Engineering Students Need Help Learning to be Green

Canadian engineering schools aren't doing enough to integrate sustainability into the education experience.

Engineers bring concepts into form.  They develop technologies, design infrastructure, organize systems, and analyse environments and organizations. At a time when the world faces a multitude of environmental, social, and economic threats, the need for sustainability and technological innovation is clear. The development of cleaner, renewable energy technologies, sustainable forms of transport, and wastewater systems, to name a few, are in a significant way tied to the work of engineers. 

Corporate Knights Magazine unveils the seventh-annual Knight Schools ranking. The ranking analyzes how Canadian universities fare in integrating sustainability into the curriculum.

In reviewing engineering programs, the researchers adopted a broad definition of sustainability that encompassed environmental and social concerns. Issues of social justice, professional ethics, cultural diversity, renewable energy, climate change, and conservation were all considered.

The survey, modeled after the US-based Beyond Grey Pinstripes Survey, scored the programs in the areas of institutional support, student initiatives, and course work.

The University of Calgary topped the 2010 list with a score of 79 per cent, followed by the University of Western Ontario with 78.5 per cent and the University of Waterloo with 77.5 per cent. The average score across the 36 schools surveyed was 45.9 per cent, which represents a 4.2 per cent increase from the 2008 average. The top five schools all scored above the 70 per cent range.

Schools performed well in terms of educational breadth. In particular, 94 per cent of the programs surveyed offered elective courses that touched on environmental or social issues, demonstrating a significant level of interdisciplinary breadth within the engineering programs.

The major shortfalls were in the core program designs, which generally did not require sustainability to be taken into account. The survey found that approximately 42 per cent of schools had no required courses that touched on social or environmental issues.

The researchers also noted a strong performance across the board in terms of research initiatives concerned with energy and sustainability, water systems engineering, and climate change issues. Forty-seven per cent of the schools surveyed achieved full points for having three or more research institutes or centres that focused on sustainable engineering practices.

"It is encouraging to see schools devoting resources to sustainability research," says Jon-Erik Lappano, the chief researcher for the Knight Schools survey. "Engineers have a direct influence on the design, efficiency, and health of our cities, organizations, and industries. The need for integration of sustainability into engineering education cannot be overstated."

Top Ten Engineering Programs, 2010

School                                          % Score

1. The University of Calgary               79.00
2. University of Western Ontario         78.50
3. University of Waterloo                    77.50
4. University of Toronto                      74.00
5. Université Laval                             73.42
6. Ecole Polytechnique                        68.00
7. University of British Columbia         62.90
8. Queen's University                         61.00
9. University of Guelph                       60.59
10. University of New Brunswick          58.00

The full results and methodology of the Ranking are available at