Fostering Sustainable Development in Engineering Education

Preparing engineers to meet global challenges and be facilitators for sustainable development requires a comprehensive reform in educational content and practices. The Institution of Engineers in Australia states, “ the review of engineering education is recommending no less than a culture change in engineering education.” (Kabo, 2010). On January 25th 2017, I was pleased to receive an invitation to present one of my research papers titled Humanizing Engineering Education” at the International Conference on Modern Education Studies (ICONMES). In my presentation, I explained how engineering academies could benefit from the Earth Charter in reforming the culture and ethics within the engineering profession. Here are three examples of areas where the Earth Charter can play a significant role in fostering sustainable development concepts in engineering

1) Earth Charter could expand engineering code of ethics:

Much research shows that most traditional and current engineering codes of ethics were mainly formulated for private sector interest. As a result, ethics related to business, leadership, and management have been emphasized, while ethics related to community development were ignored (Simoes, et al., 2007; Downey, et al., n.d.). Also, engineering lacks “areas relevant to social justice, such as the impact on poverty reduction or enhancement” (Riley,2008). These studies and others indicate a need to extend and modify the current engineering code of ethics to make suitable development goals. The Earth Charter principles could be used as a powerful guide in the process of reforming engineering code of ethics with its firm emphasize on social justice. For instance, under social and economics justice principal the earth charter calls for “eradicating poverty as an ethical, social and environment imperative” and engineers could play a prominent role in eradicating poverty but this role is not highly emphasized in traditional engineering education which focuses mainly on technical education.

2) The Earth Charter encourages engineers to think about community:

Neoliberal ideology and military mindsets are dominant in engineering education and professions. Pawley studied questions such as “who defines engineering problems, who benefits from the engineering problems, and who benefits from the engineering solutions.” She also asked who is left out of engineering solutions. She found “engineers work overwhelmingly in private, profit-oriented organizations and on industrial, commercial, and military problems.” Most engineering problems tend to be large-scale problems with small-scale problems exiled outside of the engineering profession. This military and market-based education influence how conventional engineers define problems and evaluate engineering solutions. (Riley, 2008). The Earth Charter principles could challenge this narrow perspective by its emphasize on respect and care for the community of life, adopting suitable development plans and regulation. It will encourage engineers to live with a sense of universal responsibility identifying themselves with the whole Earth community as well as their local communities.

3) Earth Charter would support diversity within engineering education and profession:

For a variety of historical reasons, the engineering profession in the US is largely under white male dominance (Mcisaac, Morey, 1998). The lack of ethnic, gender and ideological diversity within the engineering profession does not give engineers the opportunity to develop cultural understanding skills, it limits creativity, and raises many social justice concerns. The Earth Charter could establish a consensus among engineers by its affirmation on the importance of “gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, healthcare, and economic opportunity.”

There are many other dimensions where the Earth Charter could be used to enhance sustainable development values and practices in engineering education and profession. There is a desperate need to engage engineers in sustainable development according to UNESCO report titled “Engineering: Issues, Challenges, and Opportunities for Development.” In a recent National Academy of Engineering survey, engineers were given very little credit for improving the general quality of life, saving lives, protecting the environment, or caring about their community (Vandersteen, 2008). Creating educational workshops that integrate the Earth Charter principles in engineering education would serve as strong educational goals for engineers as individuals and as a society as a whole.


Written by ECYL: Mohammed Ba-Aoum


Downey, G., Lucena, J., & Mitcham, C. (n.d.). Engineering Ethics and Identity: Emerging Initiatives in Comparative Perspective. Science and Engineering Ethics, 463-487.

Kabo, J. (2010). Seeing Through the Lens of Social Justice: A Threshold for Engineering. Canada: Queen’s University.

Mcisaac, G., & Morey, N. (1998). Engineers’ Role in Sustainable development considering cultural Dynamics. Journal of Proffessional Issues in Engineering and Practice,110-110.

Riley, D. (2008). Engineering and social justice. San Rafael, Calif.Morgan & Claypool.

Simoes, M., Straker, J., Munakata-Marr, J., Leydens, J., Mitcham, C., & Lucena, J. (2007). Theory and Practcice of Humanitarian Ethics in Graduate Engineering Education, American Socity for Engineering Education

Vandersteen, Jonthan Daniel. Humanitarian Engineering in the Enginering Curriculm. Diss. Queen’s U, 2008. Canda,n.p., 2008. Print.