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Study information

Perspectives on Sustainable Development

Module titlePerspectives on Sustainable Development
Module codeGEOM407
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Rachel Turner (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

We start this module by looking at the foundational concepts for sustainable development and sustainability science in the context of the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch in which humans have become the key driver of planetary change. We examine a series of key ideas including debates around growth, prosperity, resilience and ecosystem services. You will gain a broad understanding of contemporary debates in sustainable development, evaluating and analysing these in relation to real world sustainability problems. We consider policy process: how environmental policy is conceived, including the role of different types of information and evidence; how it is appraised against different criteria; and how it may be contested by different actors. The module allows you to apply your academic learning in a variety of real world contexts, through workshops, debates and interaction with guest speakers. There is an emphasis on directed self-learning and engagement with incoming professionals. Overall this module provides a grounding in key concepts and themes, essential for developing research and career interests.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module will challenge you to critically engage with the principles and practices of sustainable development, and understand how these have shaped the environmental field more broadly. A range of learning modes aims to enable you to understand the principles and processes of environmental decision-making.

You will have the opportunity to explore ways of balancing environmental, social and development goals via research-led case studies and real-world problems through a range of speakers from different disciplines. Through various modes of learning and assessment, you will improve your understanding of environmental policies, focusing at sub-national and national scales. The module aims to increase your transferrable and employability skills including:

  • practical skills (environmental and social impact assessment tools),
  • problem solving (linking theory to practice, responding to novel and unfamiliar problems), and
  • audience awareness (presenting ideas effectively, responding to questions).

Overall the module seeks to equip you for a wide range of careers through critical appraisal of key concepts, and developing a broad base of understanding in different policy arenas.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Summarise foundational literature on sustainable development
  • 2. Explain in detail key theories and concepts underpinning sustainable development and their application in different environmental arenas and contexts
  • 3. Outline key theories and concepts regarding how policies develop, are appraised, and are contested
  • 4. Apply knowledge and principles developed in workshops to evaluate and resolve environmental and sustainability issues in specific case studies

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Analyse and critically evaluate essential facts and theory across a sub-discipline of geography
  • 6. Synthesise material from a broad range of relevant areas to problem solve environment and sustainability issues
  • 7. Demonstrate a self-reflective approach to learning

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 8. Independently devise, sustain and communicate a logical and reasoned argument with sound, convincing conclusions
  • 9. Work as part of a team and independently
  • 10. Organise and present material and ideas effectively in different formats
  • 11. Manage deadlines and targets

Syllabus plan

Indicative lecture/workshop content:

  • Evolution of sustainability theories
  • Contemporary debates about sustainability
  • Resilience
  • Political ecology of sustainable development
  • Economic growth, prosperity and wellbeing
  • Ecosystem services
  • Wicked problems
  • Policy processes and advocacy
  • Local case studies and guest speakers covering issues of environmental, economic and social sustainability

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching20Workshops including lectures, student-led discussions, debates and external speakers, focusing on key topics
Guided independent study130Additional research, reading and preparation for module assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Short answer questions during lectures, seminars and field tripOngoing throughout the moduleAllPeer assessment and oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay703000 words1-8, 10Written
Group oral presentation3020 minutes3-8, 10Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay1-8, 10August ref/def
Group oral presentationAudio recording3-8, 10August ref/def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to resubmit the original assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Where you have been referred/deferred for the oral presentation, you will be required to submit a PowerPoint presentation together with a recording of the oral presentation (15 minutes).

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Adams, W.M. 2001. Green Development: Environment and Sustainability in the Third World. London: Routledge
  • Connelly, J. and Smith, G. (2003). Politics and the Environment: from theory to practice. Routledge, London.
  • Forsyth, T., 2003. Critical Political Ecology. The Politics of Environmental Science. London: Routledge
  • Jackson, T. (2009) Prosperity without growth: economics for a finite planet London: Earthscan
  • Pearce, D.W., Barbier, E. (2000) Blueprint for a sustainable economy. Earthscan, London.
  • Raworth, K. (2018) Doughnut Economics. Cornerstone.
  • Walker, B and Salt, D 2006 Resilience thinking, Island Press

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

Environment, sustainability, sustainable development, policy, impact assessment, resilience, growth and prosperity, ecosystem services, political ecology, wellbeing

Credit value15
Module ECTS


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NQF level (module)


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Last revision date