Woman Beder, Sharon

Environmentalist and Professor

Written by Judy Lambert (edited from blogs prepared by Jane Elix), Australian National University

Sharon Beder was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1956, the grand-daughter of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who had escaped the pre-World War 2 anti-Jewish pogroms. Her schooling was in Lower Hutt and she obtained her initial degree in Civil Engineering at Christchurch University. Her travel to see the rest of the world did not get beyond Sydney, and since then she has lived with her Australian husband in Sydney, Wollongong and more recently on the New South Wales far south coast.

Sharon worked as an engineer at a time when few women took up that career and even fewer became leaders. Her first environmental activism emerged as a member of the Society for Social Responsibility in Engineering (SSRE), a professional organisation interested in the social impacts of science, technology and engineering. After some time as SSRE's newsletter editor, Sharon became the Society's president. Her interest in the impacts of sewage pollution on Sydney's beaches saw Sharon undertake a PhD on sewerage treatment, with that work resulting in extensive media coverage and a major independent Commission of Inquiry into the problems she had identified. She was subsequently elected chair of the Environmental Engineering Branch of the Institute of Engineers, Sydney.

After completing her PhD, Sharon was appointed as the initial cross-disciplinary environmental education coordinator at the University of Sydney before moving to the University of Wollongong in 1992. Her book, The Nature of Sustainable Development became a major environmental text at several universities, both in Australia and overseas. As a result of her 1997 work, Global Spin, Sharon came to be recognised internationally as a leading academic in critiquing environmental economics and particularly its application to global warming. Her efforts to introduce social responsibility and environmental awareness into the engineering profession and engineering education led to her receiving the World Technology Award in 2001. In 2004, she was named by the Bulletin Magazine as one of Australia's most influential engineers.

Throughout her academic and activist career, Sharon has written 10 books and around 150 articles, book chapters and conference papers, many of which are accessible on her webpage (http://www/uow.edu.au/~sharonb/about.html). She has been an invited keynote speaker at conferences all over the world and her teaching materials, websites, books and articles are used by universities in many parts of the world. Keen to focus more on writing and research, Sharon is currently an Honorary Visiting Professor at the University of Wollongong, where she supervises several PhD students. Describing herself as a shy person, Sharon sees herself more as a leader in environmental thinking, rather than focusing on leadership in one of the larger environmental organisations.

Published Resources


  • Beder, Sharon, The Nature of Sustainable Development, 2nd edn, Scribe Publications, Melbourne, Victoria, 1996. Details
  • Beder, Sharon, Global Spin: The Corporate Assault on Environmentalism, Vermont, Chelsea Green, United States of America, 1998. Details

Online Resources

See also