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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Joao Costa, Darwin College, 2016-17

Joao is from Portugal and earned an MSc in Civil Engineering at the Instituto Superior Tecnico in Lisbon. Following his graduation, he enjoyed a career as a civil engineer for eight years, when he had the opportunity to work on numerous projects in Portugal, in the Middle East and in the UK. These projects included a hydropower plant, an underground tunnel, highways and infrastructure, among other construction schemes.

After completing the MPhil, Joao shifted to working in sustainable development with a focus on hydropower and freshwater management. He is currently sustainability specialist for the International Hydropower Association. 

Dissertation title:  Scoping the Potential of Stormwater as a Source of Energy

Students report:

Why did you do the ESD MPhil?

Being involved in construction management was exciting and rewarding as an engineer. Nevertheless, I felt that the purpose of my work was, in a practical sense, disengaged from the main issues that affect our world today, which I believed to be climate change and sustainable energy provision. Eventually, working on a hydropower project further stimulated my curiosity about the complexities of energy generation, sustainable development and its social, environmental and economic impacts.  For this reason, I made the decision to adjust the direction of my career and realised that the ESD MPhil could be the perfect stepping stone to make that transition. Ultimately, it was much more than that.

How did it help you?

The course has taught me the essential concepts of sustainability, energy systems, climate change, resiliency and systems thinking, to name just a few. All these notions helped me to develop a different way of approaching complex problems and expecting counterintuitive outcomes of conventional engineering solutions. Overall, I have learned to make confident decisions in the uncertain scenarios of our changing world.

Furthermore, I would highlight the networking with colleagues and lecturers, as well as alumni. These personal interactions were a source of knowledge and intellectual stimulation that complemented perfectly the formal coursework.

Finally, taking this course helped me to understand the subject within sustainability which I wanted to explore more thoroughly and ultimately to dedicate my ensuing career.

What are you doing now?

I now work in London (and travel around the world) as a Sustainability Specialist at the International Hydropower Association (IHA). Our mission is to advance sustainable hydropower by building and sharing knowledge on its role in renewable energy systems, responsible freshwater management and climate change solutions.

In IHA, I primarily work on the development and implementation of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment (HSA) Protocol – a framework for assessing projects against a comprehensive range of social, environmental, technical and economic considerations. Additionally, my work focuses on sharing knowledge about sustainable hydropower through training and capacity building projects worldwide.

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Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.