Surrey University Stag

FOUNDATIONS AND FRONTIERS OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT - 2023/4

Module code: ENGM306

Module Overview

This module provides a comprehensive and challenging exploration of the core concepts, policy challenges and ethical issues in Sustainable Development. It is aimed at a wide range of students and takes a trans-disciplinary approach to exploring the frontier of sustainable development. The module provides a grounding in sustainability ideas and issues that is self-contained, but it also prepares students to get the best from the complementary module on Sustainable Development Applications (ENGM067). The module is suitable as a foundation for students who have not previously studied sustainability and provides an update on the frontier issues of sustainability for those who have.

Module provider

Centre for Environment & Sustainability

Module Leader

CHRISTIE Ian (Civl Env Eng)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 7

JACs code:

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 112

Lecture Hours: 38

Module Availability

Semester 1

Prerequisites / Co-requisites

N/A

Module content

Indicative content includes:


  • the nature of development - multiple perspectives on what it is and what it should be, and on the need for a radical new perspective, the 'Overview Effect'

  • the idea of the Anthropocene

  • a brief history of sustainable development ideas and how they arose

  • the Brundtland Report and its implications

  • the I=PAT Equation and its implications

  • an overview and critical approach to the Planetary Boundaries framework for SD

  • values and the ethical dimensions of sustainable development

  • social dimensions of SD and environmentalism

  • sustainable consumption challenges

  • SD and biodiversity

  • contested issues in defining and decision-making for SD

  • means of assessing sustainable development (e.g. indicators and indices)

  • participatory approaches to sustainable development

  • case studies in ethical and political controversies raised by SD

  • political economy of SD

  • critiques of SD

  • analysis of key texts and discussion of films offering case studies



These topics are not presented in isolation: students learning is reinforced by the ways in which we highlight connections between these issues. We also use the film content during the module to illustrate diverse issues from the list above and show how they are intertwined. The presentations and discussion are intended to enable broad and deep understanding by the students, and to bring a wide range of perspectives into the consideration of foundational ideas and frontier challenges.

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework Pre-module individual critical review 25
Coursework Individual written assignment 75

Alternative Assessment

N/A

Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate: analytical, critical thinking and writing skills and subject knowledge and interest. The assignments offer opportunities to write in different formats and lengths. The pre- and post-module assignments are designed to build upon the topics covered in the module and give the students a chance to explore them in a context that they are especially interested in.

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of: a pre-module individual critical review in blog format (maximum 1000 words) on a topic of their choice arising from pre-module readings (25%). The blog exercise enables a very flexible approach and recognizes that communication in this format may well be an important element in future employment. We encourage students to approach this task in a way that will demonstrate critical thinking and academic skills but also produce an accessible and interesting text that could be posted online. A post-module individual written assignment (maximum 3000 words) from a supplied list of essay topics (75%) - with scope for tailoring of topic by student in agreement with module leader. The essay is a more demanding and focused form than the blog, and also helps hone analytic and writing skills that will be important for employability. We thus aim to give students a varied and useful writing experience through the two assignments.

Sessions at the start and end of the module will cover - in part - the module assignment. Students will submit their work via Surrey Learn.

Formative assessment and feedback: Group work sessions in the module, while not part of the summative process, are used as the basis for offering students (in group and individually) feedback on their developing understanding of the issues covered. In addition the tutors make time available during the module for informal one-to-one or group discussions which offer formative feedback on issues covered and progress with learning. Other Feedback: Detailed feedback is given in the marking process, including suggestions on improvements in grammar, style and structure. Feedback from the pre-module assignment will help students with their post-module assignment.

Module aims

  • This module explores foundational concepts of Sustainable Development and issues at the frontiers of policy and practice for sustainability. The aim is to provide a rich trans-disciplinary understanding of the history, politics, ethics and scientific foundations and cutting-edge issues of SD that will inspire interest in deeper study. We also aim to equip students to discuss and research complex conceptual and practical challenges in the integration of SD ideas in organisations, policies and projects.

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
001 Understand the basic principles of sustainable development KC
002 Make sense of current arguments and debates on sustainable development KC
003 Understand the fundamental ethical and political issues raised by sustainable development challenges and concepts KCP
004 Understand and discuss major criticisms levelled at the idea of SD KCP
005 Engage in debates about the definition, analysis and prospects for realisation of sustainable development KCPT

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The module is designed to provide both an introduction to sustainable development, including an awareness of fundamental issues arising in the evolution of the concept, along with an exploration of some of the current frontiers in sustainable development. The module spans the scientific and ethical dimensions, plus the political economy of SD, critiques of sustainability and international and national policies. The module is geared towards core ideas, the history and current frontiers of SD, and fundamental challenges that need to be understood and faced in applications of SD in practice. Guest speakers from the public, private and 'Third' sectors have been engaged to talk about some of the basic ethical, political and conceptual issues that they have dealt with in grappling with sustainability a reality in their organisations and projects. The module thereby helps with students' awareness of real-world management and policy challenges, which are explored further in SDA module ENGM067. This makes a contribution to thinking and offering contacts for post-MSc employment.

The module takes the students through a learning process that starts in space - in Earth and moon orbit - and ends in the depths of the Earth and in 'deep time', offering a connection between challenges here in the C21st and our relationship with people and places in the far future. In between we explore the impacts of development, for good and ill, on the surface of the planet and on societies.The module offers multiple perspectives on the introductory idea of the 'Overview Effect', which is used as a guiding metaphor for aiding students in conceptualising and acting on sustainable development ideas.

The learning and teaching methods include:


  • Surrey Learn-based pre-readings

  • Lectures from module team and various guest lecturers from the public, private and civil society sectors

  • Films and follow-up discussions

  • Discussion group tasks based on particular challenges and dilemmas

  • Post-module study linked to main assessment



38 hours contact time in the module week (Monday to Friday)

Pre-module work (assignment and optional pre-recording views) = 27 hours

Post-module work (assignment and optional Panopto captured content views) = 85 hours

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list

https://readinglists.surrey.ac.uk
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: ENGM306

Other information

The Centre for Environment and Sustainability is committed to developing graduates with strengths in Employability, Digital Capabilities, Global and Cultural Capabilities, Sustainability, and Resourcefulness and Resilience, in line with Surrey¿s Curriculum Framework]. This module is designed to allow students to develop knowledge, skills and capabilities in the following areas:

Employability: The module provides exposure to key concepts and challenges that students will encounter in employment relating to SD, and to expert practitioner guest speakers. The capabilities, insights and knowledge generated through the module should be valuable for employability.

Global and cultural capabilities: This module highlights global challenges through films and discussions that relate core concepts of SD to global political, social and cultural contexts; the module also includes coverage of the cultural dimensions of SD. There is coverage of challenges relating to sustainable development in the global South, which is also covered in depth in the complementary Sustainable Development Applications module ENGM067.

Digital capabilities: Students are given comprehensive guidance to digital resources relevant to the module and the course also includes critical reflection on the sustainability implications of digital technologies (see also complementary coverage in ENGM067). The assignments could be used to do some independent work that would help develop digital skills (eg via use of databases, datasets and diverse ICT platforms).

Sustainability: This module focuses on the core concepts and complex challenges of understanding, framing and debating sustainable development, and draws on ideas and expert practitioner perspectives from diverse areas of sustainability.

Resourcefulness and resilience: Students are enabled to develop these qualities through group discussion exercises and through exposure to and dialogue with expert guest speakers, who are encouraged to be challenging in their presentations and questioning of the students. Confidence is built up during the week through the lecture and film discussions and through previewing the backgrounds and interests of the guest speakers.

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2023/4 academic year.