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Unit information: Sustainable Development in 2018/19

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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 Professor. Chris Preist
Open unit status Open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science


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 four key challenge areas within Sustainable Development. Examples of these include challenges such as (a) Access to Fresh Water (b) Climate Change and decarbonisation of Energy Supply (c) Marine Life preservation Sustainable Fishing; 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.

The unit will include a number of workshops which will encourage students to apply the insights of these different (inter)disciplinary approaches to a specific case study, and produce an authoritative wiki as a report on it.

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, their philosophical underpinnings, and their critiques.
  2. Be able to identify the global challenges which are grouped under the heading of Sustainable Development, relate these to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and explain at least four of these in more detail.
  3. 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.
  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 in a wiki.

Teaching details

Online content including videos, written materials and interactive exercises, equivalent to 24 hours of lecture content.

Six 2-hour workshops.

Assessment Details

50%: c1000 word structured report reflecting on key personal insights from the course, supported with a portfolio produced from participation in the online activities and face to face workshops. [ILOs 1,2,3].

50%: Groupwork wiki report of c.2500 words on a specific Sustainable Development challenge. [ILO 3, 4]

Reading and References

Elliott, J.A. An Introduction to Sustainable Development, 4th Edition 2013.Routledge Perspectives on Development.

Blewitt, J. Understanding Sustainable Development, 2nd Edition 2014. Routledge/Earthscan 978-0-415-70782-4

The Earth Charter:

Sustainable Development Goals -