The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Agenda, adopted in 2015, marked a historic moment for international collaboration, when 193 member states agreed on a strategic plan for the future health of our planet. Built around 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), its vision was for a more peaceful and prosperous world by 2030.

Providing a wider context

Students are more than ready to be part of the change, as powerfully demonstrated by Greta Thunberg whose grassroots activism has shown that “No one is too small to make a difference”. By using the SDGs as inspiration within the engineering curricular, student engagement could be easily improved by simply providing a wider context.

Consider the iron-carbon phase diagram for example. It is a fundamental concept which most engineering students will encounter…but why do engineers need to learn about it?

Well, in the context of the 7th Sustainable Development Goal ‘Affordable and Clean Energy’, steel plays a critical role in renewable energy. In 2018, it was estimated that almost 20% of the UK’s electricity was generated through on- and offshore wind farms and structural steels (e.g. S355) make up a large proportion of a turbine. In the case of the supporting tower, the material must be hot rolled in sections and then welded together, so that heights of 100+ meters can be achieved. Without a fundamental understanding of how the structure, processing and properties are all interrelated, i.e. interpreting the phase diagram, engineering feats such as the this would not be possible.

What’s more, accreditation bodies such as ABET now require some degree of sustainable thinking e.g. criteria 4 which states that students must have “an ability to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations and make informed judgments, which must consider the impact of engineering solutions in global, economic, environmental, and societal contexts”.

Where to find support and inspiration?

Sustainability is within Granta’s DNA and as such, the Education Team work tirelessly with the engineering community to provide inspiration for educators and students throughout the world. In a recent webinar led by Dr. Bridget Ogwezi, we saw how CES EduPack can be used to introduce various aspects of the SDGs, either through its core data, Materials Selection and Eco Audit Tools, or via a 5-step Sustainable Development Assessment; the framework of which is freely available using the Active-Learning ToolKit – Sustainable Development.

With over 350 teaching resources available on Granta’s Education Hub, educators can find further support through Case Studies, Exercises and Lecture Units, some of which have been designed specifically for sustainable development. For example, one of our most popular resources explores the environmental impact of the materials used in water bottle containers and suggests a fun activity which can be achieved within the classroom. This was successfully demonstrated during a recent workshop run by Prof. Claes Fredriksson, just ahead of the 11th International Materials Education Symposium.

Along with these recent events, Granta was also present at SusCritMat which is an EU-funded project, bringing together technical and pedagogical expertise of leading educational institutions and business partners. Working with EIT Raw Materials (and other partners), Dr. Tatiana Vakhitova delivered a stimulating workshop, once again inspired by the 5-step Sustainable Development Assessment. Addressing challenges associated with the circular economy and critical materials, the short course provided an exciting taster for the upcoming Summer School.

To learn more about our sustainable development work, or to receive a recording of the recent SDG webinar, please contact our Education Team who will be happy to help.

Harriet Parnell

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