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Teaching Sustainability And Sustainable Engineering Practice In The Civil Engineering Curriculum

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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

Innovations in Civil Engineering Education I

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.1188.1 - 15.1188.11



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Paper Authors

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Steven Burian University of Utah

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

Teaching Sustainability in a Civil Engineering Curriculum


The objectives of this paper are to (1) present the approach used to integrate sustainability content into the civil engineering curriculum at the University of ____, (2) assess the effectiveness of the approach, and (3) provide general recommendations to improve the integration of sustainability into the civil engineering curriculum. The approach being implemented at the University of ___ involves brief references to sustainability at the lower levels, targeted modules in junior and senior level courses, and dedicated project-based electives at the senior and introductory graduate level. A sustainability knowledge survey was administered to students at the sophomore, senior, and Masters levels to determine their relative knowledge of terminology, concepts, and practice as it relates to sustainability and civil engineering. The results were analyzed to determine the relative knowledge and depth of understanding of sustainability at the three levels that have been exposed to different levels of sustainability content in the civil engineering curriculum. The results are also synthesized with analysis of student recognition of sustainability in course assignments and previous results assessing effectiveness of a course dedicated to teaching sustainable design. Overall the results showed an increase in sustainability knowledge as the students progressed through the curriculum from the sophomore to senior years. By the end of the curriculum more than 90% of the students surveyed could define sustainability, had heard of LEED® and could list an example of sustainable design in civil engineering practice. But less than 30% could identify a specific example of sustainable design instruction and less than 10% could identify specific elements of sustainable design practice such as LEED® Credit Categories. Overall, the assessment indicated the need to provide more in-depth coverage of sustainability concepts and design in the form of dedicated courses in addition to the continuous coverage in the form of lessons and modules in existing courses. In addition, a need to expose civil engineering students to greater multi- disciplinary courses in sustainability and sustainable design at the lower and upper levels is noted.


A Google search of ‘sustainability’ returns more than 32 million hits, compared to 13 million hits 2 years ago. An incredible amount of information related to the concept is being amassed and at a rapid rate of increase. This degree of change suggests the concept continues to evolve and expand making it challenging to define. One of the most often referenced definitions is the classic statement presented more than two decades ago by the Brundtland Commission1:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

This definition continues to be referenced today and reincarnated in different forms. In civil engineering practice, for example, sustainable development is defined by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Board of Direction as:

Burian, S. (2010, June), Teaching Sustainability And Sustainable Engineering Practice In The Civil Engineering Curriculum Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16539

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: © 2010 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