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Integrating Sustainability Into Courses Across The Engineering Curriculum: A Faculty Workshop Model

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Sustainability in Engineering Curricula

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.773.1 - 15.773.9



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Paper Authors

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Stephen Hoffmann Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Inez Hua Purdue University

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Ernest Blatchley Purdue University

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Loring Nies Purdue University

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Integrating Sustainability into Courses Across the Engineering Curriculum: A Faculty Workshop Model


The incorporation of the concepts of sustainability into all engineering projects will be a critical challenge for future engineers. All projects, not simply those that are obviously environmental in scope, are subject to material, energy, and natural resource constraints, and all have an impact on the interactions between the human and natural worlds. To help students understand these needs, faculty at Purdue University have begun to incorporate the concept of “normalized sustainability”: the idea that sustainability concerns are normal engineering design criteria, on the same level as more traditional constraints, such as cost, reliability, and performance.

This approach requires a cross-cutting coverage of sustainability and environmental issues. They can not simply be presented in one “specialized” course, but instead need to permeate courses throughout the curriculum and at all levels. To facilitate the incorporation of environmental and sustainability concepts into a variety of courses, we held a two-day faculty workshop during the summer of 2009. Participants learned important concepts, discussed appropriate pedagogical techniques and locations, and were able to share ideas of how to infuse sustainability into examples, case studies, problem sets, and choices of material coverage. More than twenty-five faculty and staff from nine disciplines of engineering participated. These participants have since begun to work on specific modules to apply to their courses during the 2009-10 school year. This paper presents the structure of the workshop, the main conclusions and ideas from the workshop, and examples and assessment of ways that sustainability concepts can be seamlessly inserted into courses so as to further the goals of normalized sustainability.


The broad popular concept of sustainability has grown from its roots in the United Nations’ “Brundtland Commission” on sustainable development over two decades ago, which provided the classical definition of “meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”1 Subsequent formulations of sustainability in different contexts have diverged from the initial Brundtland wording, but the basic themes of intergenerational equity and long-term planning, often cast in terms of renewability, have generally remained as core concepts. The introduction of the “triple bottom line” of social, and environmental, and economic considerations2, and the related “three P’s” of sustainability — people, planet, and prosperity — demonstrate the broadening of sustainability thinking. A true sustainable approach to problem solving requires multidisciplinarity and wide-ranging expertise, and an expansive and all-inclusive process of drawing the boundaries of a problem.

Sustainable engineering and design applies this long-term, system-wide, and complex thinking structure to the traditional realms of engineers. As a first approximation, the concept translates to engineering strategies that explicitly recognize non-infinite resource availability, environmental and ecological system disruption, population growth pressures, and energy renewability. But the broader context of sustainability requires engineers, and by extension engineering students, to

Hoffmann, S., & Hua, I., & Blatchley, E., & Nies, L. (2010, June), Integrating Sustainability Into Courses Across The Engineering Curriculum: A Faculty Workshop Model Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16732

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