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IP201 Sustainability

The Sustainable Development Goals

Dr Lauren Bird

Core module
Terms 1-3, 22 weeks
20 workshops + 4 hours' exam revision + 4 film showings
Not available to students outside the School for Cross-Faculty Studies

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Principal Aims

This module complements its sister Year Two core module in Consumption, with each exploring a major organizing concept of contemporary society from different intellectual perspectives. Where Consumption draws on cultural interventions and sociological and historical theoretical frameworks, Sustainability instead focusses on contemporary ecological, economic, and regulatory challenges and the development of effective evidence-based policy.

The module aims to provide you with in-depth and holistic study of the topical issue of Sustainability using a multi-disciplinary Problem-Based Learning approach. You'll examine a number of dimensions of sustainability, viewed from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, and acquire a detailed evidence-based understanding of current controversies, debates and theories.

In addition to an understanding of the factors inherent in a broad definition of sustainability, you'll be encouraged to explore feasible policy approaches to address the most pressing issues, and to have an awareness of the barriers to effective policymaking in the sustainability sphere.

The problems explored throughout this module revolve around questions of defining and understanding sustainability, the challenges of measuring and assessing it, opportunities and limitations in individual action, issues in business and globalisation, and the sustainability of population and society.

Principal Learning Outcomes

By the end of the module, you'll be able to:

  • Demonstrate advanced cognitive skills such as critical analysis, source-text analysis, quantitative and qualitative research methods and communication skills;
  • Utilise meta-cognitive skills developed through Problem-Based Learning such as planning how to approach a learning task, identifying the appropriate strategies to solve a problem, monitoring your own comprehension, self-assessing and self-correcting, and becoming aware of your own learning, strengths, and weaknesses;
  • Demonstrate both knowledge and understanding of the challenges inherent in conceptualising and defining sustainability in a holistic sense (including contextual, ethical, political), and the skills required to deal with such complexity (such as systems thinking);
  • Interpret and critically respond to sustainability-related issues through subject-specific knowledge relating to measures used to assess sustainability (and their limitations), the role of businesses and the relationship between economic growth and sustainability, the debates around population growth, and the tension between urban and rural development; and
  • Articulate your own individual framework for narrating and explaining sustainability.

Syllabus (2020-2021)

The module’s structure is based on 5 problems around the broad issue of Sustainability. These are followed by a study of the current critical and theoretical approaches to addressing the broad issue.

Term 1

I. What is, and what isn’t sustainability?

  • Introduction: understanding complexity, systems thinking, and the emergence and development of sustainability thought
  • The mastery of nature: an embedded ideological bias
  • Reconstructing the sustainability narrative: separating myth from reality; Sustainability and Sustainable Development

II. How can we measure sustainability?

  • Sustainability indicators, indices, and other considerations in measurement
  • Concepts, methodologies, and data tools to assess water use

III. How do we engage individuals and ‘the public’ in sustainability?

  • Individual behaviour, sustainable consumption, and the power of behavioural cues
  • Community action and the power of coordination
  • Education for sustainability
  • Social media, engagement, and tools for creating agents of change

Group presentations (week 10)

Term 2

IV. The issues of business and globalisation

  • Corporate social responsibility and the supply chain
  • Closing loops in production and the circular economy
  • Globalisation: Challenges and opportunities

V. Dealing with trends in population and living

  • Population challenges in the 21st century
  • Rural livelihoods and the sustainability of traditional culture
  • Urbanisation and the sustainable city

VI. Critical and Theoretical approaches to Sustainability

  • Ecocriticism and critical approaches to sustainability

Group presentations (week 10)

Term 3

I. Revision

Assessment (2020-2021)


2,000 word response paper (20%)

2,000 word critical response (20%)

Portfolio of blog entries (5%)


2 x 15 minute presentations (15%)


1 x 2 hour final exam (40%)


The module will be taught using two textbooks (both available as e-books from the library):

  • Kopnina, Helen and Eleanor Soreman-Ouimet, eds. Sustainability : Key Issues. Routledge (2015)
  • Sibbe, Arran, ed. The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy. Green Books (2009)

An extensive reading list of additional texts, specific book chapters and articles will be set for additional reading.