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THE INSTITUTION OF ENGINEERS, AUSTRALIA

ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING SOCIETY


GUIDELINES ON THE DESIGN OF ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING
UNDERGRADUATE COURSES
Introduction
This document has been developed to raise a number of issues relating to the overall direction
and structure of environmental engineering undergraduate courses. While the document is not
prescriptive, it does give some guidance as to what is considered necessary within environmental
engineering courses. The particular point is made that environmental engineering degrees should
be identifiably different from single discipline courses. A civil engineering or chemical engineering
course with some environmental content or isolated multidisciplinary subjects should not be
considered an environmental engineering degree.
Education institutions planning to develop an environmental engineering course should find this
document of some use.
Amendments to the document will occur from time to time as more experience is gained in the
implementation of environmental engineering degrees.
Preamble
There has been a profound change in society's concern for the environment over the last ten
years. This has been mirrored by international action resulting in the Brundtland Report, the
second World Conservation Strategy called "Caring for the Earth", the Prime Ministerial
Statement on the environment "Our Country Our Future", various state conservation strategies,
various international environmental principles and guideline documents for business, Agenda 21
from the Earth Summit, and the IEAust "Environmental Principles for Engineers".
The key to all these documents is sustainability. Sustainability is defined in the Institution Policy
on Sustainability as "the ability to maintain a high quality of life for all people, both now and in
the future, while ensuring the maintenance of the ecological processes on which life depends
and the continued availability of the natural resources needed". It is important to recognise that
sustainability requires consideration of social and economic factors as well as the environment.
As society's attitudes towards the environment evolve, so must those of the engineering
profession. Engineering works such as hydro electric schemes, power production, transport
systems and urban infrastructure, treatment and disposal of liquid and solid waste, structural
development, all affect the environment. Global scale problems of population explosion, climate
change, ozone depletion need to be appreciated. Engineers must play a more significant role in
ensuring their work is environmentally acceptable.
The recent release of the Institutions manual, Towards Sustainable Engineering Practice, is a
first step in a major program to translate sustainability into engineering terms.

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The increasing popularity of environmental engineering undergraduate courses imposes a special


responsibility on course designers to ensure the courses are designed to an appropriate model.
Graduates from environmental engineering courses should have the ability to address
environmental problems and to focus on practical solutions in a way that is currently difficult
because of the single discipline nature of engineering courses. Environmental engineering is
generally based on civil engineering or chemical engineering skills. However, it is essential that
the environmental engineer has specific design/analytical skills in a given environmental area. The
course must combine to produce a marketable product.
There is a need to educate an environmental engineer with a sound background in the natural
sciences and a broad understanding of environmental processes and issues. Prospective
environmental engineers must be exposed to a range of perspectives on environmental
management, and be able to communicate effectively with specialists from other disciplines.
Preliminary Planning
Before a course outline can be developed it is necessary to proceed through several stages which
define the philosophy of the degree, the type of engineer to be produced, and objectives of the
course. Only after such matters have been addressed and agreed on can a satisfactory and
appropriate course outline be developed.
However, there is also a need, as a first step, to consider a number of broader issues:

What is the particular niche for the course this needs to be defined in the early stages in
order to establish the market and need for the course. What will be the strength of the
course? Can it build on existing faculty/university strengths? What will set it apart in an
increasingly competitive academic market?

Is there an established teaching and learning environment in place?

The first issue is one of establishing an appropriate service in a market. The second issue is part
of the IEAust requirements for accreditation of engineering courses, recently revised and
published as a Manual for the Accreditation of Professional Engineering Courses. (IEAust,
November 1997)
All new course designers need to be very clear on the Institutions policy, and the key elements of
the policy. On the Teaching and Learning Environment, the policy requires the following to be in
place:

an identifiable structure responsible for engineering education within the university;


a strategic statement by the university on engineering education;
an effective advisory mechanism involving industry participation;
capabilities in terms of staffing and resources to ensure the standard objectives can be
met.

Philosophy of the Degree

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The underlying philosophy of every environmental engineering course is that it must address
environmental issues as they relate to professional engineers in all fields of engineering, and it
must address these in every part of the course and at all stages of it. The course must be based
on sustainability, theory and practice: cleaner production, better design, etc. Any one of these
subjects individually will not be sufficient to convert an otherwise single discipline degree into an
environmental degree.
It will be quite appropriate for an environmental engineering degree to specialise in one area of
environmental design and management (for example waste reduction), or to allow students to
choose one or two areas of specialisation (for example water or wastewater, transport,
geotechnical etc). However, completion of the degree must give students general abilities across
environmental issues and an ability to apply environmental management theory.
Type of Engineer to be Developed
The discussion above has indicated the nature and breadth of environmental problems that need
to be addressed and the need for a new type of engineer.
It is essential to produce environmental engineers who address environmental issues in a fully
integrated way, rather than see environmental issues as an add on to the primary concern as may
occur through a traditional single discipline course.
The attributes of a graduate from an environmental engineering course must be consistent with
the philosophy and objectives of the course.
The generic attributes of all graduates from accredited courses are set out in the Institutions
Policy on Accreditation.
Objectives
There are basic course objectives which should be common to all environmental engineering
courses, although they can, and should, be applied according to the overall direction of the
course. These basic objectives are presented in the following table and should lead to specific
skills development, as shown below.

COURSE OBJECTIVES

RATIONALE/ SKILLS DEVELOPED

1. Provide core engineering skills.

Develop engineering skills. Graduates must have the


skills of engineers.

2. Develop a satisfactory scientific base.

Develop breadth of understanding of environmental


issues through basic sciences, such as maths, chemistry,
biology, ecology etc.

3. Provide a global environmental


perspective.

Be able to appreciate the global nature of


environmental issues, and that solutions cannot always
be made in isolation of other communities, either
national or international.

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4. Develop an understanding of how to


integrate environmental criteria into all
stages of design, development and
implementation.

Be able to apply basic concepts learnt in different


disciplines to all fields of engineering practice, and
synthesise new designs accordingly.

5. Develop understanding of assessment


techniques of the environmental impacts
of modern technology etc

Be able to assess impacts of proposed and existing


projects, and develop any modifications required to
improve the project and move towards sustainability.

6. Develop understanding of
environmental and resource management
systems, including an understanding of
social, political and economic factors.

Be able to evaluate and integrate environmental issues


in relation to human and physical resources,
understanding the different pressures which may
restrict or enhance the development of environmentally
sensitive solutions.

7. Provide an understanding of the


development of environmental policy and
its implementation.

Be able to analyse existing policy, and devise new


policy for a variety of environmental issues.

8. Provide an understanding of
techniques for formulating and
implementing community consultation
programs.

Formulate and implement programs for developing


ability to encourage, assimilate, and assess opinions
from a variety of sources. Facilitating stakeholder
involvement in decision making.

9. Develop ability to communicate


environmental issues objectively and
coherently to different audiences.

Develop excellent verbal/written communication skills


including listening, negotiating, conflict resolution,
and the ability to work effectively in teams.

Objectives specific to each particular course also need to be developed. The underpinning
philosophy provides the direction around which particular groupings of subjects could be
developed. There are many specific themes which could be adopted as a particular course
strength and focus:
*

impact assessment;

waste management through waste prevention and minimisation;

clean production;

life cycle analysis;

integrated catchment management.

etc

Course Structure
Students need to be given a clear understanding of the career prospects of environmental
engineering. Consideration should be given to a well founded introduction in Year 1. Attention
should be given to the manner in which the course presents the broad picture of environmental

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engineering and how the particular course relates to it (eg. does the course specialise in industrial
waste management, catchment or groundwater contamination etc.)
The course structure must flow from the philosophy, objectives, and type of engineer to be
educated. It is easy to develop a course of excellent subjects focussed around, or based on,
environmental issues or skills, but which does not come together to produce an engineer with
identifiable and marketable skills. It is therefore not satisfactory to simply remove subjects from
existing courses and add others relating to more multidisciplinary topics and call it an
environmental engineering degree. Such actions may well improve the single discipline course
but it will still be the original single discipline course, albeit more environmentally aware.
A sequence of integrative subjects should be apparent in the course. This should help bind the
course together and emphasise the multidisciplinary nature of the course. For example, a
sequence involving communication, environmental management, impact of engineering systems
and environmental design could be developed. Whatever the sequence it should represent the
spine of the course which helps hold everything together and allows the students to bring
together knowledge and skills learnt and developed in other subjects.
There is no single model. The key issue is whether the course has an identifiable and integrated
structure or sequence leading to fulfilment of the objectives. The following issues must be
considered for all courses:
1.

Are engineering skills developed from the beginning so that students can use these as
their basis throughout the course?
In particular, are there sufficient
physical/chemical/biological science, synthesis and design subjects provided for this to be
an identifiable engineering course?

2.

Is there a balance between subjects in the different areas eg. mathematics, environmental
science, environmental technology, engineering, management and communications? Are
there identifiable sequences to the subject areas?

3.

Are there sufficient integrative subjects throughout the course to allow students to draw
together the strands of their own developing knowledge and to be able to apply their
skills in a variety of different fields? This could be achieved through design type subjects,
and/or environmental management or impact subjects.

4.

Are communication skills developed throughout the course?

5.

Are policy analysis and policy making skills developed when the students have sufficient
knowledge and maturity to consider them adequately?

6.

Is attention given to the development of environmental awareness and a sustainability


ethic, both for staff and students?

The Institutions Policy states:


Typically a four year professional engineering course will have the following elements:

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mathematics, science, engineering principles, skills and tools (computing,


experimentation) appropriate to the discipline of study. This element should not be less
than 40% of total course content;

engineering design and projects. This element should be about 20% of the total course
content;

an Engineering Discipline specialisation. This element should be about 20% of total


course content;

integrated exposure to professional engineering practice (including management and


professional ethics). This element should be 10% of total course content;

more of any of the above elements or other elective studies. This could be in the vicinity
of 10% of total course content.

Subjects
It is important to be able to see how each subject relates to the course philosophy and objectives.
Some subjects may basically develop particular tools, for example, mathematics, fluid mechanics,
mass and energy balances etc. However, even these subjects must be focussed towards
environment issues through appropriate use of examples. The attitudes and environmental
awareness of the teaching staff are important in developing the whole "ethos" of the course. For
example, fluid mechanics should be taught in the context of environmental issues and problems,
rather than simply the strict engineering approach given to civil engineers. Social issues should be
presented by a sociologist with an awareness of environmental issues.
There is no overall list of subjects which should be seen as compulsory. However, as with all
engineering degree courses, subjects such as mathematics, statistics, communications, and
management should be seen as essential. In addition, the multidisciplinary nature of
environmental problems should also be reflected in the course. The following subject areas need
to be considered for inclusion:
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*

science: biology and ecology


social science: subjects looking at the impact of technology on society
economics: economics for sustainability
law: environmental law, water law, administration law etc.
politics: policy development and implementation
communication
risk assessment and management, OH&S
impact of environment on health
energy related subjects
integrative subjects or concepts which link individual subjects and streams together, eg.
environmental design, or
environmental management, or
impact assessment
precautionary principle etc.
life cycle analysis

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Exposure to Professional Engineering Practice


The students must be exposed to professional engineering practice integrated throughout their
course to enable them to develop an engineering approach and ethos, and to gain an appreciation
of engineering professional ethics. The purpose of this is to facilitate their entry into the
profession and to better prepare them to be able to develop the attributes listed in Section 2. This
exposure must include;

use of staff with industry experience;

practical experience in an engineering environment outside the teaching establishment;

mandatory exposure to lectures on professional ethics and conduct.

Exposure to professional engineering practice may also be obtained through a combination of the
following:

use of guest lecturers;

use of industry visits and inspections;

an industry based final year project;

regular use of a logbook in which experiences are recorded.

Benchmarking
There is an expectation from the Institution of continued improvement. The university must
employ some method of external benchmarking to ensure course material and standards reflect
both practice. This will require frequent review of course content and delivery.
Conclusion
Environmental problems are multidisciplinary and this should be reflected in the course structure
and subjects. The total package of subjects and the intimate crosslinked fit between them is of
paramount importance. Specific course objectives will determine the required mix of subjects.
Environmental engineering degrees should be identifiably different from traditional single
discipline degrees. A civil or chemical engineering degree with some environmental content or
isolated multidisciplinary subjects should not be considered an environmental engineering degree.
Teaching staff and accreditors must be attuned to the need for broader issues of sustainability and
life cycle analysis, in concert with detailed environmental technology.

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