Teaching sustainability as a contested concept: capitalizing on variation in engineering educators' conceptions of environmental, social and economic sustainability
Carew, AL and Mitchell, CA, Teaching sustainability as a contested concept: capitalizing on variation in engineering educators' conceptions of environmental, social and economic sustainability, Journal of Cleaner Production, 16, (1) pp. 105-115. ISSN 0959-6526 (2008) [Refereed Article]
This study documents variation in engineering academics conceptions of sustainability. We investigated how a group of Australian engineering academics described environmental, social and economic sustainability, and identified a broad range of actions that participating academics associated with achieving sustainability. The study suggested marked variation in the actions that participating academics viewed as coherent with sustainable engineering practice, and therefore, potentially marked variations in the sustainability actions academics might advocate to their undergraduate students. Rather than framing this variation as problematic for teaching and learning sustainable engineering, we suggest that such variation in conception of sustainability, and explicit contestation of this variation in the engineering classroom, offers opportunities to enrich undergraduate sustainability learning and teaching. We develop this argument by using some generic environmental, economic, and social theoretical frameworks to characterize the differences according to the values and assumptions that may underpin the observed variation. Validated frameworks are useful to move beyond discussions based on ‘opinion’, because they provide a framework for critical reflection by engineering students and academics about the values and assumptions that inform engineering practice generally and sustainable engineering practice, particularly.