Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions

Transform Tomorrow Today

People, Planet, Prosperity

Sustainability is the grand challenge of our time. This grand challenge urgently calls for the next generation of leaders that move beyond the classical focus on biophysical, economic or societal limits towards interdisciplinary and solution-oriented knowledge, providing realistic, context-specific pathways to a sustainable future. This minor aims to engage students from all backgrounds in issues of sustainability by making them acquainted to the three dimensions of sustainability (i.e. People, Planet, Prosperity) and challenging them to design and develop solutions within their own field of interest (i.e. energy, climate, water, waste, nature, food security). Students are encouraged to step outside of their personal mono-disciplinary comfort zone and learn about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in the three pillars of sustainability. The students will learn how to identify and combine planetary opportunities that address the grand challenge from other disciplines, into innovative solutions for a more sustainable world.

Course design 

The minor is carefully crafted with the aim to offer comprehensive and stand-alone courses, which at the same time form a strong unity in various ways. As shown in the Figure below, the minor follows the logical order of first defining the Grand Challenges of Sustainability (course 1), after which the three pillars of sustainability (Planet, People and Prosperity) are addressed separately, in respectively course 2 (Sustainability & Environmental Change), course 3 (Governance of Global Sustainability) and course 4 (Global Development for Prosperity). The minor ends with course 5 (Designing Solutions for Global Sustainability) in which students complete their personal case study by designing a solution for the sustainability challenge they have been working on in the previous four courses. 

Course structure Sustainability minor

The minor offers a well-balanced and diverse program and provides a challenging intellectual journey for the student. We believe that, after completing this minor, the Bachelor graduates will be better able to judge whether they are sufficiently motivated and equipped to continue to explore on the sustainability challenges in their master’s program in a mono-disciplinary or interdisciplinary manner. 

The students will select a personal case in course 1 which they will continue to work on throughout the minor, adding relevant dimensions from the planet, people and prosperity domains (course 2,3 and 4). The outcome of the People-Planet-Prosperity courses will vary in the sense that different sustainability indicators are used and different mechanisms underlying issues of sustainability are addressed. In the final course 5 (Designing Solutions for Sustainability), the challenges and lessons learned in the previous four courses are combined and integrated into the design of innovative solutions for their personal case. 

For specific information about each course, please visit our study guide.

Grand Challenges for Sustainability
The objective of the course is to understand the drivers of international sustainable development and to analyze the Grand Challenges of the planet.
After completing the course, students:
1. can classify the diversity of global sustainability challenges;
2. can explain key concepts from the natural and the social sciences, as they apply to the analysis of global sustainability challenges;
3. can critically reflect on frameworks and indicators used in analyzing environmental, social and economic trends;
4. understand different perspectives on the causes and consequences of environmental, social and economic change, including their own, and can compare these;
5. demonstrate a capacity to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams and contribute to a shared goal.


Governance of Global Sustainability
How can we govern change in the context of global sustainability? After this course, students:
1. can explain key concepts from social sciences relevant for the study of global sustainability;
2. can characterize key governance interventions and societal triggers;
3. can explain the role of the social system in socio-environmental systems from an international perspective;
4. are aware of methods to quantify/qualify the state of governance and institutional/organizational change;
5. can perform SWOT related to specific transitions strategies.

Sustainability and environmental change
In this course students learn about the environment’s pivotal role in achieving sustainable solutions for human development, mainly focused on global environmental problems. After this course, students:
1. can explain key concepts from the natural sciences relevant for the study of sustainability;
2. can characterize key components of the environment, namely water, land and atmosphere, and can explain key processes affecting their characteristics;
3. can explain the role of the environment in socio-environmental systems;
4. can identify methods to quantify the state of the environment, and analyze environmental change;
5. can perform SWOT derived from the environmental conditions for specific sustainability challenges.

Global Development of Prosperity
To provide students with a profound understanding of how contemporary global challenges are linked to economic, social and political systems and how transformations in these systems can deliver just and sustainable prosperity. By the end of this course, students will be able to:

1. Understand how existing, dominant measures and visions of development and economics have produced both positive and negative social and environmental effects, including inequality and climate change;
2. Describe how alternative measures of prosperity can be developed and used at different societal scales, and discuss their potential for transformations towards sustainable futures;
3. Discuss whether just transitions are necessary to achieve the sustainable development goals;
4. Analyze case studies of transformations towards sustainable and equitable futures.

Designing Solutions for Global Sustainability
This course aims to guide the student in designing solutions to complex challenges in global sustainability. After this course, students: 

1. can meaningfully integrate PPP analyses into the design of innovative solutions for global sustainability challenges in a systematic and creative manner;
2. can characterize key components of the design creation process, namely analysis, synthesis and conceptualization;
3. identify methods and processes to design sustainable solutions;
4. demonstrate a capacity to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams and contribute to a shared goal.
5. reflect on personal strength and weaknesses in developing and conceptualizing global sustainable solutions.

Admission and registration

The minor Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions is open for all Bachelor students, including those of other universities. Because of the international nature of sustainability, and since all courses are taught in English, we welcome national as well as international students. We expect students from a range of backgrounds to apply for this minor, including earth, environmental, and ecology sciences, economics, business administration, spatial planning, political sciences, anthropology, psychology, and health sciences.

Entry requirements 

  • All VU-students can enter this (university)minor. You do not need permission of the examination board.
  • Wo-bachelor students of another university can enter this minor, depending on whether their own university grants permission.

This minor consists of 30 EC and is therefore not accessible for hbo-bachelor students. Hbo-bachelor students can attend courses of the minor as optional subject.

For more information about the application procedure, please visit this page.

Questions about the programme

Pieter van Beukering
Director Institute for Environmental Studies

Samenvatting Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions




1 semester (30 EC)


1 september


Gedrag en Maatschappij
Gezondheid en Beweging



Robin Zwijgers

Student Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions


'Because this minor is open for all bachelor students, you will be teaming up with a lot of different people with different backgrounds. This multidisciplinarity of the students delivers a great working space to collaborate with and meet new people. In a way this opens your mind. The minor was a great introduction to the sustainability issues worldwide. Furthermore, the minor has an atmosphere where you don’t just follow textbooks and study just what people say. You study, because you are engaged with the issue and concerned about it. I learned a lot during this minor and I made some new friends!’

Laura Smits

Student Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions


I attended this minor as a pre-master programme for Environment and Resource Management, it gave me a good and thorough overview of the all the dimensions of important Sustainability challenges that the world faces. I really liked the guest lectures given by specialists, the Climate Change Conference simulation that we did with the group and, last but not least, the 'Passion Project' that we worked on throughout all courses. 

Liesbeth van Klink

Student Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions


'The Minor Sustainability: Global Challenges and Interdisciplinary Solutions doesn’t solely focus on how the future will bring enormous global challenges related to climate change and population growth. During the minor you’ll moreover realize that (together  with your fellow students) you can come up with solutions for a large variety of problems. The courses are diverse, some lectures will tackle politics and law whereas others have a more technological character in which you need to deal with Excel. Not only the courses have a diverse character, since the minor is for both national and international students from all kinds of backgrounds, you will learn a lot from each other and create a connection with sustainable-driven students.'