The Natural Edge Project The Natural Advantage of Nations Whole System Design Factor 5 Cents and Sustainability Higher Education and Sustainable Development

"Sustainability is the dominant paradigm shift in engineering... Sustainability can be profitable, as has been shown by companies that have adopted more sustainable practices... It is the way of the future."
Doug Jones, President of Engineers Australia 2003/04 (EA Magazine Nov 2003)

Principles and Practices in Sustainable Development for the Engineering and Built Environment Professions 

Unit 1 - Redefining Roles


Educational Aims

Lecture 1: The Critical Role of Engineering
To build on from the material covered in of The Role of Engineering in Sustainable Development A by outlining in more detail the historical changes and trends that have led to the call for sustainable development, and to introduce some of the most critical global efforts, conferences and publications that have informed the discussion. To further help engineers understand the critical role they play to the achievement of sustainable development.

Lecture 2: Rethinking the Application of Engineering Design
To reflect on the need to rethink the way engineering design is used to solve problems. Although engineering achievements have usually addressed and solved one problem, they have unfortunately often created several other problems within the system. Engineering institutions, scientific communities, the corporate sector and government are recognising the need to change the design scope; now seeking to design for sustainability/environment.

Lecture 3: Broadening the Problem Definition
To discuss the scale and speed society needs to work at to reduce its negative impact on the global environment and improve resource productivity to prevent further overshoot of ecological thresholds. To also define the types of performance targets engineers will need to help society achieve in order to ensure development is sustainable.

Lecture 4: Innovation to Achieve Factor 4-10
In order to take advantage of opportunities for innovation and deliver sustainable solutions, a shift must be achieved in the way engineers design and implement projects. But also there is much government and R&D bodies can do as well to ensure that all future research into new technologies seeks to ensure these will be sustainable technologies. Engineers leadership in sustainability would be greatly assisted if governments, R&D bodies, business and engineers worked together to work out how best they can achieve innovations of Factor 4-10.



The engineering profession will play a significant part in moving society to a more sustainable way of life. Recognising this, the Engineering Sustainable Solution Program (ESSP) seeks to provide engineers and built environment professionals with a basic understanding of sustainability issues and opportunities as they relate to their practice. The ESSP is designed to facilitate the effective incorporation of key pieces of information, or ‘critical literacies’, relating to sustainability into engineering curricula and capacity building. This program provides an alert to sustainability principles and activity in the engineering profession.

In the preparation of any education program, and in particular an introductory course, it is a challenge to cover all possible questions or uncertainties that may arise during delivery of the material. In response to this challenge, this program will be supported (in its critical academic rigour and structure) by engineering related material in the publication, The Natural Advantage of Nations, and its companion web site ( along with other key texts.

Required Reading

Hargroves, K. and Smith, M.H. (2005) The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century, Earthscan, London.

The Text Book along with each of the units has an online companion to provide additional supporting material. Optional reading material is provided after each lecture for those who wish to explore the content in more detail.

The development of the Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program – Critical Literacies Portfolio has been supported by grants from the following organisations:

  • UNESCO, Division of Basic and Engineering Sciences, Natural Sciences Sector (with particular support and mentoring from Tony Marjoram, Senior Programme Specialist - Engineering Sciences, and Françoise Lee).

  • The Institution of Engineers Australia, College of Environmental Engineers (with particular support and mentoring from Martin Dwyer, Director Engineering Practice, and Peter Greenwood, Doug Jones, Andrew Downing, Tim Macoun, Julie Armstrong and Paul Varsanyi).

  • The Society for Sustainability and Environmental Engineering (with particular support and mentoring from Terrence Jeyaretnam).

Expert review and mentoring has been received from Janine Benyus and Dayna Baumeister, The Biomimicry Guild (USA); Paul Anastas, Green Chemistry Institute (USA); Alan Pears RMIT University (AUS); Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute (USA); Tom Conner, KBR (AUS); and Mia Kelly, TNEP Working Group (AUS). We would like to add a special thank you to the Engineers Australia review panel Trevor Daniell, Thomas Brinsmead and David Hood.


Smith, M., Hargroves, K. and Paten, C. (2007) Engineering Sustainable Solutions Program: Critical Literacies Portfolio, The Natural Edge Project, Australia (TNEP).


The Natural Edge Project Engineering Sustainable Solutions
Program is supported by the Australian National Commission
for UNESCO through the International Relations Grants
Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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