Undergraduate Teaching 2017-18

Engineering Tripos Part IIB, 4M14: Sustainable Development, 2015-16

Engineering Tripos Part IIB, 4M14: Sustainable Development, 2015-16

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Module Leader

Prof Peter Guthrie


Prof Peter Guthrie


Kristen MacAskill

Coursework leader

Prof Peter Guthrie

Timing and Structure

Michaelmas term. 8 2-hour afternoon sessions. Assessment: 100% coursework


As specific objectives, by the end of the course students should be able to:

  • understand the framework and wider issues relating to sustainable development.
  • appreciate how engineers can influence sustainable development.
  • have a broad knowledge of available technologies for progressing sustainable development.
  • begin to appreciate the opportunities and challenges for change towards becomimng a 'change agent'.
  • argue a sustainable development case in an effective manner.


Based around the concept of delivering the built environment in the widest possible sense the course will use the cross-cutting themes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development “Rio+20” held in Rio de Janeiro in April 2012 to explore issues that are pertinent today. The themes: jobs, energy, cities, food, water, oceans, and disasters will be used as a focus for re-evaluating engineering interventions and examining the role of the engineer in delivering the infrastructure that underpins society in developed and developing countries.

Using as a basis the concept that engineering goes beyond application of technology student will explore the ways in which engineering is employed to serve the needs of particular societies as a particular point in time and to anticipate future impacts. Building on the concept that actions and consequences are interconnected in a global system on which we all depend the material will have a strong focus on the ethics of engineering and the holistic analysis of inter-related systems. Students will be encouraged to draw on their own experiences and explore their personal reactions to a number of situations and issues.

This module aims to challenge the traditional role of engineering for a contemporary application and to give students the opportunity to explore a wide range of topics to draw on what most interests them. It is hoped that this will help students to develop a framework for addressing challenges they face in their professional role while incorporating personal values. This module will investigate the skills that engineers need and how to develop them, including how to bring about change and the role of individuals and organisations.

Each teaching session includes a mixture of lecture plus group discussions and other activities. Students will be expected to participate fully in all aspects relating to the subject.

Introduction to sustainable development

  • Course Overview
  • Sustainable Development – the issues and the debate
  • The social dimension
  • The environmental dimension
  • What is ‘enough’?
  • Challenges to change

Climate change hazards

  • Vulnerability to natural and man-made hazards
  • Resilience and disaster risk reduction
  • Predictions and forecasting


  • Global energy availability and use
  • Impact of energy production and use
  • Managing supply and demand
  • Climate legacy implications
  • Traditional and renewable energy - technologies and options
  • Sustainable Energy - barriers and solutions

Water and Oceans

  • Global water availability and use
  • Environmental, social, economic Impact
  • Technologies
  • Quantity, quality and availability

Manufacturing/supply chains

  • Industrial ecology
  • Materials and resource impacts
  • Waste hierachy
  • Challenges, Barriers and Incentives


  • Jobs, opportunities and equity
  • Outputs, outcomes and impacts
  • Conflicts and special cases of fragile states
  • Indicators and decision-making
  • Consultation and decision-making

Urban environments

  • Global urbanisation and its consequencies
  • Changing to sustainability
  • The joint role of architecture and infrastructure
  • Global examples

Engineers and sustainable development

  • The engineer's role
  • Technology and social needs
  • Understanding and valuing the environment
  • Environmental ethics - and the precautionary principle
  • The challenges of leading sustainable development
  • Organisation - power analysis and change drivers
  • Top-down + Bottom-up change
  • Personal effectiveness


There will be two assignments (100%). One will be visual and creative and the other will be a combination of numerical analytical analysis and written presentation. Students will be expected to do additional research and investigation beyond the course content in order to complete the coursework assignments satisfactorily.


Please see the Booklist for Group M Courses for references for this module.

Examination Guidelines

Please refer to Form & conduct of the examinations.


The UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence (UK-SPEC) describes the requirements that have to be met in order to become a Chartered Engineer, and gives examples of ways of doing this.

UK-SPEC is published by the Engineering Council on behalf of the UK engineering profession. The standard has been developed, and is regularly updated, by panels representing professional engineering institutions, employers and engineering educators. Of particular relevance here is the 'Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes' (AHEP) document which sets out the standard for degree accreditation.

The Output Standards Matrices indicate where each of the Output Criteria as specified in the AHEP 3rd edition document is addressed within the Engineering and Manufacturing Engineering Triposes.

Last modified: 08/10/2015 15:46