Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Achieving Sustainability: Potentials and Barriers

Achieving Sustainability: Potentials and Barriers

Sustainability is the most significant societal challenge of our age and it is therefore imperative that we all engage with this critical topic that occupies such a central role in our lives.

Earth is the only home we have. Its living systems, on which we depend, are being destroyed at an increasing rate by human activity. Finding how we can exist sustainably within those systems is what this module is about. It is not merely an academic topic, but an urgent matter that requires making personal and collective decisions about how we live.

Who is this module open to?

Open to all intermediate level students at Warwick, except for students in the SCFS, who are already familiar with its key themes.

  • GD213-15 - Intermediate, for 15 CATS credit in current year (2020/21)
  • GD214-15 - Finalist, taken in intermediate year for 15 CATS credit to final year (2021/22)

Key dates

This module will take place in term 3.

Exact dates for 2021/22 tbc.


No costs have been identified for this module.

What's special about our modules?

This programme will challenge your thinking, develop your confidence and open up a world of new opportunities. You’ll consider new ideas, apply theory to real world issues working in teams and individually, and develop new networks, connections and friendships. This will provide you strong analytical and research methods skills which also enhance your employability profile for a globalised world of work, derived from a transformative blend of online learning and intercultural engagement.

Access to Intercultural Training and Undergraduate Research schemes will provide further enhancement of your skills.

The intensive nature of our course lets you to focus purely on your chosen modules.

You should expect one to two weeks of daily face-to-face sessions (on campus or online as appropriate and possible) and one to two weeks of online activities. The aim is to work in groups consisting of Monash and Warwick students during the module. Assessments will consist of a mix of group and individual activities.

Where will you be taught?

All intensive modules will be based at Warwick central campus and selected European locations relevant to module content (Covid-19 permitting). Our modules are designed to be taught in an intensive blended way, combining physical teaching, where possible, and online activities. We have the flexibility to move wholly online if it's needed too.

Whichever teaching structure transpires, all participants will be expected to attend all lectures and group work activities in real time, be it in person or online. As modules are intensive there is not expected to be free time during the teaching period for you to undertake other activities.

Dr Maria Gavris

Maria is a political economist, with a particular interest in the macroeconomic and governance aspects of sustainable development. Her interest in and passion for interdisciplinarity date back to her first degree in Economics and Politics (University of Leeds).

Her doctoral research was an interdisciplinary case study, which combined perspectives in comparative and international political economy (models of capitalism, theories of hegemony), modern history and employment relations to analyse the multifaceted power relations at the heart of the EU which currently inhibit good governance and call into question the sustainability of the European Economic and Monetary Union.

Prior to joining the School for Cross-Faculty Studies in September 2020, Maria worked at Warwick Business School and the University of Sheffield, on projects around labour governance, in collaboration with the ILO.

Besides Achieving Sustainability, Maria also teaches on Economic Principles of Global Sustainable Development and the Global Sustainable Development Project.

Module aims

The aim of this module is to explore sustainability and sustainable development from a variety of cross-disciplinary perspectives through a holistic and systemic approach. The module therefore focuses on the three main pillars of sustainable development (economic, environmental, social) as well as good governance as a necessary fourth pillar, and the interactions between them. In so doing, the module also aims to provide students with a variety of sources of knowledge that will allow them to make connections between their own experiences and the theme of sustainability.

Other aims:

  • To make students aware of the urgent issues around sustainability, sustainable development and how they are relevant to their own study area
  • To facilitate conversations between students and teachers in different subject areas, on the key topics of sustainable development.
  • To approach sustainability from a variety of perspectives, in order to encourage students to develop their own views and critique by examining how 'sustainability' is used in different ways in different disciplines and contexts
  • To make students aware of work outside their own subjects that may be relevant to what they study in their own degrees

Outline syllabus

This is an indicative module outline only to give an indication of the sort of topics that may be covered. Actual sessions held may differ.

The module will introduce the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as well as critiques of the SDGs. It will provide an overview of the three main pillars of sustainability - economic, social, and environmental - and will explore good governance as a necessary fourth pillar, focusing on the role of the state in development, from the early state-led models of development to the post-Washington Consensus landscape, multilevel governance and more place-based approaches to governance. The module will also address the problem of defining what is actually meant by ‘sustainability’ and the challenges in achieving it, from a range of interdisciplinary perspectives.

The module will be taught so as to be accessible to undergraduates from all faculties. Students will not require detailed scientific, mathematical or social science skills or background.

Indicative content:

  • Week 1: What is sustainability?; The Sustainable Development Goals; Unsustainability: some causes and possible cures; The Economic Pillar of Sustainable Development
  • Week 2: The Environmental Pillar of Sustainable Development; The Social Pillar of Sustainable Development; Good Governance as a necessary fourth pillar of Sustainable Development
  • There will also be a tutorial on reflective writing in week 2 to help students prepare their first piece of assessment. At the start of week 3, students will have one to one supervision meetings with the module convenor to discuss their essay plans

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Understand key concepts related to the theme of sustainability (sustainable development, unsustainable behaviours, pillars of sustainability)
  • Engage with different interdisciplinary perspectives on sustainability
  • Use evidence to evaluate different policies in terms of their sustainability implications
  • Understand the interconnections between the different pillars of sustainable development
  • Critically evaluate the main theoretical and empirical issues relating to what is sustainable and what is not
  • Carry out independent research and develop reflective thinking
  • Apply analytical and problem-solving skills to specific sustainable development problems

Indicative reading list

  • Chang, H-J. (2003), Kicking away the ladder : development strategy in historical perspective, London : Anthem
  • Edgar et al., (2014) Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features. Nature 506: 216-220
  • Jackson, T. (2017) Prosperity without growth : foundations for the economy of tomorrow, London: Routledge
  • Klein, N. (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, London: Allen Lane
  • Murphy, K. (2012) The social pillar of sustainable development: a literature review and framework for policy analysis, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy
  • Pettifor, A. (2019) The Case for the Green New Deal, London: Verso
  • Raworth, K. (2017) Doughnut economics : seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist, London : Random House
  • Rees, W. (2010) What’s blocking sustainability? Human nature, cognition, and denial, Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 6:2, 13-25
  • Routledge International Handbook of Sustainable Development (2015), London: Routledge
  • Spaiser, V. et al. (2017) The sustainable development oxymoron: quantifying and modelling the incompatibility of sustainable development goals, International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, 24:6, 457-470
  • Townsend et al. “Essentials of Ecology”, 3rd Edition, Blackwell Publishing
  • World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Additional texts, specific book chapters and articles will be set for further reading.

Research element

A 2,500 word essay


The module is designed to provide the students with an understanding of relationships between the different disciplinary areas within sustainability and sustainable development, particularly Economics, Environmental Science, Politics, Sociology, Philosophy. It also invites to the students to make connections with other disciplinary areas covered in their main study programme. It provides the students with a critical understanding of dominant traditions and methodologies associated with the main phenomena covered in the module and enables the students to transcend disciplinary boundaries. The interdisciplinary course cohort provides contact opportunities and learning to see from different perspectives is a core aspect of the learning experience.


The module draws on cases from different contexts, including different geopolitical areas, professional environments and linguistic contexts. The content and assessment invite the students to reflect on the societal relevance in different environments of the phenomena covered in the module. The assessment involves students working in groups with academic and ideally non-academic stakeholders which (will) allow for a global and local outlook to be built into the module’s work. The international and diverse course cohort provides contact opportunities and learning to see from different perspectives is a core aspect of the learning experience.

Subject specific skills

  • An advanced understanding and critical perspective on the relevance of sustainability discourses for different disciplines
  • An understanding of the four pillars of sustainable development and the interactions between them
  • An ability to engage with different outlooks on sustainability and use evidence to evaluate a variety of policies relating to the topic
  • An ability to articulate a detailed and evidenced-based account of unsustainable economic, environmental and social activities on societies, individuals and habitats

Transferable skills

  • Analytical skills:
    • Find, evaluate and use previous research at a level appropriate for a second/final year module
    • Use appropriate analytic methods to analyse research data on sustainability
    • Read academic papers effectively in the context of an intensive programme
  • Reflective writing
  • Work effectively with others in group tasks and in teams
  • Plan and manage time
  • Communicate clearly and effectively in discussions
  • Communicate ideas effectively in writing

Study time

Type Required
Seminars 6 sessions of 2 hours (8%)
Tutorials 1 session of 1 hour (1%)
Project supervision 1 session of 1 hour (1%)
Online learning (independent) 3 sessions of 2 hours (4%)
Private study

75 hours (50%)

  • Week 1 (prep before teaching): Preparatory and background readings (35 hours independent learning)
  • Week 2 (teaching): Readings for seminars/workshops, contributions to online discussion boards (20 hours) + writing reflective piece (counted in assessment hours)
  • Week 3 (teaching): Readings for seminars/workshops, contributions to online discussion boards (20 hours) + writing reflective piece (counted in assessment hours)
  • Week 4 (after teaching): Essay writing (counted in assessment hours)
55 hours (37%)
Total 150 hours


You must pass all assessment components to pass the module:

Credit in current year
  Weighting Study time
Essay on sustainability 60% 35 hours

This is the main piece of assessment for this module. Students will choose an essay question from 5 set questions which cover the main themes of the module.

Reflections on sustainability 40% 20 hours

A reflective piece which will enable students to make connections between the themes of the module and their own experiences.

Carry credit
  Weighting Study time
Essay on sustainability 70% 40 hours

This is the main piece of assessment for this module. Students will choose an essay question from 5 set questions which cover the main themes of the module.

Reflections on sustainability 30% 15 hours

A reflective piece which will enable students to make connections between the themes of the module and their own experiences.

Feedback on assessment

  • Formative feedback on essay plans will be provided in the project supervision sessions at the start of the week after teaching
  • Detailed feedback for written assignments will be provided via Tabula

Before you apply

You can take a maximum of two modules with AISP, and cannot take them at the same time.

Please note

  • You will need to check with your department before applying to take an AISP module
  • You are expected to fully engage and participate in the module, including in any group activities, if not your registration will be cancelled
  • Module details provided on these pages are for guidance in selection only. The most up-to-date module details will always be in the module catalogue and subsequently individual module pages (moodle/my.wbs)
  • All modules require minimum numbers to run. This is set by each module leader.

How to apply

If you want to make an enquiry before applying, please contact Sam Brook at Sam dot L dot Brook at warwick dot ac dot uk

Apply online now