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Experiences Of Sustainable Design Among Practicing Engineers ? Implications For Engineering Education

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Sustainable Engineering

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.716.1 - 12.716.26



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Paper Authors


Llewellyn Mann University of Queensland

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LLEWELLYN MANN is a PhD student in the School of Engineering at the University of Queensland and a member of the Catalyst Research Centre for Society and Technology. He has a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical & Space) and a Bachelor of Science (Physics) from UQ, as well as a Graduate Certificate of Education (Higher Education). Major research interests include; Engineering Education, Sustainability, Teaching and Learning, Engineering Design, Technology and Society.

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David Radcliffe University of Queensland

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DAVID RADCLIFFE is the Thiess Professor of Engineering Education and Professional Development in the School of Engineering at the University of Queensland. His research draws on and involves collaboration with the social sciences including education and anthropology. David is co-director of the Catalyst Centre and Director of Professional Development in the School. He was a National Teaching Fellow, in 1994 and a Boeing-A.D. Welliver Fellow, in 1999.

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Gloria Dall'Alba University of Queensland

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GLORIA DALL'ALBA teaches and researches in the area of teaching and learning in higher education in the School of Education at the University of Queensland, Australia. She has a particular interest in professional education, learning in the workplace, and questions of research methodology. She has published articles in international journals such as Learning and Instruction, International Journal of Educational Research, and Studies in Higher Education. A forthcoming book, Learning to be a professional, will be published by Springer. She is guest editor for a special edition of the journal, Educational Philosophy and Theory, on phenomenology and education.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Experiences of Sustainable Design among Practicing Engineers – Implications for Engineering Education

Introduction An understanding of sustainable design will be essential for engineers to practice responsibly in the future. What sustainable design means in practice is a contested issue, varying between engineering disciplines, industry sectors and even individual practitioners. How then can we, as engineering educators, encourage and teach both current professional engineers and engineering students about sustainable design.

This paper reports on the results of an empirical study investigating qualitatively different ways that sustainable design has been experienced by practicing engineers. The different ways of experiencing sustainable design were found using a qualitative research method known as phenomenography. This research method revealed the critical variations in the ways twenty-two practicing engineers described their experiences of sustainable design in one-on-one interviews. An in depth description of the research method and the processes undertaken in this research is presented in1. This current paper presents an in depth discussion of the results and the implications they have for the practice of sustainable design, and for engineering education.

Five different ways of experiencing sustainable design were found; sustainable design as ‘solution finding’, ‘reductionist problem solving’, ‘holistic problem solving’, ‘social network problem solving, and ‘a way of life’. Descriptions of each of these ways of experiencing sustainable design are presented, including illustrative quotes from the practicing engineers, as well as an overall hierarchy demonstrating the relationships between the ways of experiencing sustainable design.

By understanding how different people have experienced and conceptualize sustainable design within engineering practice, recommendations are made for how to educate engineering students about sustainable design. Implications for the practice of sustainable design are also made.

Background – Sustainable Design

Sustainable design is one of the major challenges confronting engineering. Some professionals see sustainable design as the addition of some environmentally or socially beneficial features to a traditional design, or trying to reduce the environmental and social impacts of a current design. Others see it as a completely new framework for doing design, and for designs to help regenerate environmental and social systems2. One of the reasons behind this confusion is that sustainable design is a movement that is actively defining itself, its principles, components and philosophy2. “Like any immature individual, sometimes it seemingly contradicts itself or seems unclear or even irrational” (p3).

Sustainable design differs from traditional design in its results, its rationale and its processes2. The traditional design process in general is cyclic in nature, where designers work back and forth

Mann, L., & Radcliffe, D., & Dall'Alba, G. (2007, June), Experiences Of Sustainable Design Among Practicing Engineers ? Implications For Engineering Education Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1981

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2007 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015