Sustainability Education at Industrial Engineering Programs in Sweden : A study of the relevant and received sustainability education, and the associated challenges, at 5-year industrial engineering programs

University essay from KTH/Hållbarhet och industriell dynamik


The public concern for sustainability issues is ever increasing whilst the trust in corporations is decreasing. CEOs now see sustainability concern and compliance as an important component in retaining their competitive advantage and regaining the trust of their surrounding community. For these reasons it is important to find new manners of uniting societal improvement with business, requiring new forms of competencies. This study has investigated what sustainability education is actually central to the industrial engineering profile, as well as what of this is then covered in the programs.

The study involved two phases. The first involved interviewing experts as to what was central for these engineers to learn, resulting in a content list. The second phase involved mapping the instances of this content in the five largest industrial engineering programs (covering circa 74% of these students) as well as the associated challenges to broaching this content. The first phase was primarily qualitative whilst the second phase was largely quantitative, though each data point consisted of a qualitative interview.

Five key insights can be drawn from the study regardless of normative stand-point. 1) The sustainability topics that were deemed relevant cover a vast area of disciplines and aspects. 2) There is a skewedness in the content covered, favouring the environmental aspects. 3) There is a lack of integrative instances where the knowledge from different sources and perspectives is synthesized. 4) The key challenges revolve around concept definition and communication. 5) The normativity, interconnectedness and pedagogics contribute with uncertainty and complexity in the assessment of sustainability education.

The study is finalized with a synthesis of the various insights to arrive at the conclusion that having sustainable business practice as the aim of the programs, establishing common content goals and employing active learning approach would circumvent many of the perceived challenges as well as align the programs with the need of the industry.

This study contributes with deeper understanding of the sustainability education required and provided to industrial engineering students in Sweden. As such the study has practical applications for the programs studied. The theoretical implications of this study lie in the empirical data achieved regarding the topics of relevance to these engineers, showing high levels of agreement with current literature, as well as the perceived challenges to broaching this content in the current curricula. Furthermore it provides empirical data as to the sustainability education received at different programs. 

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