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Unit information: Sustainable Development in 2020/21

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Sustainable Development
Unit code UNIV10001
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Michalopoulou
Open unit status Open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

A trailer is available for this unit here and social media shorts here

This unit will provide an interdisciplinary introduction to the concepts behind the challenges of Sustainable Development. It will draw on content from a diverse range of academics at UoB, showing how interdisciplinary research and practice can help (i) understand the challenges and controversies of sustainable development; (ii) understand the approaches used to explore potential ways forward.

In it, students will gain an overview of the history and philosophy behind the idea of Sustainable Development, the particular challenges that are captured in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and critical perspectives on these. They will gain a more in-depth understanding of key challenge areas within Sustainable Development. Previous examples of these include the challenges of (a) Access to Fresh Water (b) Climate Change and decarbonisation of Energy Supply (c) Meat consumption and (d) deforestation. These may change from year to year.

These challenges will in turn be used as examples to show how different disciplines and interdisciplinary approaches can be used to provide insight and ways forward. These approaches will be presented under five broad headings: Science; Economics and Legal Institutions; Politics and Justice; Individual and Organisational Behaviour Change; Engineering and Innovation.

This unit takes a blended learning approach and students are required to engage with online content before attending weekly workshops. This content will be delivered via the Blackboard Online Learning Environment. These will cover the different interdisciplinary approaches and will involve reading documents and viewing videos of mini-lectures and case studies.

The unit will include a number of workshops which will encourage students to apply the insights from the online materials to specific case studies and critically discuss how contemporary sustainability challenges intersect with and influence our day-to-day lives.

The unit aims are:

  • to develop a broad understanding of the challenges of sustainable development, and how different disciplines can provide insight as to how they may be addressed.
  • to invite comparisons and contrasts of experience across a number of different sustainable development challenges.
  • to help students appreciate the problems, tensions and controversies in the application of sustainable development ideals in practical circumstances
  • to introduce students to the experience of inter-disciplinary working focused on a specific challenge

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will:

  1. Be able to understand and define the key principles behind Sustainable Development, and relate these to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  2. Be able to recognise ideas and concepts from their own discipline, along with those from others, in relation to different sustainability challenges, and critically reflect on their interplay.
  3. Be able to analyse and critically discuss how contemporary sustainability challenges intersect with and influence our day-to-day lives.
  4. Be able to work in an interdisciplinary team to analyse and critically evaluate challenges and potential ways forward in response to a specific sustainable development case study, and present their findings.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a blended combination of online and, if possible, in-person teaching, including

  • online resources
  • synchronous group workshops, seminars, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous individual activities and guided reading for students to work through at their own pace
  • practical work; students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete practical work, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Information

50%: maximum 2500-word structured individual report discussing key personal insights from the course, supported with a portfolio produced from participation in online activities and face to face workshops. [ILOs 1,2,3].

50%: Group-work report (maximum 1000 words per student in the group, group size normally 4-5 students) on a specific Sustainable Development challenge. Marks will be awarded individually and may be subject to adjustment due to peer review and staff assessment [ILO 4]

Reading and References

Essential reading

Sustainable Development Goals -

Planetary Boundaries:

Raworth K, 2017, Doughnut Economics, London Random House

United Nations, 2015, Paris Agreement

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), 2018, Global Warming for 1.5o C, Summary for Policy makers

The Earth Charter: