The roots of Sustainable Engineering

Instructions: Follow the tabs to improve your reading comprehension and vocabulary development.

Take a moment to consider what you already know about the term 'sustainable'.
  • Without checking a dictionary, how would you define the word ‘sustainable’?
  • What nouns often come after the adjective 'sustainable'?  Can you think of more than five?
  • What other words are in the word family of ‘sustainable’?  The verb? The noun? The adverb?

(Think about it, and then check your dictionary to find out)

Instructions: You are going to read a passage on the next tab.  Before you read, consider the questions below, then go on to read and check the answers.

Ecologically Sustainable Development

Sustainable engineering has emerged from the general concept of ecologically sustainable development (ESD), and it allows engineers to tackle ‘wicked problems’ (Rittel & Webber 1973). Wicked problems are typically complicated and entangled in contested social and political situations (Funtowicz & Ravetz 1993)… Before delving into what sustainable engineering entails, it is important to understand what ESD is and where the idea came from. Today, the term ‘sustainable’ is widely applied. A football coach might describe the team’s losing streak as ‘just not sustainable’, or a politician might pledge ‘a strong, sustainable health care system for all New Zealanders’. In these cases, the term is being used as an extension of one of the range of meanings attached to its base word ‘sustain’. Sustain can mean ‘to hold or bear up from below; bear the weight of; be the support of, as in a structure; to bear (a burden, charge, etc.); to undergo, experience, or suffer (injury, loss, etc.); endure without giving way or yielding; to keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from giving way, as under trial or affliction; to uphold as valid, just, or correct, as a claim or the person making it’ (Macquarie Dictionary 2019). In the phrase ecologically sustainable development, the term ‘sustainable’ has evolved to have a more specific meaning than the range of meanings that are implied by the base word sustain. It is important to grasp the meaning of ESD because there is now a strong expectation that engineers will implement ESD through their professional work.


Dowling, D. (2019). Engineering Your Future: An australasian guide. Milton, QLD: John Wiley and Sons Australia.