Accessibility statement

Sustainability I: Definitions and methods of assessment


Module leader: Daryl Stump


The terms ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ now pervade all areas of public life and have become buzzwords in commercial enterprise. In 2015 the UN launched 17 ‘Sustainable Development Goals’, and it is now common to hear talk of sustainable housing policies, sustainable agriculture, sustainable supply chains, sustainable business management. Yet the meaning of the term ‘sustainability’ is surprisingly difficult to pin down – and this applies equally to the related term ‘resilience’ and their apparent antonyms ‘unsustainable’, ‘degraded’, ‘fragile’, ‘at risk’. This module explores what these terms mean, how these meanings differ in different contexts, and examines how our understanding of sustainability impacts resource use strategies and policy decisions.  The module takes a long-term and interdisciplinary perspective drawn from history, archaeology, anthropology and human geography to explore the concepts of economic and ecological ‘base-lines’, ‘equilibrium’, ‘stability’, ‘trade-offs’, ‘legacy effects’, ‘biodiversity’, ‘poverty traps’ and related ideas.

Module Aims

  • To introduce students to the concepts of sustainability and resilience
  • To demonstrate that these terms can have different connotations in different contexts
  • To encourage the critical review of published work on sustainability and sustainability assessments

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this module students should:

  • Be familiar with the concept of sustainability and the various ways in which sustainability can be assessed and/or quantified
  • Have an appreciation of the history of these terms, concepts and approaches, particularly in reference to the ambition of ‘sustainable development’ and the notion of development through the adoption, adaptation or extension of ‘indigenous knowledge’.
  • Be able to evaluate case studies from around the world illustrating these issues.

Academic and graduate skills

  • Development of transferable skills in independent research, and in written, verbal and visual communication, including the production of policy brief and practice briefs.
  • Understanding of the potential and challenges of evidenced-informed policy
  • An awareness of the need to tailor communication styles to audiences, and that different interest groups might take different messages from the same research results.

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