Sustainable Engineering Science for Resolving Wicked Problems

  • Thomas Seager
  • Evan SelingerEmail author
  • Arnim Wiek


Because wicked problems are beyond the scope of normal, industrial-age engineering science, sustainability problems will require reform of current engineering science and technology practices. We assert that, while pluralism concerning use of the term sustainability is likely to persist, universities should continue to cultivate research and education programs specifically devoted to sustainable engineering science, an enterprise that is formally demarcated from business-as-usual and systems optimization approaches. Advancing sustainable engineering science requires a shift in orientation away from reductionism and intellectual specialization towards integrative approaches to science, education, and technology that: (1) draw upon an ethical awareness that extends beyond the usual bounds of professional ethics or responsible conduct of research to include macroethics, (2) adopt anticipatory and adaptive approaches to unintended consequences resulting from technological innovation that result in more resilient systems, and (3) cultivate interactional expertise to facilitate cross-disciplinary exchange. Unfortunately, existing education and research training programs are ill-equipped to prepare scientists and engineers to operate effectively in a wicked problems milieu. Therefore, it is essential to create new programs of graduate education that will train scientists and engineers to become sustainable engineering science experts equipped to recognize and grapple with the macro-ethical, adaptive, and cross-disciplinary challenges embedded in their technical research and development programs.


Sustainability Sustainability ethics Wicked problems Interactional expertise Resilience Macro ethics 



The authors would like to thank the comments of anonymous reviewers on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Sustainability and The Built EnvironmentArizona State UniversityPhoenix Metropolitan AreaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyRochester Institute of TechnologyHenriettaUSA
  3. 3.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityPhoenix Metropolitan AreaUSA

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