Life Cycle Thinking and the Circular Economy

Dates are TBC

In this module we introduce participants to life cycle thinking, the concept of the circular economy, life cycle management and related environmental systems analysis approaches.

Further information

Module overview

Module co-ordinator Prof. Angela Druckman
Other contributors Prof. Richard Murphy
  Dr Jaquetta Lee
  Dr Jonathan Chenoweth
Number of credits 15
Number of ECTS credits 7.5
Module availability Semester 1
Overall student workload 150 hours overall student workload
  30 scheduled contact hours
  120 hours independent study
Units of assessment Weighting towards module mark (%)
In-class Group Work Report 20%
Individual Post Module Report 80%

Alternative assessments: (In case of failed assessment)

For in-class group work report: An individual report using different case study example(s).

For post module report: Repeat assignment using different case study example(s).

Qualifying condition(s): A weighted aggregate mark of 50% is required to pass the module.

Pre-requisite/co-requisites: None.

When considering how 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 consider how such approaches as life cycle thinking, the concept of the circular economy, life cycle management and related environmental systems analysis, can guard against trade-offs in sustainability, thus leading to better-informed decisions.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Explain the concept of life cycle thinking (LCT) and describe the benefits and challenges of its application in practice, in industry and for policy making (K, T, P)*
  • To appreciate and be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the circular economy concept (K, T, P)*
  • Describe the goal, key methodologies, challenges and role of systems analysis approaches such as life cycle assessment (LCA) and input-output analysis (K)*
  • Appreciate different types of footprints, appropriate methodologies, and to be aware of current protocols and standards used for carbon footprinting of products, services and organisations (K, P)*
  • Apply the principles and tools of design for sustainability to consumer products (C, P)*.

*Key: C - Cognitive and analytical; K - Subject knowledge; T - Transferable skills; P - Professional and practical skills.

Module content

Indicative content includes:

  • Introduction to life cycle thinking, the circular economy, and life cycle management
  • Concepts, policy and organisational drivers, and application in practice
  • Introduction to life cycle assessment methodology, simplified life cycle studies; and case studies (from academia and industry)
  • Overview of input-output analysis: principles and application
  • Principles and practice of design for sustainability.

Methods of learning and teaching

The learning and teaching strategy is designed to take an active learning approach, in which the students are engaged in class exercises and discussions. The schedule includes guest expert speakers from industry with whom students are encouraged to engage.

The learning and teaching methods include:

  • Preparatory reading (10 hours)
  • Lectures (18 hours)
  • In-class exercises and group discussions (12 hours)
  • Post course study and assignment (110 hours).

Assessment strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate that they understand the concepts of life cycle thinking (LCT) and the circular economy, and are able to discuss the benefits and challenges of its application in practice, in industry and for policy making.

In the individual assignment, students are asked to demonstrate their understanding by applying what they have learnt to case studies. In the group assignment, they are asked to apply the principles of design for sustainability to a specific consumer good or service.

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

  • An individual post module report in which students are instructed to utilise case studies, to critically explore how life cycle thinking can be applied to improve sustainability outcomes. Assignment length: 3,200 words maximum (excluding reference list). Deadline: Three weeks after the end of the module
  • An in-class group work report in which students apply the principles and tools of design for sustainability to a selected consumer product. Deadline: Close of play on the day of the exercise. In cases where the in-class group work report is failed, the alternative assignment will be an individual report, 800 words maximum.

Formative assessment and feedback

Students receive formative feedback during in-class group exercises and discussions. Groups generally have around six to seven students.

Further information:


This will be a week long course, dates are to be confirmed.


Price per person:

  • £1275.00 - Standard rate.

How to apply

Payment can be accepted by purchase order, credit card or bank transfer on our online store, which will be available soon.

If you would prefer to fill out our paper form, then please complete and return this form by email or send it in the post to:

FEPS Student Services Administration
08 AA 02
University of Surrey
GU2 7XH.

Please note that we do not charge VAT as we are an educational establishment.

Payments will be accepted subject to availability.

Essential reading


If you have any queries about this module then please contact Melanie Wilde, the Administrative Officer:

Contact us

Find us

Centre for Environment and Sustainability
Arthur C Clarke building, Floor 2
University of Surrey