As engineering academics work through the challenges resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, Engineers Ireland's Academic Society hosted a series of webinars to support and inform members and non-members of important, timely and helpful information, with the third webinar in the series focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The webinar was chaired by Dr Kevin Delaney, CEng, FIEI, TU Dublin. Úna Parsons, CEng, FIEI, head of Faculty of Engineering and Design at IT Sligo and chair of the Academic Society, welcomed delegates to the webinar and, in her opening address, remarked on the increasing importance of, and focus on, the SDGs in education in Ireland and indeed globally.

The first speaker was Dr Richard Manton, deputy registrar at Engineers Ireland, who spoke about 'Sustainability in the accreditation of engineering education'.

He talked about the strategic commitment Engineers Ireland has to sustainability both as a professional body for engineers and also as the accrediting body for engineering education in Ireland.

Dr Manton explained the role of Engineers Ireland in the accreditation of engineering education and tits new accreditation criteria which contains an increased emphasis on sustainability. This commitment is reflected in a sustainability framework which has been adopted in the past year.      

Main objectives of Engineers Ireland accreditation:

  1. Objective evaluation of engineering education to international standards;
  2. Education standard for professional titles CEng(+FL), AEng, EngTech;
  3. Mobility through international Accords (IEA) and EUR-ACE (ENAEE);
  4. Engineering programmes at NFQ levels 6-9 in universities and IoTs.

The new accreditation criteria unveiled in 2021 is grouped in three sections: (a) Programme Outcomes (PO1-PO8), (b) Programme Areas (PA1-PA7) and (c) Programme Management (PM1-PM5). Dr Manton pointed out that while sustainability is threaded throughout the accreditation criteria such as PO2 – Problem Analysis, PO3 – Design and PO5 – Professional and Ethical Responsibilities, it is also a new programme area in its own right: PA7 – Sustainability and includes the following requirements:

  1. Students need to be familiar with the impact of their work on the three pillars of sustainability (environmental impact, social impact and economic impact).
  2. Students should be introduced to specific sustainability concepts such as net zero carbon, resource efficiency, circular economy and whole life cost.
  3. Students should be exposed to the UN sustainable development goals although the relevance of certain SDGs varies by branch of engineering.
  4. Students should also develop competences for achieving the SDGs.   

Figure 1: Engineers Ireland new accreditation criteria

Engineers Ireland has unveiled new accreditation criteria to equip engineering graduates to solve modern problems related to sustainability, engineering management, data science and diversity. 

The accreditation criteria will be of particular interest to academics, other accreditation assessors or those actively hiring new graduate engineers who wish to keep up to date with the latest standards in engineering education. 

The Engineers Ireland's Accreditation Criteria 2021 can be downloaded here:

The organisers had released a call for graphical abstracts prior to the webinar.

The main purpose of this was to encourage academics from different institutions in Ireland to showcase their work related to introducing the SDGs and sustainability in general into their engineering programmes.

The second speaker was Dr Anne Morrissey from Dublin City University who summarised the graphical abstracts received for this call. The submissions received from eight institutions serve as exemplars of implementation of the SDGs in different colleges.

She divided the submissions into three common themes: 

(a) Teaching including design, specific technologies and teaching approaches:

The design part of this category looked at various applications from pumps to control systems and real world challenges. There were four abstracts from Technological University Dublin and one from Queen’s University Belfast in this category.

The specific technologies part looked at specific technologies such as autonomous vehicles and hydrogen as an energy source where one abstract received from Institute of Technology Sligo and one from Dublin City University.

And finally the last part was about the approaches such as Capstone projects. One abstract from National University of Ireland Galway, one from Technological University Dublin and one from University College Cork received in this part.   

(b) Research and skills:

In this category, two abstracts received from Dublin Technological University, one on future skills requirement for engineers to solve the SDGs and one on assessing SDG skills development in engineering programmes.  

(c) Operations which included embedding into HEI’s strategy:

Three abstracts were submitted in this category about sustainability frameworks and specific initiatives in National University of Ireland Galway, Galway-Mayo Institute of technology and University College Dublin.    

At the end of this part of the webinar, Dr Morrissey announced that the poster submitted by Dr Beatrice Smyth and her colleagues at Queen’s University Belfast was the winner of the best poster prize which was sponsored by Engineers Ireland. The title of the poster was 'Exploring sustainability through industry-linked student projects' (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: The winner of the best graphical abstract

The third speaker was Samantha Fahy who is the sustainability manager at Dublin City University. She spoke about sustainability being at the core of DCU’s strategic plan 2017-2022 (Goal 8). Based on this goal sustainability principles, literacy and awareness are integrated into student curriculum. She mentioned that DCU sees sustainability as two sides of the one coin: (a) education for sustainability and (b) environmental sustainability (Fig. 3).   

Figure 3: Sustainability at DCU

She also discussed the operational activities implemented at DCU around sustainability:

1.) Energy:

The 2020 targets in the SEAI Public Sector Scorecard 2020 was a 33% improvement in energy efficiency and DCU has achieved 46.8% towards this target which shows that DCU has significantly exceeded the targets.  

2.) Water:

A student project compared the water in the swimming pool at DCU sports complex (3,500 m3 per annum) and the water consumed by the showers (134,000 m3 per annum).   

3.) Waste:

60% of waste at DCU goes to Solid Recovered Fuel (SRF), eg incinerator to get heat recovery from it. The main goal at DCU is to reduce the total amount of the waste and also a shift from recovered waste to recycled waste.

4.) Transport:

From a survey in 2019/20 at DCU, 49% of the staff and 79% of the students used a sustainable form of transport. They have also, in collaboration with the national transport authority, been using the university as a living laboratory for research related to sustainability in transport.

5.) Carbon emissions:

DCU now includes the three scopes from the Greenhouse Gas Protocol in calculating their carbon footprint: Scope 1 includes direct emissions from owned or controlled sources; Scope 2 includes indirect emissions from the generation of purchased electricity, steam, heating and cooling consumed including fugitive emissions; Scope 3 includes all other indirect emissions that occur in a company's value chain such as from staff and student commuting, business travel and purchases.

The inclusion of all three scopes has provided a clearer view on DCU’s carbon footprint and helped them to create a pathway to reduce their carbon footprint.

The fourth speaker was Liam McCarton from Technological University of Dublin who challenged the attendees with the question 'Are the Sustainable Development Goals Unsustainable?'.

He explained that most of the current challenges (eg, climate change, pandemic etc) for engineers and scientists are global while many of the solutions and innovations are local.

This means that there is a need to produce a generation of 'global engineers' who can think sideways, have the ability to invent and innovate, not to copy, replicate or play it safe.

He explained a flexible learning module that they have developed and is called 'Where There is No Engineer, Designing for Community Resilience' where students work across a range of disciplines together with local partners on solving real-life challenges. This is currently integrated within undergraduate teaching modules at Level 7, 8 and 9 in several colleges in Ireland and is supported by an online academy (

Another question raised by McCarton was 'Are the SDGs a valid measure of sustainability?' He asked if the SDGs are incompatible with growth or are the SDGs really a blueprint to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs? He also emphasised that the SDGs must be addressed without considering the borders.

The next question asked was 'What if every country in the world achieved them?' According to the Sustainable Development Report, Sweden is the most sustainable country in the world based on the SDGs index and Ireland is ranked 14th.  

He went on to highlight that the most sustainable country in the world has a per capita emission far exceeding the planetary boundary. In other words, if every country in the world was to operate like that we would need the equivalent of three Earths to sustain this level of resource use. This means that the SDGs might not be valid measures of true sustainability.    

The last speaker was Dr Aida Guerra from Aalborg University, Denmark. She talked about 'Sustainable development in engineering education: A landscape of challenges and possibilities'.  She stressed that sustainability is one major trend in higher education which faces several challenges as listed below:

  • Challenge 1: Paradigm shift in engineering education;
  • Challenge 2: Perspective on sustainability;
  • Challenge 3: Definition(s) unsustainability.

She also mentioned several possibilities to overcome these challenges:

  • Possibility 1: The key competences for ESD employability and PBL (Problem-based Learning);
  • Possibility 2: Variation in PBL problems and projects;
  • Possibility 3: Create different levels of awareness for different strategies to integrate ESD.

She provided two examples for Possibility 2: Example 1: Semester projects from BSc Medialogy where the students had three months to do the projects. Example 2: Megaprojects which were interdisciplinary and the main goal was to address the UN SDGs. Two examples of these projects are shown in Fig 4.  

Figure 4: Examples of megaprojects.

She also mentioned an example from possibility 3 on where they are providing resources for students and teachers on PBL and sustainability to create more awareness and to get more involved to enhance learning.

Dr Guerra also highlighted that it is not enough to simply add random notes on recycling and other elements of sustainability to our engineering curricula.

This was one of the key takeaways from Dr Guerra’s talk and is very important for us all as engineering educators; introducing sustainability into our engineering programmes cannot be accomplished without appropriate contextualisation.

There were a total of 110 attendees on the day, with delegates coming from all over the island of Ireland, the UK, Australia, Denmark and Japan. A recording is available to members on the EI YouTube channel here.

The presentation slides are also available upon request by emailing using the subject line 'Academic society third webinar – request for presentation slides'.


  1. Abdollah Malekjafarian, BSc, MSc, PhD, MIEI, Assistant Professor in the School of Civil Engineering at University College Dublin and committee member of the Engineers Ireland Academic Society.
  2. Anne Morrissey, BE, MEngSc, PhD, Associate Professor in the School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at Dublin City University and committee member of the Engineers Ireland Academic society.
  3. Kevin Delaney, BE, MEngSc, PhD, CEngFIEI, Lecturer in the School of Mechanical and Design Engineering at Technological University Dublin and Liaison Committee member of the Engineers Ireland Academic Society.
  4. Úna Parsons, BSc, MSc, CEngFIEI, Head of Faculty of Engineering & Design, Institute of Technology, Sligo and Chairperson of Engineers Ireland Academic Society.