Life Cycle Thinking and the Circular Economy

Key information

Start date:
To be confirmed

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

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

    Learning outcomes

    On successful completion of this module, you 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
    • Discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the circular economy concept
    • Describe the goal, key methodologies, challenges and role of systems analysis approaches such as life cycle assessment (LCA) and input-output analysis
    • Appreciate different types of footprints, appropriate methodologies, and to be aware of current protocols and standards used for carbon foot-printing of products, services and organisations
    • Apply the principles and tools of design for sustainability to consumer products.

    Course content

    Content includes the following:

    • 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.

    Learning and teaching methods

    The learning and teaching methods include:

    • Preparatory reading
    • Lectures
    • In-class exercises and group discussions.


    • An in-class group presentation in which you will be asked to present how principles of life cycle thinking and the circular economy may be implemented by a business to improve sustainability
    • A 3,000 word essay based upon a topic covered in 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 3,000 word 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

    Lirong Liu profile image

    Dr Lirong Liu

    Senior Lecturer in Environment and Sustainability

    Reading list

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

    Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: ENGM058.

    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

    Fees are to be confirmed

    How to apply

    Applications are currently closed, but please register your interest with the Head of Centre for Environment and Sustainability, Professor Richard Murphy, at

    Terms and conditions

    When you accept an offer of a place at the University of Surrey, you are agreeing to comply with our policies and regulations and our terms and conditions. You are also confirming you have read and understood the University's prospective student privacy notice.

    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 the full disclaimer.

    Course location and contact details

    Campus location

    Stag Hill

    Stag Hill is the University's main campus and where the majority of our courses are taught. 

    Professor Richard Murphy Head of Centre for Environment and Sustainability

    University of Surrey
    Surrey GU2 7XH