Foundations of Sustainable Development

Key information

Start date: 01 November 2021

Attendance dates:

November 2021: 01, 02, 03, 04, 05

Time commitment: 5 days


All lectures will be held online

Seminars and workshops will be held in person: Room 21, Arthur C Clarke building (BA), level 2, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey. GU2 7XH

Contact details:


This module can be taken as standalone or as part of building up to a certificate, diploma or master’s degree. You can take up to three standalone modules before deciding whether you want to work towards any of these.

    If you do decide to build up to a qualification, then you will need to complete and pass the following amount of modules within a five year period: four modules for a certificate; eight modules for a diploma; eight modules and a dissertation for a degree. Please note that certain modules will be compulsory depending on the degree you opt to take.

    If you would like to gain a qualification then you will need to register onto one of our master's courses:

    Module overview

    This module introduces the foundational concepts of sustainable development. It will provide a rich understanding of the history, politics, ethics and scientific foundations of sustainable development that will inspire interest in deeper study. We will also equip you to discuss and research complex conceptual and practical challenges in the integration of sustainable development ideas in organisations, policies and projects.

    This module can be followed by the complementary Sustainable Development Applications module.

    Learning outcomes

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

    • Understand the basic principles of sustainable development
    • Make sense of current arguments and debates on sustainable development
    • Understand the fundamental ethical and political issues raised by sustainable development challenges and concepts
    • Understand and discuss major criticisms levelled at the idea of sustainable development
    • Engage in debates about the definition, analysis and prospects for realisation of sustainable development.

    Course content

    Content includes the following:

    • The nature of development
    • History of sustainable development ideas
    • The Brundtland report
    • The sustainability equation
    • The planetary boundaries framework for sustainable development
    • Values and the ethical dimensions of sustainable development
    • Social dimensions of sustainable development and environmentalism
    • Sustainable consumption challenges
    • Sustainable development and biodiversity
    • Contested issues in defining and decision-making for sustainable development
    • Case studies in ethical and political controversies raised by sustainable development
    • Political economy of sustainable development
    • Critiques of sustainable development
    • Analysis of key texts and discussion of films offering case studies.

    Learning and teaching methods

    The learning and teaching methods include:

    • Preparatory reading
    • Lectures from module team and various guest lecturers from the public, private and civil society sectors
    • Films and follow-up discussions
    • Discussion groups based on particular challenges and dilemmas.


    • A 1,000 word individual critical review in blog format on an topic arising from pre-module readings, prior to starting the module
    • A 3,000 word essay based upon a topic from the module, to be completed over the four-week period following this module.

    Please note: If you are taking this as a standalone module, then you are not required to complete the post-module essay, however, this will mean that you won't gain any credits for completing the module and so won't be able to work towards a qualification if you later decide to do so.

    Course leader

    Stephen Morse profile image

    Professor Stephen Morse

    Chair in Systems Analysis for Sustainability

    Reading list

    You will be required to do some reading prior to the module starting, take a look at the reading list.

    Entry requirements

    There are no entry requirements if you are taking this as a standalone module.

    For those wanting to build up to a qualification, please refer to the MSc course pages for entry requirements.

    Fees and funding

    Price per person:


    For group bookings or bespoke training packages please contact us.

    How to apply

    For those taking this as a standalone module, applications are taken through our online store.

    Payment can be accepted by purchase order, credit card or bank transfer. Payments will be accepted subject to availability. Please note that we do not charge VAT as we are an educational establishment.

    If you have any problems with booking or payments then please contact the Administrative Officer, Melanie Wilde:

    Apply now

    Terms and conditions

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    Further details of our terms and conditions will follow.


    This online prospectus has been prepared and published in advance of the commencement of the course. The University of Surrey has used its reasonable efforts to ensure that the information is accurate at the time of publishing, but changes (for example to course content or additional costs) may occur given the interval between publishing and commencement of the course. It is therefore very important to check this website for any updates before you apply for a course with us. Read more.