Sustainability and Engineering

As taught in 2012/13


Sustainability and Engineering

An Open Educational Resource for U-Now

University of Nottingham 2012

Author: Aran Eales



This module is intended to give you a broad understanding of issues related to environmental sustainability in the context of engineering. The environmental problems facing our world are becoming more apparent day by day, and the term “sustainability” is used more frequently in the media. This module will explore the concept of sustainability and discuss some of the issues surrounding the subject.

Each chapter will begin with an overview of the the content, and will then introduce key factors and the current world systems in place for the subject matter such as energy, materials, food, water and shelter. The social and economic factors of sustainability in an engineering context will also be covered. The problems associated with these systems will then be highlighted, specifically their environmental or social impacts and what part of the systems that could be considered unsustainable. Alternatives will then be introduced and outlined including what options there are and what are the challenges involved in implementing them.

Scope of Module

The issues around sustainability are enormous, and it is not the role or scope of this module to cover everything in great depth, as there is enough information on any single subject for a masters or Ph.D. The aim of this module instead is to introduce the key concepts of hazards facing the global community in the coming years, how we got to our current state and ideas for what can be done to modify the current trajectory.

Teaching Method

The module is self taught through online resources. You will be expected to work through the content at your own pace. There will be several resources included in the body of the module such as links to websites, podcasts or videos online, which you can browse as necessary. As mentioned, the module is intended to introduce certain concepts around sustainability and instigate interest for you to conduct personal research in topics of interest.


The assessment will be an essay or presentation for which you must research a topic of your choice related to the module content. The essay will become part of the learning resources for this module – essays and presentations will be published on line for use by people doing the module in the future. There will be more information about the assessment towards the end of the module – but bear it in mind as you are going through the chapters – make a note if anything specifically interests you or you feel you would want to research more about a particular topic.

Module Chapter Outline


Chapter Title
Duration (hours)
Content Outline
Introduction 2

What is sustainability? - definitions

Limits to exponential growth on a finite planet

An Engineers role in sustainability

Energy 3

World energy usage

Problems with fossil fuels

Alternatives - reduction, efficiency, renewable energy

Materials 3

Impacts of material production, sources of waste

Problems with current waste management

Suggestions for reducing the impact of material use

Water 2

Water resource and use worldwide

Associated problems with current water systems

Sustainable water management

Food 2

World food production

Energy + environmental impacts

Alternatives - organic/local

Shelter 2

Current building styles and associated problems

Retrofit vs new build

Sustainable Architecture

Social 2

Inequality and poverty

Links between globalisation, climate change, poverty and engineering

Suggested solutions

Economics 2

Current economic models

social and environmental effects

'Ecological' economics

As required
Essay or presentation on subject of choice