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IP201 Sustainability

The Sustainable Development Goals

Dr Lauren Bird

Core module
Terms 1-3, 22 weeks
20 workshops
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 (2021-2022)

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 talk about and visualize sustainability?

  • Sustainability indicators, indices, and other considerations in measurement
  • Concepts, methodologies, and system mapping

III. Exploring topics in Sustainability

  • Topics may include: health, gender, social exclusion, food systems

Group presentations (week 9)

Term 2

IV. Further issues in Sustainability

Topics can include:

  • Corporate social responsibility, the supply chain, production and circular economy
  • Environmental issues such as water, plastics, pollution
  • Social issues in sustainability
  • Governmental policies and approaches

VI. Critical and Theoretical approaches to Sustainability

  • Critical approaches to sustainability
  • Revisiting sustainability frameworks and education

Group presentations (week 6)

Term 3

Coursework completion

Assessment (2021-2022)


2,000 word response paper (25%)

2,000 word critical response (25%)

Group and Self-evaluation (5%)

Group research proposal (25%)


2 x 15 minute presentations (20%)


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.

Employability Skills

  • Teamwork - Collaborating with peers and multiple partners on project briefs involving sharing ideas, knowledge and best practice.
  • Time and Self-Management - Developed through planning and managing weekly tasks, working towards agreed group schedules, as well as on your own initiative without supervision.
  • Written Communication – Developed through writing critical academic essays, presentations and a research proposal, demonstrating critical writing and persuasive writing styles.
  • Self-Awareness - Identifying your contribution and critically analysing your limitations as well as areas for improvement through group and self-evaluation.