Sustainable Cities and Communities

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Built Environment Education for Sustainability and Climate Change Preparation

  • Usha Iyer-RanigaEmail author
Living reference work entry



There are many definitions of sustainability and there have been debates in recent years as to which one is the most comprehensive definition. The Brundtland definition of sustainability is used here as a working definition. However, for the built environment, a range of complex issues need to be considered as our understanding grows. Taking only a mitigative approach to the built environment when considering sustainability outcomes is insufficient. Problems of climate change and with it, adaptation, resilience, and related issues have to be considered going forward.


The built environment is characterized by a range of different disciplines collaborating with each other resulting in a building or piece of infrastructure as a product. It includes materials that make buildings and infrastructure, the different types of buildings and their functions, and how users of the built environment live, work, and play in these spaces, particularly in urban areas. As international pressures on climate change and sustainability mount, the stakeholders of the built environment including users are under increasing demand to “walk the talk.” This puts a focus back on education and skills to ascertain if current and future professionals working in built environment have the needed theoretical underpinnings and practical knowledge to seek solutions to the complex climate change and related environmental problems facing us today.

Sustainability and climate change need to be considered in tandem when considering the built environment. Rather than focus on climate change adaptation and mitigation separately as different concepts, in this chapter, they are considered interchangeably as both need to be considered in tandem when considering the future for the built environment. Climate change, adaptation, mitigation, resilience, disaster management, and sustainability from a triple bottom line (TBL) perspective are deemed to be part of the same set of complex issues facing us the built environment today. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UN 2015) consider economic, environmental, and social dimensions of sustainability including peace, justice, health, no poverty, climate change, well-being, and resource use as part of the 17 goals and 169 targets need to support the development of a healthy and robust planet in the near future.

This chapter commences with an overview of the current state of play of challenges globally from sustainability and climate change perspectives. This is followed by a literature review to determine the state of play with sustainability literacy in built environment programs, resulting gaps, and implications for higher educational institutions to prepare graduates to work in a carbon constrained world in the future. These sections are followed by the discussions and conclusions.

The Built Environment and Sustainability

This section commences with key definitions to understand terms used in the chapter and relationships of these to one another, and particularly with respect to the design, construction, and operation of the built environment. The term sustainability refers to the Brundtland definition “…meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED 1987). Changes in climate, perceived or real are part of issues associate with built environment climate change. Adaptation refers to the process of “managing and responding to perceived [and actual, author emphasis] climate change risks in order to minimize their impacts” (ASBEC 2012, p. 11). Mitigation is the reduction or elimination of any activity that reduces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to prevent global warming, which now scientists are increasingly linking to climate change.

Resilience is defined as (Australian SoE 2016) “the capacity of the environment to retain or recover the same structure and functions after experiencing shocks or disturbances. Resilience for the built environment, therefore, means its ability to recover its functions, amenities and livability following shocks. It depends on how vulnerable built assets and community services are to disturbance, and how well management planning and processes can cope with shocks.” Disasters affecting the built environment may be natural disasters such as earthquakes or may arise as a result of anthropogenic activities such as mudslides and flooding resulting from erosion. In this chapter, all these terms are considered to be part of sustainability as they are interrelated.

Built environments are typically characterized by an interdisciplinary field of study concerned with the design, construction, operation, and management of human made surroundings (Butt et al. 2015). The construction industry consumes more than 40% of the world’s resources, requires 40% of global energy, emits 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and uses 25% of the global water supply (UNEP 2016). Energy efficiency investments in the building sector have increased steadily by 12% in 2016 and the building and construction industry sector employs 10% of the global workforce (Global Alliance for Building and Construction and UNEP 2016).

Examining how the built environment is shaping currently and in the future provides an insight into understanding how the built environment will be developed so as to be able to offer skills to a labor force that is different from the past century. This is not to say that the labor market associated with built environment professions has not evolved over time, but unless we are able to understand how the built environment of the future is going to be shaped, it is difficult to plan for the future. There are a number of key points to be considered.

First, globally, the built environment is becoming more urbanized, where majority of the population is expected to reside. Second, this urbanization is anticipated to take place in the emerging economies of the world, predominantly, Asia Pacific, Africa, and Latin America. All the elements that make up a city including various types of building including housing, infrastructure, and water will become key instruments shaping these cities. Cities in the emerging markets will contribute to nearly half of global growth to 2025 and will house one billion new consumers. By 2025, cities will need infrastructure; ports, water, and buildings to cater for its growing population (Dobbs et al. 2012). Needless to state most of this is required in the emerging markets in the world. Water use is expected to rise by 80 billion cubic meters, along with attendant waste water treatments. Container capacity of ports is also expected to increase by 2.5 times based on current figures, exceeding to US $200 billion with 85% of this taking place in emerging markets in the world. Building stock will need to increase, with roughly 85% more additional floor space resulting in a growth of 44,000 square kilometers for residential and commercial spaces in urban areas. An investment of nearly US $80 trillion in buildings has been estimated (Dobbs et al. 2012). Based on current trend, 20 megacities are expected to be part of the new emerging cities, including Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Istanbul, and Lagos. The megacities are spread across 57 countries globally. Latin America with Brazil and Colombia will lead the pack, with China and India leading in Asia, and in Africa, Angola, Ghana, and Nigeria will be the front runners alongside cities such as Turkey and Doha in the Middle East.

Third is decoupling economic growth with climate change and sustainability and the acknowledgment that climate change and sustainability requires different skill sets resulting in a new labor market, as a response to policies and programs on adaptation and mitigation measures for the built environment. A question arises as to whether we currently have the skills required to meet the demands of this new labor market. This is explored further in the forthcoming sections of this chapter.

Popularly held beliefs regarding the role of the environment in increasing growth are being questioned. A World Bank (2012, p. 1) report states that greening growth is “necessary, efficient, and affordable” and it is political will, behavior, and lack of financing instruments that are barriers to green growth. In relation to green jobs, various models for predicting jobs growth in the sector abound (World Bank 2012); however, the sorts of skill sets required to transition to a green economy also need to be considered and may in fact impede green growth (99). Skills are needed in expanding industries such as renewable energy, plumbing, and electrical skills, in solar hot water and photo voltaic panel installation and maintenance, and in the move from use of typical fossil fuel to renewable energy sources. Skills in green construction, energy efficiency, retrofitting, renewable energy, resource efficiency, and the like have already been identified as impeding the transition to green growth, particularly in developing countries. Many developing countries need to increase their skillsets in technical and tertiary education (101).

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the peak body for renewable energy, has offered solutions that enhance economic growth, while providing the incentive to decarbonize economies worldwide. They predict that not only can jobs in the renewable sector stimulate economic growth, it also opens new prospects for employment and contributes to a sustained future where climate change and sustainability underpins human life and welfare on the planet. This follows the paradigm of decoupling economic growth with green jobs. Doubling the share of renewables increases direct and indirect employment in the renewable energy sector, mostly bioenergy, hydropower and solar to almost 25 million by 2030 (IRENA 2016).

The next section examines how built environment programs in higher education institutions have tackled current global challenges.

Higher Education Institutions and Sustainability Integration

Higher educational institutions are at the forefront of knowledge production and transmission. Higher educational institutions are responsible for enabling the knowledge society and increasingly, higher educational providers are forced to provide meaningful education for students to be able to transition easily into working life. There is a recognition that current approaches to solving our problems of climate change and sustainability require us to take different and perhaps more innovative approaches. The link between higher education, technical, critical thinking, behavioral skills, and productivity has been shown to be positively related. Increased innovation is also linked to higher education and research (World Bank 2015, p. 1).

In this report by the World Bank (2015, p. 2), five disconnects resulting in barriers to better performance and productivity between higher education and the real world have been identified. While the focus of the research presented is East Asia, it is equally applicable to other emerging economies globally, including Latin America and Africa. These barriers are gaps between higher education institutions and skillsets that employers are looking for; weak links between higher education institutions and companies as far as research and technology are concerned; separation between research and teaching responsibilities in higher educational institutions; segregation between the higher educational institutions themselves, between themselves and training providers; and finally, lack of linkages between schools, particularly secondary schools, and higher educational institutions. The report calls for reform in three areas: adequate financing framework for higher education that provides benefits to the real world, making the higher educational institutions more accountable while also giving them autonomy, and better guidance and leadership in these institutions enabling a coherent engagement with all actors outside higher education but critical to higher education performance, such as engagement with relevant government departments and organizations involved in research and skills development.

Learning in the built environment disciplines is not just about acquisition or reproduction of “taught” knowledge, it is about creation of new ideas and innovations, particularly in the design led disciplines. Strategies and frameworks need to be developed in the design led areas so that models of activities focus on problem solving resulting in attendant learning outcomes. Generally, higher education providers may be considered to be social structures responsible for advancing knowledge through education and research. Education today is different both in terms of pedagogy and content from the past. As institutions, higher education today has some unique characteristics.

First is the rise in professions over the past century that has impacted higher education. Modern day professions have deep seated roots in the liberal phase of capitalism and while the underpinning labor for a profession was organized to be autonomous, it also functions as a form of control, particularly in the modern world (Larson 2012). Professions represent a form of “branding,” they keep people “in” as they also keep people “out” (Xing et al. 2009; Larson 2015), and therefore, they are governed by a set of standards and codes. Freidson (2001) describes professions as the result of particular social, economic, and political contexts and further describes them as incorporating specialist knowledge and skill, recognized and controlled division of labor, set of qualifications leading to a privileged market position, training programs associated with the higher education controlled by professions, and a set of ideas that emphasizes altruism and quality rather than economic return and efficiency.

Second is the shift from discipline based to problem-based knowledge. James (2012) suggests that there has been a shift from discipline based to problem-based knowledge, from traditional disciplinary to interdisciplinary studies and from contemporary knowledge to life-long learning skills and towards ensuring there is continuous learning in the work place. This is more so in the case of the built environment, where Witt et al. (2013, p. 116) note “there remains the problem of align, the widening gap between higher education outcomes and market needs and the criticism, mostly from industry and the political establishment.” There is a need, therefore, to address the current mismatch between graduate skills and labor market requirements and prepare better for a world that is challenged by increasing concerns of climate change and sustainability. This is particularly true for the built environment, where building codes are increasingly becoming more stringent with respect to energy efficiency (where such codes exist) and a plethora of “green” rating tools abound, particularly in the developed world, with the developing world following in these footsteps.

Third is the widening gap between the alignment in skills of graduates from higher educational institutions and industry needs. In a survey undertaken by Witt et al. (2013) across UK, Estonia, and Lithuania, it was found that there were perceptions of mismatch between skill demand and skill supply and there were distinctions between supply side and demand side, and a diversity of skills demanded by employers. When considering life-long learning, a number of different findings were presented. It varied from a recognition of a need for life-long learning, availability of current continuing education as necessary but not always of good quality or having a systematic approach. While life-long learning was becoming easier for some built environment disciplines such as quantity surveying, increased confidence and knowledge were necessary for others. Some students expressed satisfaction with teaching and learning in the built environment disciplines considered in the survey, and opportunities for further developing study programs in these disciplines in higher education institutions were also recognized. Lack of time and funds were identified as barriers to training.

Fourth is the nature of sustainability itself. Simply integrating sustainability (integrating is a good start, though) and climate change considerations in a singular discipline is not enough to tackle real world problems. Using the example of attempting both mitigative and adaptive efforts for the built environment as a learning experience from the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in the USA in 2012, Weisz et al. (2015) reiterate the need to consider a transdisciplinary approach to responses to climate change. In a design approach for reducing storm surges, the authors developed an innovative “blue dunes” concept but recognize its limitations as the “current team of collaborators and partners is merely a proxy for generations to come, each of whom must in turn bear the burden of a new environmental order defined by an ever-changing climate” (854), demonstrating thereby that a multidisciplinary approach is the key to ensuring human life is sustained on this planet.

Du Plessis (2012) presents the concept of a regenerative paradigm where life can continue to evolve on the planet thus focusing on holistic living systems view but where the human-nature relationship is in a co-creative partnership with nature. Not only does this redefine the design process, but it also challenges “what constitutes design and who is qualified as designer” (18). The function of the architect in such a scenario moves from that of a planner/designer to that of a facilitator.

The next section examines how some built environment programs have tried to incorporate sustainability literacy in various higher educational institutions.

Sustainability Literacy in Built Environment Programs: Some Global Examples

Authors have argued for sustainability education to be a fundamental building block in higher education (Dalton and Iyer-Raniga 2017; Iyer-Raniga and Andamon 2014, 2016). Likewise, Opoku and Egbu (2018) argue that sustainability literacy in higher education is essential for students of all disciplines but focus on postgraduate programs in their research. They contend that graduates need to be armed with the ability to think and understand learning experiences that can help make decisions in a complex environment. Understanding and applying sustainability knowledge is a key component of graduate attributes as it has currency in the job market and supports employers to meet their own organizational goals. Built environment educators, therefore, need to be able to cover the content of the curricula and support the delivery of the content through appropriate pedagogical advances.

In examining sustainability literacy for an MSc program in Quantity Surveying at a London Southbank University, Opoku and Egbu (2018) focus on postgraduate learning outcomes. A content analysis undertaken in their research shows that of the three areas of sustainability from a TBL perspective, the environmental thrust is the strongest with an equal attribution for the social and economic pillars of sustainability. A mixed methods approach using an online survey and semistructured interviews was used in this study. The findings of the research showed that a very small number of students felt that sustainability was always delivered throughout the program. While almost 75% of students acknowledged the importance of sustainability knowledge in the current market, a very small number of students (only 2%) were most satisfied with the extent of sustainability integration in the program. In terms of satisfaction with the integration of sustainability literacy in the program, it was clear that most students were unhappy with its integration in the Masters’ program. Some students complained that it was not embedded in the course or badly embedded, and some students preferred a separate course on sustainability.

Guy (2010) argues that to be successful with sustainable design as a fundamental outcome of architecture programs, it is essential to account for a number of different ways environmental problems are identified, defined, translated, valued, and embodied in the built form. Using the example of energy efficiency, he argues that there is a need to fundamentally revise the focus and scope of the debate of sustainable architecture. He posits that appropriateness of the socio-technical systems should drive design outcomes. Only such approaches can support complex problems of our times. Rather than a mono dimensional implementation plan of sustainable design, there lies an opportunity to encourage greater reflectivity in the education of environmental solutions with respect to our built forms.

Continuing in the same vein with reference to architectural design, other authors state that the focus of sustainable design practice should be on practical strategies for closing the gaps between theory and practice, practical investigation of available solutions including negotiating conflicting issues and setting out clear visions at the start of the project and understanding the theoretical underpinnings to support practice (Farmer and Guy 2010). This is similar to the “blue dunes” concept by Weisz et al. (2015) presented in the previous section. Farmer and Guy (2010) support an argument to open a “landscape of possibilities” as an open-ended approach for addressing environmental problems. Further, they also argue that the environmental visions of architectural designs are shaped by socio-technical understanding and are therefore co-evolving with the environmental values and design discourses.

Using the example of disaster resilience in Cuba, Lizarralde et al. (2015) show that theoretical approaches to building resilience for complex systems like the built environment need to be revisited. While vulnerability to disasters is useful for understanding and supporting preparedness for disasters, ultimately, it is the capacity of the system or its resilience to bounce back from a disaster that eventually determines its survival. Resilience can also be seen as the prevention and reaction to disasters. But resilience cannot be achieved through local responses alone, it requires national and local engagement. It also requires institutional engagement and development of interorganizational relationships for effective action across all levels of society.

Using the examples of universities themselves as examples of “walking the talk,” Kuntz et al. (2012) use the study of their own university, an area of research that is still in its infancy. Their study shows the importance of good design to support community approaches rather than individual approaches to study and work. Likewise, a study by Kok et al. (2015) showed a positive relationship between perceived quality of cleanliness, classrooms, classroom conditions, front office, and information and communications technology with study success showing that quality of spaces and services has a positive relationship with a learning institution. Architects working in industry have similarly demonstrated that the value of architectural design is critical and particularly for educational buildings, curriculum needs to be become the basis of the business plan where buildings designed embody the outcome of the design process as part of the business plan. Thus, buildings become and can be used as a teaching aid (Anson and Sandow 2009). By using their own buildings, educational institutions can support monitoring of the building, while ensuring there is accountability of their actions. Students operating the buildings can understand the physics of their own environment, thus learning itself becomes more deeply embedded for the students.

Higher education programs at the undergraduate levels in universities generally focus on ensuring that the programs meet technical capabilities for students over and above the softer skills and certainly, sustainability underpinnings. The technical capabilities are demonstrated by individual programs showing how they have met in the form of learning outcomes. The softer skills are imparted usually through group work and through collaborative projects, often in industry and with industry mentors. In a set of case studies undertaken by MacLaren et al. (2017), the authors set out to understand how collaborative interdisciplinary education in built environment disciplines may be encouraged and supported in higher educational institutions in the UK. They found that the key to success for theoretical and practical shifts was in taking students out of the academic frameworks staff and students operate in, as the existing frameworks are often restrictive. To succeed “interprofessional, intercultural collaboration requires improvisation, both in mind-set and in design technique, and requires a willingness to operate with uncertainty while embracing risk and risking failure” (199).

While not much has been written about interior design, Lee (2014) shows that in this discipline too, importance of sustainability in the curriculum has been debated. While sustainability education has been incorporated, most of the focus has been on the environmental pillar of sustainability, less so on the social and economic dimensions. Through the use of case studies, this research shows that integrated design is critical for sustainable design solutions, supplemented with instructional frameworks to students as appropriate. Lee concludes that “contributing to social sustainability is a new way of looking at design education” (174).

Hamza and Greenwood’s (2009) research in the UK present the importance of higher education in preparing future generations capable of dealing with and integrating energy consciousness amongst built environment practitioners in the design phase. In another example usingdisaster resilience Malalgodaa et al. (2014) highlight the difficulties in preparing students for a career in this niche area. Academics need to be able to respond to labor market issues quickly for not just disaster resilience, but any other type of situation where industry requires upskilling or reskilling. Higher education institutions are not very good at responding to the development of such skill sets as the formal and bureaucratic nature of higher education institutions do not support life-long learning for academics.

With reference to urban design which shapes the built environment of a city, Hack (2015) presents the importance of academic programs for creating more grounded knowledge and theories about urban design. He advocates the importance of transdisciplinary knowledge for supporting better planning outcomes and supports closer links between academia and practice. Focusing on the planning discipline, despite growing evidence of the direct and indirect effects of the built environment on public health, planners who shape the built environment and public health professionals who protect the health of the public rarely interact. There is typically very little interaction between city councils or state government authorities and planners. One way the authors of the research argue (Botchwey et al. 2009) is to develop interdisciplinary courses in planning and public health. It is not difficult to do this; air, water, physical activity, social capital, mental health, and histories of the two disciplines may easily be set up. A model curriculum has been provided by the authors of this study.

It is clear in terms of content, academia does not present a strong focus on sustainability literacy in the curriculum for various built environment programs. Where it may exist is one-off and reflects the fragmented nature of not just the profession itself but the way higher educational institutions approach sustainability literacy. The next section examines academic-industry considerations.

Academic-Industry Considerations for Sustainability

This section presents examples specific to built environment and also considers examples focusing on general graduate attributes for improving employment opportunities, such as internships. A variety of professional development programs abound to support industry professionals. Most professional memberships offer a plethora of continuing educational programs, often, with a caveat of meeting certain professional development points or hours to maintain continued memberships. Some of the professional institutions recognize other peak professional bodies’ continuing education programs because they may not offer in that specialist area or provide flexibility to their members to encourage ongoing education. Ongoing education of professionals is required, reflecting changes in policies, legislative or regulatory changes or just ensuring currency of knowledge and information.

Professional bodies need to consider sustainability knowledge and skills for professional membership. Higher education providers need to work with professional bodies to ensure that sustainability literacy is embedded in higher education competence for professional programs, but universities should also respond to this as essential graduate attributes. Pinnegar et al. (2008) postulate that with pressures of decarbonization upon us, there is an urgent need to ensure that the built environment professions develop new and different work practices and skills. Cities as the engines for built environment also need to adapt; they need new institutional and governance structures, chief among this is innovation and adaptation of new sustainability goals and outcomes. Finch et al. (2016) have shown that employability of graduates can be effectively framed in the context of strategic management theory. The authors argue that by using the Dynamic Capability (DC) framework, graduates can take specific steps to enhance their own competitive advantage in the labor market. Four individual resources are required according to them, taking into account their own DC: intellectual, personality, meta-kill, and job-specific. Graduates need to reflect on their intrinsic and learned resources to create a systematic competitive advantage that brings results. Thus, graduates being armed with purely technical knowledge are insufficient.

Industry has also supported the need to bring “green” design, construction, and operation mainstream. In an article, Beyond Fad, Behnisch (2009) argues that the damage to the environment is a reality with grave consequences. Economic facts in the face of an economy that is severely affected by limited financial resources make a more convincing business case. He says that architects, designers and engineers need to strengthen and not lessen efforts to convince clients to build truly sustainable buildings that are flexible to support future generations. Tight fiscal budgets also provide opportunities for clients, owners, and building occupiers to support behavioral practices that support thermal comfort in indoor spaces where less or little energy is being used. Similarly, Witt et al. (2013) present a conceptual framework for the current mismatch between the skills requirements of the industry and the competence of graduates in the built environment sector. Their study of development of the framework and its testing calls for a closer representation of the education-industry context and for further research in this area.

In the Australian context, research by Hurlimann et al. (2018) shows that the construction industry has limited potential to act on climate change adaptation and mitigation given its place in the supply chain. As design, build and operation typically involve different stakeholders; the motive, timelines, and profit margins are not consistent across the various stakeholders. Despite international and limited national pressures, the construction industry is not really motivated to put climate change front and center, with industry leading design, build, and operation considering climate change and sustainability outcomes.

In another study focusing on Australia, Poon and Brownlow (2016) examined the impact of practical experience and factors related to study style on employment of built environment graduates. The disciplines considered were architecture, construction, real estate, urban planning, and regional studies. While practical experience had a positive relationship with employment, it did not matter which university students graduated from. Those graduates that worked full time and studied part time in the final years of their program had higher chances of getting full time jobs post-graduation.

Tucker et al.’s (2018) study on including indigenous knowledge in built environment shows minimal inclusion in built environment programs across Australia. Indigenous knowledge is part of a number of SDGs particularly on reduced inequalities (SDG 10) and peace, justice, and strong institutions (SDG 16). Beyond electives and self-selected study over thesis projects, there is little presence of indigenous teaching in Australian universities’ built environment programs. This lack has also been acknowledged by peak industry professional bodies in architecture, planning, and landscape architecture. The solution lies in supporting indigenous education through participation of indigenous teaching, research, and service programs. Some of the best examples of indigenous engagement may be found in communities where successful examples of practice exist.

The value of internships for professional careers in the built environment sector from the perspective of industry practitioner was studied by Lian et al. (2018) focusing on Singapore. Using mixed methods approach, consisting of questionnaire surveys, in-depth interviews, and focus group discussions on stakeholders such as architects, civil engineers, facility managers, project managers, and quantity surveyors, the study showed that some professions value internships, while others do so to a lesser extent. The study could not ascertain conclusively that internships are absolutely necessary to increase undergraduate employability prospects. Civil engineers, quantity surveyors, and project managers valued internships over architects and facility managers. These professionals that valued internships also felt that internships were important for employment of graduates and were open to employing them.

Kestle and Potangaroa’s paper (2014), Are we listening, are we learning?, highlights the fact that we are not very good at learning from “lessons learned.” We are good at vision 2020 in hindsight, to plan and write up lessons learned, but not closing the feedback loop from what we have learnt to put into practice. Haapio’s paper (2012) on sustainable urban communities examines the use of assessment tools which need to be taught to professionals so as to present desired outcomes. In a study featuring largely developing and emerging economies, Ishengoma and Vaaland (2016) set out to identify the most important university-industry linkage activities for enhancing employability from among student, teachers, and industry. The authors found that such university industry-linkages raise the employability of students, in particular student internships in companies, joint industry-student projects, and support the role of industry in modernizing university curricula.

The next two sections present the discussions, followed by conclusions.


The preceding sections have shown that while the built environment is a key player in resource use, emissions, and jobs growth, the professions serving the built environment have not embraced opportunities for change and prepared themselves for a future decarbonized world.

As stated, the world is becoming more urbanized and the bulk of the world’s population is going to reside in the megacities of the developing world. Planning and designing, building, and operating these megacities in a sustainable manner are needed urgently. It has been shown that potential for green jobs is growing and these jobs need to respond to a new labor market focusing on new challenges.

Higher educational institutions have typically not responded to these new labor demands or have not responded well to these labor demands. While universities continue to engage with research specialists who are often experts in a narrow field (and often with little or no industry experience), government and industry are seeking collaborative practice where specialist knowledge may be practically applied and often commercially viable. There is clearly a gap here.

Numerous examples have been presented to demonstrate that sustainability and climate change literacy in built environment programs, practical experiences for students to ease transition to employment in the form of internships and the like, and actually learning from real life examples of disasters, or responses to disasters continues to validate the mismatch between what industry wants, what governments and other international agreements call for, and what higher education institutions currently provide. Despite this, the reverse is also true albeit small in number. There are some examples to show that university industry-linkages raise the employability of students and industry may be used to support in bringing university curricula on par with current needs of the industry and assist in dealing with challenges.

The focus of sustainability literacy has to be in the undergraduate programs of the built environment professions. Focusing at the Masters level only where most universities have currently focused their efforts does not assist the industry, because by then, the “horse has bolted.” Most university graduates end up in the work force and only a small proportion go back to the university for higher education to qualify for a Masters’ degree and even less number are interested in a PhD. If teaching sustainability literacy is the focus of postgraduate programs only, a small proportion of students benefit with sustainability knowledge. By incorporating sustainability literacy as part of undergraduate programs, students will be armed with key theoretical underpinnings, providing opportunities for practical applications in the work place.

With Masters’ qualifications, students often opt for course work rather than a research degree. The exception of course are those students who are seeking to establish themselves as consultants in a niche area (who often have several years of industry experience themselves), who may either undertake Masters’ research or further advance this into doctoral research, or even convert into doctoral research when they are undertaking their Masters’ degree. The “massification” of higher education is shifting the landscape somewhat. With the exception of students from developing countries studying in developed countries seeking to build their capacities to be more competitive in the market in their home countries or seeking to settle overseas, the market for higher education in built environment at least in Australia is limited compared to other disciplines such as the sciences, engineering, and humanities.

To keep up with demands of global changes in the profession, knowledge of sustainability issues, climate change, disaster management, and associated issues also require universities to become agile and flexible. The bureaucratic nature of university governance and parallel demands of accreditation of professional programs by specific built environment peak professional bodies do not support long term vision and outcomes for society.

The traditional one-off student engagement with industry that is common in built environment programs and a comparatively large thrust of traditional face-to-face mode of teaching and learning, engagement in traditional monodisciplinary approaches to research and lack of collaboration with other higher educational institutions, industries, professional bodies, and communities are major challenges for these institutions to operate effective lifelong learning and become adaptable to the needs to the community and the changing nature of our built environment.

Governance itself does not act as a barrier for leadership in higher educational institutions as identified by Witt et al. (2013). There is increasing pressure to move to problem-based learning, to multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, and to ensure that the learning outcomes of graduates are able to cater to an alignment with industry requirements. In most countries, industry aspirations for future professional practice and higher educational research programs are not aligned.


This chapter has shown that there needs to be fundamental changes made in our current approach to built environment education, and the changes need to be made now. Firstly, higher educational institutions of built environment programs need to become more responsive and accommodating of our current global challenges. Teachers themselves need ongoing professional education so that they understand the fundamentals of sustainability, climate change, adaptation, mitigation, resilience, disaster management, and attendant implications on built environment graduates. Higher educational institutions need to start thinking how they will, in turn, support students and staff and use their campuses as living laboratories of showcasing sustainability in practice. This is critical in the emerging markets that also have a younger demographic going to universities, where universities are being set up to cater to the needs of the labor market and particularly where built environment programs are being established. Moreover, these emerging markets are also vulnerable to disasters and are in great need of capacity building. Learning from the experience of the developed world, developing countries may be able to fast track their journey into a decarbonized world.

Secondly, integration of sustainability and related knowledge alone is insufficient. Ensuring that students benefit from critical thinking required in the work place requires rethinking how built environment programs are taught and how learning outcomes may be embedded. It also requires engagement beyond the current approaches of a mono disciplinary perspective. Thirdly, built environment professions and the peak bodies of these professions need to put pressure back on universities to ensure that graduates are able to have the requisite skills and knowledge to support transition into the work force as peak professional bodies often accredit various built environment programs. The key advantage for industry is less funds spent on reskilling their work force. Such an outcome requires better engagement between academia and industry and trialing models of engagement that benefit both parties, while also meeting academic requirements and providing appropriate solutions for clients and users of the built environment. Fourthly, as most students of built environment programs join the world of work after completing their degrees, sustainability and climate change knowledge needs to be fostered into the core of the programs, not in the periphery as electives or postgraduate courses. It needs to become essential attributes of students graduating from higher educational institutions.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Property, Construction and Project ManagementRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Samuel Borges Barbosa
    • 1
  1. 1.Federal University of ViçosaRio ParanaíbaBrazil