Engineers' role in sustainable development: Considering cultural dynamics

Gregory F. McIsaac, Nancy C. Morey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1994, the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES) issued a statement titled "The Role of the Engineer in Sustainable Development" which proclaimed that sustainable development requires "dramatic changes in the culture of engineering." In this paper, the writers examine some ideas about sustainable development and consider the implications for the culture of engineering. Specifically, we argue that, because the future is uncertain, promoting a variety of approaches to sustainable development would seem to be a prudent means of spreading the risks associated with uncertainty. Engineers in the United States appear to favor approaches that emphasize developing more efficient and effective technology through free enterprise, as expressed in the AAES statement. We think this tendency reflects some of the values, assumptions, and culture of the engineering profession. We consider the limitations of this approach and present arguments in favor of simple technology and low consumption lifestyles. Engineers will likely be in a better position to lead and collaborate with others in fostering sustainable development if they understand and appreciate a variety of different perspectives and practices of people of different ethnic and disciplinary cultures. To promote this, we suggest that engineers develop an understanding of and appreciation for goals, strategies, and values that are complementary to the goals, values, and strategies that have been central to the profession.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)110-119
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Industrial relations
  • Strategy and Management


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