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 (People, Planet and Prosperity) are addressed separately, in respectively course 2 (Governance of Global Sustainability), course 3 (Assessing a Sustainable Planet) and course 4 (Sustainable Supply Chain Management). The minor ends with course 5 (Designing Solutions for Sustainability) in which students complete their personal case study. 

Programme overview

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 talented to continue to work on the theme of sustainability in their master’s program.

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 people, planet and prosperity domains (course 2,3 and 4). The outcome of the PPP courses will vary in the sense that different sustainability indicators are used and different mechanisms underlying issues of sustainability are addressed. However, the PPP courses form a coherent set as the outcome of all three courses is framed in terms of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) of sustainability issues and potential solutions. In the final course 5 (Designing Solutions for Sustainability), the opportunities identified in the PPP courses are combined and integrated into 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.
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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.

Sustainable Supply Chain Management
This course aims to introduce students to operationalizing sustainability in supply chains. After this course, students:
1. can analyze supply chain problems, taking into account interests of different stakeholders (economic, ecological, societal and others) and evaluate (future) performance effects of supply chain policy options.  This type of analysis will support sustainable decision-making.
2. can use a sustainable supply chain analysis framework to assess contemporary topics in sustainable supply chain management and to analyze supply chain cases.
3. can quantify the economic, ecological and societal objectives for supply chain management cases by applying and mastering commonly used techniques to tackle real life sustainable supply chain management problems.
4. can formulate recommendations for improvement of supply chains from a sustainable perspective
5. understand the transition from linear to closed loop (circular) economy & impact for supply chain management
6. can perform SWOT derived from the supply chain / economic conditions for specific sustainability challenges.

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

Coordinator
Pieter van Beukering
Director Institute for Environmental Studies pieter.van.beukering@vu.nl

Samenvatting Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions

Taal

Engels

Duur

1 semester (30 EC)

StartDatum

1 september

Interessegebied

Gedrag en Maatschappij
Gezondheid en Beweging
Natuurwetenschappen

Faculteit

Bètawetenschappen