Sustainability as a 'super wicked' problem: opportunities and limits for engineering methodology

Mike Yearworth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

23 Citations (Scopus)
415 Downloads (Pure)


Characterising sustainability as a “super-wicked” problem alerts us to issues beyond where current thinking about problem structuring enables engineers to deal with the merely wicked. Time is running out, no-one authority is in control, we are the cause of the problem anyway, and we inherently discount the future in our every day decision-making. When these are added to the usual definitions of wicked and messy problems, which only now are we addressing in engineering education, what are the potential limits and opportunities for the methodology of engineering in sustainability? Some modest extrapolations are discussed, based on the results from a recent research project in addressing energy planning in a city development zone. Analysis from another case study is also presented, which provides some triangulation of the ideas developed in this paper.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-47
Number of pages11
JournalIntelligent Buildings International
Issue number1
Early online date18 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • super-wicked problems
  • messy problems
  • problem structuring methods (PSMs)
  • engineering education
  • sustainability


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