This paper describes the way in which the Department of Industrial Engineering of the University of Sonora in Mexico is facing the challenge posed by sustainable development. In order to integrate the principles of Agenda 21, the Group of Sustainable Development has designed an educational model called ‘sustainable cell’. This educational model is based on a proactive conscience towards ecological and social problems, which could ensure in the future a responsible participation of these professionals at their workplaces, by the application of the universal values: to develop better processes and products that would cause a lower impact on nature, and transmit these ideas to their employees, co-workers and superiors. Even though the sustainable cell was designed to be applied in higher education, it is feasible for application at any level of education. © 1999 European Society for Engineering Education.