWell, and Alula Consulting stewarded the co-development of the EOP Framework with hundreds of individuals mostly situated in the United States. Now, in collaboration with the EPC and Engineers Without Borders UK, the EOP Framework’s student learning outcomes have been mapped to AHEP4 at the Chartered Engineer (CEng) level to ensure that UK educators can more easily align these outcomes and corresponding resources with learning activities, coursework, and assessments within their modules.  

 

Click here to access the guide. 

 

Supporting resources: 

EOP Comprehensive Teaching Guide 

EOP’s 13 Step-by-Step Ideas for Integrating Sustainability into Engineering Modules 

EOP Quickstart Activity Guide 

 

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. 

Authors: Dr Homeira Shayesteh (Senior Lecturer/Programme Leader for Architectural Technology, Design Engineering & Mathematics Department, Faculty of Science & Technology, Middlesex University), Professor Jarka Glassey (Director of Education, School of Engineering, Newcastle University). 

Topic: How to integrate the SDGs using a practical framework.   

Type: Guidance.  

Relevant disciplines: Any.  

Keywords: Accreditation and standards; Assessment; Global responsibility; Learning outcomes; Sustainability; AHEP; SDGs; Curriculum design; Course design; Higher education; Pedagogy. 
 
Sustainability competency: Anticipatory; Integrated problem-solving; Strategic.

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) andEngineering 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 4hereand navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

Related SDGs: SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 13 (Climate action).  
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes; Authentic assessment; Active pedagogies and mindset development.

Who is this article for?  This article should be read by educators at all levels of higher education looking to embed and integrate sustainability into curriculum, module, and / or programme design.  

 

Premise: 

The critical role of engineers in developing sustainable solutions to grand societal challenges is undisputable. A wealth of literature and a range of initiatives supporting the embedding of sustainability into engineering curricula already exists. However, a practicing engineering educator responsible for achieving this embedding would be best supported by a practical framework providing a step-by-step guide with example resources for either programme or module/course-level embedding of sustainability into their practice. This practical framework illustrates a tested approach to programme wide as well as module alignment with SDGs, including further resources as well as examples of implementation for each step. This workflow diagram provides a visual illustration of the steps outlined below. The constructive alignment tool found in the Ethics Toolkit may also be adapted to a Sustainability context. 

 

For programme-wide alignment: 

 1. Look around. The outcome of this phase is a framework that identifies current and future requirements for programme graduates. 

a. Review guidelines and subject/discipline benchmark documents on sustainability. 

b. Review government targets and discipline-specific guidance. 

c. Review accreditation body requirements such as found in AHEP4 and guidance from professional bodies. For example, IChemE highlights the creation of a culture of sustainability, not just a process of embedding the topic. 

d. Review your university strategy relating to sustainability and education. For example, Middlesex University signed up to the UN Accord. 

e. Consider convening focus groups with employers in general and some employers of course alumni in particular. Carefully select attendees to represent a broad range of employers with a range of roles (recruiters, managers, strategy leaders, etc.). Conduct semi-structured focus groups, opening with broad themes identified from steps a through d. Identify any missing knowledge, skills, and competencies specific to particular employers, and prioritize those needed to be delivered by the programme together with the level of competency required (aware, competent, or expert). 

 

2. Look back. The outcome of this phase is a programme map (see appendix) of the SDGs that are currently delivered and highlighting gaps in provision.  

a. Engage in critical reflective analysis of the current programme as a whole and of individual modules.   

b. Conduct a SWOT analysis as a team, considering the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the programme from the perspective of sustainability and relevance/competitiveness. 

c. Convene an alumni focus group to identify gaps in current and previous provision, carefully selecting attendees to represent a broad range of possible employment sectors with a range of experiences (fresh graduates to mid-career). Conduct semi-structured discussions opening with broad themes identified from steps 1a-e. Identify any missing knowledge, skills, and competencies specific to particular sectors, and those missing or insufficiently delivered by the programme together with the level of competency required (aware, competent, or expert). 

d. Convene a focus group of current students from various stages of the programme. Conduct semi-structured discussions opening with broad themes identified from steps 1a-e and 2a-c. Identify student perceptions of knowledge, skills, and competencies missing from the course in light of the themes identified. 

e. Review external examiner feedback, considering any feedback specific to the sustainability content of the programme.  

 

 3. Look ahead. The goal of this phase is programme delivery that is aligned with the SDGs and can be evidenced as such. 

a. Create revised programme aims and graduate outcomes that reflect the SDGs. The Reimagined Degree Map and Global Responsibility Competency Compass can support this activity. 

b. Revise module descriptors so that there are clear linkages to sustainability competencies or the SDGs generally within the aims of the modules.  

c. Revise learning outcomes according to which SDGs relate to the module content, projects or activities. The Reimagined Degree Map and the Constructive Alignment Tool for Ethics provides guidance on revising module outcomes. An example that also references AHEP4 ILOS is: 

  1. “Apply comprehensive knowledge of mathematics, biology, and engineering principles to solve a complex bioprocess engineering challenge based on critical awareness of new developments in this area. This will be demonstrated by designing solutions appropriate within the health and safety, diversity, inclusion, cultural, societal, environmental, and commercial requirements and codes of practice to minimise adverse impacts (M1, M5, M7).” 

d. Align assessment criteria and rubrics to the revised ILOs.  

e. Create an implementation plan with clear timelines for module descriptor approvals and modification of delivery materials.  

 

For module-wide alignment: 

1. Look around. The outcome of this phase is a confirmed approach to embedding sustainability within a particular module or theme. 

a. Seek resources available on the SDGs and sustainability teaching in this discipline/theme. For instance, review these examples for Computing, Chemical Engineering and Robotics.  

b. Determine any specific guidelines, standards, and regulations for this theme within the discipline. 

 

2. Look back. The outcome of this phase is a module-level map of SDGs currently delivered, highlighting any gaps.  

a. Engage in critical reflective analysis of current modules, as both individual module instructors and leaders, and as a team.  

b. Conduct a SWOT analysis as a module team that considers the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the module from the perspective of sustainability and relevance of the module to contribute to programme-level delivery on sustainability and/or the SDGs. 

c. Review feedback from current students on the clarity of the modules links to the SDGs. 

d. Review feedback from external examiners on the sustainability content of the module. 

 

3. Look ahead.  

a. Create introduction slides for the modules that explicitly reference how sustainability topics will be integrated.  

b. Embed specific activities involving the SDGs in a given theme, and include students in identifying these. See below for suggestions, and visit the Teaching resources in this toolkit for more options.  

 

Appendix:

A. Outcome I.2 (programme level mapping)  

 

B. Outcome II.5 (module level mapping) – same as above, but instead of the modules in individual lines, themes delivered within the module can be used to make sure the themes are mapped directly to SDGs. 

 

 C. II.6.b – Specific activities 

 

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Authors: Dr Jonathan Truslove MEng PhD and Emma Crichton CEng MICE (Engineers Without Borders UK). 

Topic: Assessing sustainability competencies in engineering education. 

Type: Knowledge. 

Relevant disciplines: Any. 

Keywords: Assessment; Design challenges; Global responsibility; Learning outcomes; Sustainability; AHEP; Higher education; Pedagogy. 
 
Sustainability competency: Integrated problem-solving, 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 13 (Climate action). 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Authentic assessment; Active pedagogies and mindset development.

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels of higher education looking to embed and integrate sustainability into curriculum design. It may also be of interest for students practising lifelong learning to articulate and explore how their learning translates into competency development as they embark on their careers. 

 

Premise: 

Today we know that how we engineer is changing – and this change is happening at a quicker pace than in previous decades. The decisions engineers make throughout their careers shape the world we all inhabit. Consequently, the education of engineers has a profound impact on society. Ensuring our degrees are up to date is of pressing importance to prepare all future practitioners and professionals. Arguably, it is especially important for engineers to act sustainably, ethically and equitably. 

How do engineers understand their roles when sustainability becomes a key driver in the context of their work? What does sustainability look like in learning journeys, and how can it be incorporated into assessments? This article does not advocate for simply adding ‘sustainability’ to degrees; rather, it encourages the connection between sustainability competencies and engineering assessments. 

 

Developing 21st-century engineers 

Choosing to become an engineer is a great way to be useful to society. Studying an engineering degree can develop what people can do (skills), what they know (knowledge) and how they think (mindset), as well as open up a diverse range of career opportunities. 

The path to becoming an engineer can start at university (though there are other routes in). Weaving in a focus on globally responsible engineering throughout a degree course is about embracing the need to develop a broader set of competencies in engineers and expand the types of projects they practise on during their degree to reflect the problems they may encounter during their career. 

This doesn’t mean that engineering degrees as they are aren’t valuable or useful. It’s about strengthening the building blocks of degrees to ensure that 21st-century engineers have space to play their role in addressing 21st-century societal challenges. These building blocks are what learning outcomes are prioritised, what pedagogies are used, the types of projects students work on, who they work with and the way we assess learning. All of these elements can be aggregated to develop competence in sustainable engineering practice. 

 

What are sustainability competency frameworks saying? 

There are many frameworks exploring what are the competencies most needed today (such as UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development competencies, EU GreenComp, Inner Development Goals). Many frameworks are calling for similar things that allow us to shift focus, attention and energy onto how to truly develop a person over the three to five plus years of experience they might gain at university.  

By designing education to meet learning outcomes, you build and evidence a range of competencies, including developing the mindsets of learners. Practically, it is the use of different competency frameworks, and the associated updates to learning outcomes, and how we deliver education and assessment that really matters. The table below, in the second column, synthesises various competency frameworks to clearly articulate what it means a learner can then do. Rather than argue different frameworks, focusing on what a student can do as a result is really key.  

Figure 1. Competencies for sustainable development in Advance HE and QAA (2021) and UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development (2017). 

 

By reading through this table, you can see that this is more than just about ‘sustainability’ – these are useful things for a person to be able to do. Ask yourself, what if we don’t develop these in our graduates? Will they be better or worse off? 

Graduates can then build on this learning they have had at university to continue to develop as engineers working in practice. The Global Responsibility Competency Compass for example points practitioners to the capabilities needed to stay relevant and provides practical ways to develop themselves. It is made up of 12 competencies and is organised around the four guiding principles of global responsibility – Responsible, Purposeful, Inclusive and Regenerative.  

 

What needs to shift in engineering education? 

The shifts required to the building blocks of an engineering degree are:  

  1. To adapt and repurpose learning outcomes. 
  2. To integrate more real-world complexity within project briefs. 
  3. To be excellent at active pedagogies and mindset development. 
  4. To ensure authentic assessment. 
  5. To maximise cross-disciplinary experience and expertise.  

All of the above need to be designed with mechanisms that work at scale. Let’s spotlight two of these shifts, ‘to adapt and repurpose learning outcomes’ and ‘to integrate authentic assessment’ so we can see how sustainability competence relates. 

 

Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes. 

We can build on what is already working well within a degree to bring about positive changes. Many degrees exhibit strengths in their learning outcomes such as, developing the ability to understand a concept or a problem and apply that understanding through a disciplinary lens focused on simple/complicated problems. However, it is crucial to maintain a balance between addressing straightforward problems and tackling more complex ones that encourage learners to be curious and inquisitive.  

For example, a simple problem (where the problem and solution are known) may involve ‘calculating the output of a solar panel in a community’. A complex problem (where the problem and solution are unknown) may involve ‘how to improve a community’s livelihood and environmental systems, which may involve exploring the interconnectedness, challenges and opportunities that may exist in the system. 

Enhancing the learning experience by allowing students to investigate and examine a context for ideas to emerge is more reflective of real-world practice. Success is not solely measured by learners accurately completing a set of problem sets; rather, it lies in their ability to apply concepts in a way that creates a better, more sustainable system. 

See how this rebalancing is represented in the visual below: 

Figure 2. ​​​​Rebalancing learning within degrees to be relevant to the future we face. Source: Engineers Without Borders UK. 

 

Keeping up to date and meeting accreditation standards is another important consideration. Relating the intended learning outcomes to the latest language associated with accreditation requirements, such as AHEP4 (UK), ABET (US) or ECSA (SA), doesn’t mean you have to just add more in. You can adapt what you’ve already got for a new purpose and context. For instance, the Engineering for One Planet framework’s 93 (46 Core and 46 Advanced) essential sustainability-focused learning outcomes that hundreds of academics, engineering professionals, and other key stakeholders have identified as necessary for preparing all graduating engineers — regardless of subdiscipline — with the skills, knowledge, and understanding to protect and improve our planet and our lives. These outcomes have also been mapped to AHEP4. 

 

Integrate authentic assessment: 

It is important that intended learning outcomes and assessment methods are aligned so that they reinforce each other and lead to the desired competency development. An important distinction exists between assessment of learning and assessment as or for learning: 

  1. Assessment OF learning e.g. traditional methods of assessment of student learning against learning outcomes and standards that typically measure students’ knowledge-based learning.
  2. Assessment AS/FOR learning e.g. reflective and performance-based (e.g. self-assessments, peer assessments and feedback from educators using reflective journals or portfolios) where the learning journey is part of the assessment process that captures learners’ insights and critical thinking, and empowers learners to identify possibilities for improvement.  

Assessment should incorporate a mix of methods when evaluating aspects like sustainability, to bring in authenticity which strengthens the integrity of the assessment process and mirrors how engineers work in practice. For example, University College London and Kings College London both recognise that critical evaluation, interpretation, analysis, and judgement are all key skills which will become more and more important, and making assessment rubrics more accessible for students and educators. Authentic assessment can mirror professional practices, such as having learners assessed within design reviews, or asking students to develop a portfolio across modules.  

 

Engineers Without Borders UK | Assessing competencies through design challenges: 

Below is an example of what Engineers Without Borders UK has done to translate competencies into assessment through our educational offerings. The Engineering for People Design Challenge (embedded in-curriculum focuses on placing the community context at the heart of working through real-world project-based learning experiences) and Reshaping Engineering (a co-curricular voluntary design month to explore how to make the engineering sector more globally responsible). The competencies in the Global Responsibility Competency Compass are aligned and evidenced through the learning outcomes and assessment process in both challenges.  

Please note – the Global Responsibility Competency Compass points practitioners to the capabilities needed to stay relevant and provides practical ways to develop themselves. 

See below an example of the logic behind translating competencies acquired by participants to assessment during the design challenges.  

Figure 3. Example of the logic behind translating the Global Responsibility Competency Compass to assessment during the design challenges. Source: Engineers Without Borders UK.  

 

    1. The Competencies developed through the educational offering are orientated around the Global Responsibility Competency Compass to align with the learning journey from undergraduate to practising globally responsible individuals in learners’ future careers.
    2. We then align learning outcomes to the competency and purpose of the design challenge using simple and concise language.

  a. Useful resources that were used to help frame, align and iterate the learning outcomes and marking criteria are shared at the end of this article.

    1. The Marking Criteria draws on the assessment methods previously mentioned under ‘Assessment OF’ and ‘Assessment AS/FOR’ while aligning to the context of intended learning i.e. design focussed, individual journals reflecting on the learning journey, and collaborating in teams.
    2. We frame and align key action words from Competency to learning outcome to marking criteria using Bloom’s taxonomy (in Figure 2) to scale appropriately, the context of learning and what the intended outcome of learning/area of assessment would be.  

 

Conclusions: 

How your students think matters. How they engage in critical conversations matters. What they value matters. How we educate engineers matters.  

These may feel like daunting shifts to make but developing people to navigate our future is important for them, and us. Sustainability competencies are actually about competencies that are useful – the label ‘sustainability’ may or may not help but it’s the underlying concepts that matters most. The interventions that we make to instil these competencies in the learning journeys of future engineers are required – so degrees can be continuously improved and will be valuable over the long term. Making assessment mirror real practice helps with life-long learning. That’s useful in general, not just about sustainability. This is a major opportunity to attract more people into engineering, keep them and enable them to be part of addressing urgent 21st century challenges. 

  

Sustainability is more than a word or concept, it is actually a culture, and if we aim to see it mirrored in the near future, what better way exists than that of planting it in the young hearts of today knowing they are the leaders of the tomorrow we are not guaranteed of? It is possible.” 

2021 South African university student (after participating in the Engineering for People Design Challenge during their degree course) 

 

Useful resources: 

There are some excellent resources out there that help us understand and articulate what sustainability competencies and learning outcomes look like, and how to embed them into teaching, learning and assessment. Some of them were used in the example above. Here are some resources that we have found useful in translating the competencies in the Compass into learning outcomes in our educational offerings: 

 

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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. 
 
 
To view a plain text version of this resource, click here to download the PDF.

Authors: Professor Emanuela Tilley, (UCL); Associate Professor Kate Roach (UCL); Associate Professor Fiona Truscott (UCL). 

Topic: Sustainability must-haves in engineering project briefs. 

Type: Guidance. 

Relevant disciplines: Any. 

Keywords: PBL; Assessment; Project brief; Learning outcomes; Pedagogy; Communication; Future generations; Decision-making; Design; Ethics; Sustainability; AHEP; Higher education.
 
Sustainability competency: Integrated problem-solving; Collaboration.

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: All. 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt learning outcomes; Active pedagogies and mindsets; More real-world complexity; Cross-disciplinarity; Authentic assessment.

 

Supporting resources: 

 

Premise: 

Projects, and thus project-based learning, offer valuable opportunities for integrating sustainability education into engineering curricula by promoting active, experiential learning through critical and creative thinking within problem-solving endeavours and addressing complex real-world challenges. Engaging in projects can have a lasting impact on students’ understanding and retention of knowledge. By working on projects related to sustainability, students are likely to internalise key concepts and develop a commitment to incorporating sustainable practices into their future engineering endeavours. 

 

Building a brief:

Project briefs are a powerful tool for integrating sustainability into engineering education through project-based learning. They set the tone, define the scope, and provide the parameters for students to consider sustainability in their engineering projects, ensuring that future engineers develop the knowledge, skills, and mindset needed to address the complex challenges of sustainability. 

To ensure sustainability has a central and/or clear role within an engineering project, consider the following as you develop the brief: 

1. Sustainability as part of goals, objectives, and requirements. By explicitly including sustainability objectives in the project brief, educators communicate the importance of considering environmental, social, and economic factors in the engineering design and implementation process. This sets the stage for students to integrate sustainability principles into their project work. 

 

2. Context: Briefs should always include the context of the project so that students understand the importance of place and people to an engineered solution. Below are aspects of the context to consider and provide:

 

3. Stakeholders: Sustainability is intertwined with the interests and needs of various stakeholders. Project briefs can include considerations for stakeholder engagement, prompting students to identify and address the concerns of different groups affected by the project. This reinforces the importance of community involvement and social responsibility in engineering projects. Below are aspects of the stakeholders to consider and provide: 

 

4. Ethical decision-making: Including ethical considerations related to sustainability in the project brief guides students in making ethical decisions throughout the project lifecycle. The Ethics Toolkit can provide guidance in how to embed ethical considerations such as: 

 

5. Knowns and unknowns: Considering both knowns and unknowns is essential for defining the project scope. Knowing what is already understood and what remains uncertain allows students to set realistic and achievable project goals. Below are aspects of considering the knowns and unknowns aspects of a project brief to consider and provide:

 

6. Engineering design process and skills development: The Project Brief should support how the educator wants to guide students through the engineering design cycle, equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and mindset needed for successful problem-solving. Below are aspects of the engineering design process and skills development to consider and provide: 

a. Research – investigate,  

b. Creative thinking – divergent and convergent thinking in different parts of the process of engineering design,

c. Critical thinking – innovation model analysis or other critical thinking tools,

d. Decision making – steps taken to move the project forward, justifying the decision making via evidence,

e. Communication, collaboration, negotiation, presentation,  

f. Anticipatory thinking – responsible innovation model AREA, asking in the concept stages (which ideas could go wrong because of a double use, or perhaps thinking of what could go wrong?),

g. Systems thinking.  

 

7. Solution and impact: Students will need to demonstrate that they have met the brief and can demonstrate that they understand the impact of their chosen solution. Here it would need to be clear what the students need to produce and how long it is expected to take them. Other considerations when designing the project brief to include are: 

 

 

Important considerations for embedding sustainability into projects: 

1. Competences or content? 

 

 2. Was any content added or adapted? 

– What form of content, seminars, readings, lectures, tutorials, student activity 

 

3. Competencies  

UNESCO has identified eight competencies that encompass the behaviours, attitudes, values and knowledge which facilitate safeguarding the future. These together with the SDGs provide a way of identifying activities and learning that can be embedded in different disciplinary curricula and courses.  For more information on assessing competences, see this guidance article.  

 

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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. 

 

Premise:  

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. 

 

Conclusion: 

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.  

 

References: 

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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Author: Dr Manoj Ravi FHEA (University of Leeds). 

Topic: Pedagogical approaches to integrating sustainability. 

Tool type: Knowledge. 

Relevant disciplines: Any.  

Keywords: Education for Sustainable Development; Teaching or embedding sustainability; Course design; AHEP; Learning outcomes; Active learning; Assessment methods; Pedagogy; Climate change; Bloom’s Taxonomy; Project-based learning; Environment; Interdisciplinary; Higher education; Curriculum. 
 
Sustainability competency: Integrated problem-solving competency.

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 13 (Climate action). 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes; Active pedagogies and mindset development; Authentic assessment; Cross-disciplinarity.

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who are seeking an overall perspective on teaching approaches for integrating sustainability in engineering education. Engaging with this topic will also help to prepare students with the soft skill sets that employers are looking for. 

 

Premise: 

As stated in the 1987 United Nations Brundtland Report, ‘sustainability’ refers to “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (GH, 1987 p.242). It is underpinned by a tripartite definition encompassing environmental, social and economic sustainability. The necessity for embracing sustainability is underscored by several pressing challenges we face as a global society, ranging from climate change to economic crises.  

Against the backdrop of these global challenges, the role of the engineering profession assumes significant importance. While the scientific principles that underpin the various engineering disciplines remain largely the same, the responsibility of the engineering profession is to leverage these principles to address current and future challenges. Consequently, education for sustainable development (ESD) becomes a vital aspect of an engineer’s training, since the profession will guide the design and implementation of innovative solutions to challenges crosscutting environmental impact, judicious use of resources and social wellbeing.   

 

Integrated course design: 

Integrating ESD in engineering education requires programme and module designers to take a deliberate approach. Drawing on initial attempts to integrate sustainability in management and business education (Rusinko, 2010), four pedagogical approaches of ESD can be identified:  

  1. piggybacking,  
  2. mainstreaming,  
  3. specialising,  
  4. connecting.  

The last two approaches are for creating new curriculum structures with a narrow discipline-specific focus and a broad transdisciplinary focus, respectively. The other two, piggybacking and mainstreaming, are approaches to embed sustainability within existing curriculum structures. Although piggybacking is the easier-to-implement approach, achieved by additional sessions or resources on sustainability being tagged onto existing course modules, mainstreaming enables a broader cross-curricular perspective that intricately intertwines sustainability with engineering principles. 

The mainstreaming approach is also an elegant fit with the accreditation requirements for sustainability; the latest edition of the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) emphasises competence in evaluating ‘environmental and societal impact of solutions’ to ‘broadly-defined’ and ‘complex’ problems. In order to foster this ability, where sustainability is a guiding principle for developing engineering solutions, a holistic (re)consideration of all elements of constructive alignment (Biggs, 1996) – intended learning outcomes (ILOs), teaching and learning activities, and student assessment – is needed. To this end, the Integrated Course Design (ICD) pedagogical framework can be leveraged for a simultaneous and integrated consideration of course components for embedding sustainability.  

 

Sustainability learning outcomes: 

Bloom’s taxonomy (also see here), which conventionally guides formulation of ILOs, can be extended to incorporate sustainability-based learning outcomes. The action verb in the AHEP guidance for the learning outcome on sustainability is ‘evaluate’, signifying a high cognitive learning level. ILOs framed at this level call for application of foundational knowledge through practical, critical and creative thinking. Although the cognitive domain of learning is the main component of engineering education, sustainability competence is greater than just a cognitive ability. For more information, see the Reimagined Degree Map.   

ESD is a lifelong learning process and as stated by UNESCO, it ‘enhances the cognitive, socio-emotional and behavioural dimensions of learning’. This integration of cognitive learning outcomes with affective aspects, referred to as ‘significant learning’ in the ICD terminology, is of utmost importance to develop engineers who can engage in sustainable and inclusive innovation. Furthermore, mapping programme and module ILOs to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is another way to integrate sustainability in engineering with connections between technical engineering competence and global sustainability challenges becoming more explicit to students and educators. Similarly, the ILOs can be mapped against UNESCO’s sustainability competencies to identify scope for improvement in current programmes. See the Engineering for One Planet Framework for more information and guidance on mapping ILOs to sustainability outcomes and competencies. 

 

Teaching and learning activities: 

Activities that engage students in ‘active learning’ are best placed to foster sustainability skills. Additional lecture material on sustainability and its relevance to engineering (piggybacking approach) will have limited impact. This needs to be supplemented with experiential learning and opportunities for reflection. To this end, design and research projects are very effective tools, provided the problem definition is formulated with a sustainability focus (Glassey and Haile, 2012). Examples include carbon capture plants (chemical engineering), green buildings (civil engineering) and renewable energy systems (mechanical and electrical engineering).  

Project-based learning enables multiple opportunities for feedback and self-reflection, which can be exploited to reinforce sustainability competencies. However, with project work often appearing more prominently only in the latter half of degree programmes, it is important to consider other avenues. Within individual modules, technical content can be contextualised to the background of global sustainability challenges. Relevant case studies can be used in a flipped class environment for a more student-led teaching approach, where topical issues such as microplastic pollution and critical minerals for energy transition can be taken up for discussion (Ravi, 2023). Likewise, problem sheets or simulation exercises can be designed to couple technical skills with sustainability.    

  

Student assessment: 

With sustainability being embedded in ILOs and educational activities, the assessment of sustainability competence would also need to take a similar holistic approach. In other words, assessment tasks should interlace engineering concepts with sustainability principles. These assessments are more likely to be of the open-ended type, which is also the case with design projects mentioned earlier. Such engineering design problems often come with conflicting constraints (technical, business, societal, economic and environmental) that need careful deliberation and are not suited for conventional closed-book time-limited examinations.  

More appropriate tools to assess sustainability, include scaled self-assessment, reflective writing and focus groups or interviews (Redman et al., 2021). In a broader pedagogical sense, these are referred to as authentic assessment strategies. Given the nexus between sustainability and ethics, inspiration can also be drawn from how ethics is being assessed in engineering education. Finally, pedagogical models such as the systems thinking hierarchical model (Orgill et al., 2019), can be used to inform the design of assessment rubrics when evaluating sustainability skills.  

 

Supporting resources: 

 

References: 

Biggs, J. (1996) ‘Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment’, Higher education, 32(3), pp. 347-364.  

Brundtland, G.H. (1987) Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. United Nations General Assembly document A/42/427, p.247.   

Glassey, J. and Haile, S. (2012) ‘Sustainability in chemical engineering curriculum’, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 13(4), pp. 354-364.  

Orgill, M., York, S. and MacKellar, J. (2019) ‘Introduction to systems thinking for the chemistry education community’, Journal of Chemical Education, 96(12), pp. 2720-2729.  

Ravi, M. (2023) ‘Spectroscopic Methods for Pollution Analysis─Course Development and Delivery Using the Integrated Course Design Framework’, Journal of Chemical Education, 100(9), pp. 3516-3525.  

Redman, A., Wiek, A. and Barth, M. (2021) ‘Current practice of assessing students’ sustainability competencies: A review of tools’, Sustainability Science, 16, pp. 117-135.  

Rusinko, C. A. (2010) ‘Integrating sustainability in management and business education: A matrix approach’, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 9(3), pp. 507-519. 

 
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.

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