At the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, there is unprecedented awareness of the need for a transformation in development, to meet the needs of the present while also preserving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. However, within engineering, educators still tend to regard such development as an ‘aspect’ of engineering rather than an overarching meta-context, with ad hoc and highly variable references to topics. Furthermore, within a milieu of interpretations there can appear to be conflicting needs for achieving sustainable development, which can be confusing for students and educators alike. Different articulations of sustainable development can create dilemmas around conflicting needs for designers and researchers, at the level of specific designs and (sub-) disciplinary analysis. Hence sustainability issues need to be addressed at a meta-level using a whole of system approach, so that decisions regarding these dilemmas can be made. With this appreciation, and in light of curriculum renewal challenges that also exist in engineering education, this paper considers how educators might take the next step to move from sustainable development being an interesting ‘aspect’ of the curriculum, to sustainable development as a meta-context for curriculum renewal. It is concluded that capacity building for such strategic considerations is critical in engineering education.