Sustainable Development MSc

For over 20 years, the University of Surrey has led the way in environmental research. From investigating people’s attitudes to the environment to understanding how nanotechnology can enhance future solar power solutions – environment and sustainability researchers take a truly collaborative approach to seeking new sustainable solutions for a more prosperous, equitable, safe and secure future.

Why Surrey?

This programme is run by the Centre for Environmental Strategy (CES), which is a leading centre for environmental and sustainability-related research and postgraduate teaching in the UK. CES accommodates a wide range of disciplines dedicated to resolving environmental problems. The programmes prepare a new generation of environmental professionals for the myriad of challenges ahead of them.

Several high-profile guest lecturers have assisted with the delivery of some of the modules. CES modules make maximum use of guest lecturers, drawing on the practical skills and experience of key experts from government and industry to complement the theoretical components of the modules offered.

For example, Jonathon Porritt, former chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, gives a guest lecture on the Sustainable Development Applications module, analysing the standing of sustainable development in business and policy making.

The extensive expertise of CES academics and researchers is also drawn upon in modules. Professor Tim Jackson, advisor to the government and international bodies and author of the seminal book, Prosperity without Growth – economics for a finite planet – also lectures on some CES modules.

Programme overview

This programme provides the essential tools for analysis of the relationship between environmental issues and human society in order to make informed decisions. As part of this approach, you will evaluate political, socio-economic, ethical, cultural and regulatory frameworks.

You will acquire a sensitive appreciation of issues surrounding sustainable development, especially in relation to developing countries.

Why not read about past and present student experiences of our Sustainable Development MSc programme, including Ben Hartfield, Ebuka Ntube, Cheyvonne James, Harsheenee Doorga and Katie McManus.

Course content

This programme provides both a theoretical and practical grounding for evaluating technical, social, economic and organisational elements of environmental problems. These include life cycle assessment and other analytical methods to understand how to use resources and manage materials and waste. You will learn how to anticipate and respond to future policy developments and market pressures, understand stakeholders’ roles and develop problem-solving and decision-making skills.

The Centre for Environmental Strategy (CES) has a leading position in environmental and sustainability-related research and postgraduate teaching in the UK.CES runs a suite of three MSc programmes, and jointly runs the MSc in Sustainable Tourism and the MSc in Extractive Industries. The programmes all have an interdisciplinary focus that will challenge you to think pragmatically, systematically and creatively about core environmental issues: we aim to prepare a new generation of environmental professionals for the myriad of challenges ahead. You will gain the knowledge and skills needed to implement ISO 14001 environmental management standards, undertake sustainability life-cycle and environmental risk assessments, develop sustainable and renewable energy solutions, inform low carbon policies and introduce corporate social responsibility programmes into organisations.

The CES programmes can be taken full or part-time, and are taught through a series of intensive, week-long modules. You will also complete a dissertation, and have the option of a placement in industry or the public sector. CES modules make full use of guest lecturers, drawing on the practical skills and experience of key experts from government and industry to complement the theoretical components of the modules offered. The programmes provide excellent preparation for any sustainability or environment-related career and they are accredited to provide the basis for Associate membership of the Institute of Environmental Management & Assessment.

Programme structure

The programmes are based on one-week intensive modules in a similar format to the University’s Engineering Doctorate. Each programme consists of eight modules and a project/dissertation. Four modules are compulsory and the remaining four optional modules can be chosen from a wide range available at CES and other relevant MSc programmes. Each module carries 15 credits, with the dissertation worth 60 credits.

The compulsory modules have been designed by CES in consultation with industry and will continue to be fine-tuned in close consultation with our graduates and collaborators in the field.

Students on the full-time programmes start in September and follow a sequence of modules that has been designed to ensure steady and structured progress through the achievement of the Postgraduate Certificate to the Diploma and Masters degree. Part-time students may begin the programme at any time of the year.

You are allowed to choose up to two modules elsewhere in the University of Surrey’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, or from the Energy and Environmental Technology and Economics programme at City University, as agreed with your personal tutor. Students may take modules at other universities with the approval of the Board of Studies.

Industrial placement

Full-time students are able to undertake an industrial placement module which enables them to spend six to twelve weeks working for a company or NGO, doing the type of work they will aim to find on graduation.

Examples of organisations at which recent industrial placements have taken place include:

  • Minimise Solutions
  • Portsmouth City Council
  • GAP
  • Diocese of London
  • The Radisson
  • LC Energy
  • Solar Aid
  • NUS

Module overview

For full details of the modules listed below, please visit the University's module catalogue.

Compulsory modules

Ecological Economics

This module introduces the concept of ‘ecological economics’, economics grounded in ecological realities. You will be able to compare this concept to environmental economics, in order to make sense of the claims made by those who invoke economic concepts, over ecological and social issues, in debates.

Foundations of Sustainable Development

This module looks at the fundamental aspects of the idea of sustainable development - including its history, political aspects and ethical dimensions. The course will provide you with the knowledge you need to discuss and research conceptual as well as practical challenges in the integration of sustainable development ideas in organisations, policies and projects.

Sustainable Development Applications

This module provides you with an introduction to how sustainable development is understood and implemented in a range of sectors, policy areas and organisations. The course includes speakers from major businesses, public agencies and NGOs. This module will consolidate and deepen your understanding of sustainable development and corporate environmental management.

Corporate, Social & Environmental Responsibility

You will evaluate and discuss how environmental concerns have affected organisations in the private sector, and how such organisations have changed the content, shape and direction of this environmental debate. You will concentrate on corporate environmental strategies, environmental management ideas and the distribution of environmental roles within an organisation.

Optional modules

Environmental Science & Society

You will investigate environmental science concepts, including thermodynamics of ecosystems and human systems, ecology and biodiversity, the science of climate change and environmental policy. During this course, you will learn how to identify the complexities of sustainable development inherent in the science/policy interface.

Environmental Law

You will be introduced to the framework for environmental law across the EU, UK and, in outline, at international level. Laws covering environmental media such as water, waste and air, together with land use planning and environmental impact assessment will be considered alongside issues of compliance and enforcement. On completion of this module, you will understand regulatory procedures for dealing with pollution.

Transitions to a Low Carbon Economy

You will be provided with a broad understanding of the role of energy, and the economic, human and environmental impacts associated with energy systems. The energy field is considered and contextualised within a more general environmental/sustainability framework, so that you can analyse strategic energy issues and carbon management effectively.

Industrial Placement

You will work on specific projects to gain valuable practical experience in industry, government agencies, NGOs or research centres. (This module is normally only available to full-time students.)

Environmental Auditing and Management Systems

This module enables you to both understand and develop appropriate environmental policies, and to appreciate Environmental Management Systems (EMS). You will have the chance to look at case studies of environmental auditing in practice from the private and public sector, and you will become comfortable with establishing future suitable environmental objectives and targets.

Life Cycle Thinking and the Circular Economy

To reduce the environmental impacts of a product, a service, an organisation, a household or even a nation, it is vital to take a life cycle approach. In this module we introduce participants to life cycle thinking, the circular economy, life cycle management and related environmental systems analysis approaches. We consider how such approaches can guard against environmental trade-offs, thus leading to better-informed decisions.

Life Cycle Assessment

You will build on your understanding of the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology developed in the Life Cycle Thinking module, and be provided with in-depth training on LCA methodology. By the end of this module you will have gained practical experience of doing an LCA and will be able to analyse LCA case studies.

Psychology of Sustainable Development

You will study the social barriers and motivations for pro-environmental behaviour, and the public perceptions of environmental problems, so that you can learn about methods of education and persuasion to cause behavioural change within society.

Other modules

Other modules that students can choose from include those dealing with materials, manufacturing and energy, both at the University of Surrey’s Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences and at City University. For further information on these options, please contact the Faculty.

Teaching and assessment

Teaching is a collaborative effort between University lecturers and research fellows, with some industrial contributions where appropriate.

Each module is taught over an intensive five-day period, preceded by preparatory reading and followed by coursework. A typical five-day teaching week is an intensive period of lectures, interactive group work and seminars, with occasional site visits. A preparatory learning package for each module is generally made available on the University’s online learning system.

Seminars, themes, discussions and fieldtrips are also organised to give students opportunities to consolidate their learning.

Each module is a self-contained unit, assessed separately. Traditional essays, report writing and case-study presentations will be required for assessment. There are no exams on any of the modules.

Your dissertation of 15,000 words will involve an in-depth piece of research on an appropriate subject. This may be the findings of a small-scale pilot study, an analysis of data or a development of theoretical aspects of a topic.

You must achieve a satisfactory standard in both the taught modules and the dissertation to be awarded a Masters degree.

Each full-time student will be allocated a personal tutor. Together, you will draw up a personal study plan. It is recommended that you meet regularly to discuss your progress.


Graduates go on to a diverse range of careers implementing sustainable development and dealing with the real environmental challenges facing humanity. Recent examples include working as an energy efficiency officer for a local government, an environmental officer in multi-national chemical company, a sustainability advisor for a national television / radio station, an environmental consultant for an engineering consultancy, and a programme officer with a sustainability charity. Other graduates use the research skills they developed to go on and do PhDs.

See the profiles, at the end of the page, of some recent graduates from the CES MSc programmes.

Professional recognition

The Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) is a broadly based environmental management organisation with more than 15,000 members. Successful completion of the modules Life Cycle Thinking, Environmental Science and Society, Environmental Auditing and Management Systems, and Environmental Law offer a direct route to associate membership of IEMA.

Related programmes

Postgraduate (Taught)

Professional development

Related departments/schools

Related research areas

Programme leader

Dr Jonathan Chenoweth

Find out more

General enquiries:

+44 (0)1483 681 681

Admissions enquiries:


Programme facts

Type of programme:


Programme length:

  • Full-time: 12 months
  • Part-time: 60 months

Start date:

Sep 2016

Entry Requirements

View entry requirements by country

English language requirements

We offer intensive English language pre-sessional courses, designed to take you to the level of English ability and skill required for your studies here.


Study mode Start date UK/EU fees Overseas fees
Full-time Sep 2016 £7,000 £18,000
Part-time Sep 2016 £900* £2,000*

Please note these fees are for the academic year 2016/2017 only. Annual fees will rise by four per cent (rounded up to the nearest £100) for each year of study.

A complete list of all fees for our Masters Programmes


Discounts for Surrey graduates

Thinking of continuing your education at Surrey? As an alumnus of Surrey you may be eligible for a ten per cent discount on our taught Masters programme fees. Learn more.

For more details

GREAT Surrey Scholarships India

For for all postgraduate taught courses starting in February 2017 within the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the University is offering graduates from India the opportunity to apply for one of three scholarships worth £5,000 through the GREAT Scholarships - India programme. 

For more details

Admissions Information

Our Admissions Policy provides the basis for admissions practice across the University and gives a framework for how we encourage, consider applications and admit students.

Further information for applicants

Postgraduate Study Advice

Steps to Postgraduate Study is an official, independent guide for anyone considering a taught postgraduate course. The guide is produced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for Employment and Learning, Northern Ireland.

Find out more


Modules listed are indicative, reflecting the information available at the time of publication. Please note that not all modules described are compulsory and may be subject to teaching availability and/or student demand.

Our alumni