Ecobuild featured a session on the pros and cons of incorporating sustainability in the curriculum of universities. A QS student expresses his views…

“We cannot solve problems created by our current pattern of thought using our current pattern of thought,” Albert Einstein

Our current education system is based on analytical thinking, which tends to divide any subject into its constituent parts under the assumption that once you know the parts separately you would be able to integrate that knowledge into an understanding of the whole subject. But what about the interaction of those parts?

There are some students that say that at their universities there is no such a thing as a module called sustainability; so do we need it? Before looking at sustainability's constituent parts, wouldn’t we need to clarify what "sustainability" is?

It gets complicated! There are so many definitions of sustainability and depending on your profession, personal view or even your country of origin it may mean one thing or another.

Defining sustainability

Would it not be reasonable to assume that:

  • From material science one could learn the principles of materials used in construction, embodied energy of these materials, usage and wastage and more importantly whether or not a particular material is a finite resource and its impact on the environment
  • From building technology one could learn how to combine tried and tested methods of construction that address problems such as air tightness with innovative approaches such as off-site manufacturing, which has been around for a bit.
  • From building services engineering one could learn about thermal bridging, thermal performance, energy efficiency, renewable energy, thermal comfort, ventilation and the impact of all of services on the environment (CO2 emissions).
  • From building / construction economics one could learn about economies of scale, supply and demand and perhaps analyse the likelihood of renewable energy technology becoming more affordable because supply and demand.

And so on…

What we need, in my opinion, is to integrate knowledge from all the subjects typically taught at universities while moving away from simple knowledge to understanding of the interaction of these (in essence, systems thinking) and their relevance on sustainability.