Sustainability: Principles and Practice
Date: July 28-August 1, 2014 | Tuition: $3,000 | Continuing Education Units (CEUs): 2.7
*This course has limited enrollment. Apply early to guarantee your spot.
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This course will introduce participants to the goals, principles, and practical applications of sustainability from science/engineering, policy, and business perspectives. Many organizations, companies, and institutions are increasingly interested in conducting their activities while becoming more sensitive to environmental, social, and other concerns over a longer-term future. Sustainability has many definitions and includes environmental, social, and economic dimensions. In this course, we will examine the major environmental issues and trends happening in modern society from a scientific and practical perspective, including energy and resource use, pollution, climate change, water, and population. Conceptual definitions of sustainability will be introduced and discussed and sustainability plans from organizations and institutions will be examined and critiqued. The course presents practical skills for participants in the area of integrating sustainability into business practices, operations, policies, and research and development through a day of dedicated case studies. The course emphasizes sustainability in all its dimensions, including all “three E’s” of environment, economics, and equity. New research will be presented by faculty working in the area of sustainability science and engineering at MIT.
Fundamentals: Core concepts, understandings, and tools (40%)
Latest Developments: Recent advances and future trends (20%)
Industry Applications: Linking theory and real-world 40%)
Lecture: Delivery of material in a lecture format (40%)
Discussion or Groupwork: Participatory learning (30%)
Labs: Demonstrations, experiments, simulations (30%)
Introductory: Appropriate for a general audience (70%)
Specialized: Assumes experience in practice area or field (20%)
Advanced: In-depth explorations at the graduate level (10%)
- Describe and define what is meant by sustainability in different contexts
- Understand the major environmental, social, and economic drivers of sustainability challenges
- Analyze the benefits and limitations of sustainability goals and indicators
- Formulate short and long term sustainability objectives and plans
- Appraise and evaluate sustainability practices and programs at an organizational or institutional scale
Who Should Attend
This course is appropriate for professionals from a wide-range of industries and sectors who are interested in sustainability issues. Participants from local, state, and federal government, especially those who are engaged in environmental and planning activities, would also benefit from the course. This course is offered at an introductory level, focusing on definitions of sustainability, concepts, and their practical implications. There is approximately equal emphasis on science/engineering, policy, and business perspectives.
Day 1: What is Sustainability?
Participants will be introduced to the concept of sustainability, with special attention to historical and international perspectives. Different definitions of sustainability will be introduced and discussed and an interactive exercise will explore sustainability definitions and relevance to different organizations and contexts. Topics include:
- Large-scale trends and grand challenges of sustainability
- Sustainability in context: historical and multinational perspectives
- Definitions of sustainability
Day 2: Trends and Strategies
Lectures and discussions will focus in depth on the specific areas in which societies and organizations might be concerned with sustainability. Among these are energy, materials, natural resources (water, land, etc.), and social justice concerns. We will identify common challenges in these areas and strategies to address them, using case studies to inform discussions. Topics include:
- Sustainability of global resources
- Materials use and life-cycle analysis
- Water quantity and quality
- Toxic substances and policies
Day 3: Setting Goals and Measuring Progress
Lectures and activities will identify best practices in setting concrete goals and designing appropriate, measurable indicators in the area of sustainability. This will involve discussions about how to identify and define what is and what is not sustainable. Topics include:
- Sustainability goals and planning
- Benchmarks and indicators
- Measuring progress
- Adaptive management strategies
Day 4: Business Perspectives
Through interactive assignments, participants will explore the advantages of sustainability-related planning in a business context, focusing on the “triple bottom line” of economic, ecological, and social progress. An interactive project will focus on hands-on sustainability planning for organizations and their staff.
Day 5: Perceptions, Communication and Wrap-up
The final day’s class will explore relationships between organizations and the public in sustainability efforts. Lectures and discussions will introduce theories and practical techniques to communicate environment and sustainability information within organizations and to the public.
Course schedule, registration times, special events
Class runs 9:00 am - 5:00 pm every day except for Friday, when it ends at 12:00 noon.
Registration is on Monday morning from 8:00 - 8:30 am.
Special events include a networking happy hour for course participants and faculty on Monday night and a dinner on Thursday evening. Dinner on Thursday is included in tuition.
Please note that laptops are required for this course. All materials will be provided exclusively in electronic form.
membership chair, society of women engineers
"The class was a great overview of Sustainability, and explained the many facets that are involved."
associate expert, united nations
"A good course for someone wanting to learn different approaches of the private sector to sustainability."
graduate student, university of hertfordshire
"It provided a global perspective on sustainability and a better understanding of its principles . . . [from] different people from different fields in different parts of the world."
president and ceo, global business consulting company
"This course was very good in my opinion because it brings me a clarity on sustainability on different angle (policy and business); it gives me the way forward in my industry which is struggling to find a sustainable solution for the whole supply chain. It also provides info on challenges still to overcome."
principal engineer, canon virginia, inc.
"The combined depth of knowledge, background and perspective of the faculty AND students made the class very real-world applicable!"
About the Presenters
Noelle E. Selin is the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Assistant Professor of Engineering Systems and Atmospheric Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has faculty appointments in MIT’s Engineering Systems Division and Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. Her research focuses on sustainability from an engineering perspective, and she uses environmental modeling to help inform decision-making strategies on climate change, air pollution, and toxic substances. Professor Selin has also published work on the interactions between science and policy in international environmental negotiations. At MIT, she teaches courses focusing on sustainability science, modeling and assessment for decision-making, global environmental science, and politics. She received her PhD from Harvard University in Earth and Planetary Sciences. Previously, she was also a research associate with the Initiative on Science and Technology for Sustainability at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a visiting researcher at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Denmark, and worked on chemicals issues at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Jason Jay is a Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan. He teaches courses on leadership, strategy, and innovation for sustainable business. Jay engages students and alumni in hands-on projects with leading companies and organizations. These efforts help build a community of innovators for sustainability that includes MIT students and alumni, faculty and researchers, with partners in business, government, NGOs, and hybrid organizations. Jay’s own research focuses on how people navigate the tensions inherent in the quest for sustainability, as they simultaneously pursue their own self-interest and the flourishing of human and other life. Alongside these efforts, Jay is an active leader of sustainability efforts across MIT. Through the MIT Sustainable Societies Research Group, he brings together scholars from across the Institute to examine the invention, implementation, and transformation required for a sustainable society. He has helped improve the energy and environmental footprint of the MIT campus by founding the MIT Generator and the 'Greening MIT' community engagement campaign, and serves as founding member of the Campus Energy “Walk the Talk” Task Force. Prior to MIT, Jay ran an Internet startup, traveled around the world, taught kindergarten in a progressive preschool, and worked as a consultant with Dialogos International.
Sai Ravela studied Computer Vision and Robotics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he earned a doctorate in 2002. As a graduate student, he became interested in Earth’s sustainability and joined the Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences department as a post-doc, where he continues today as a Principal Research Scientist. Sai's enduring research interest is to infer and quantify the behavior of Stochastic Fields and Processes. His research suggests new methods to overcome the curses of nonlinearity, dimensionality, and uncertainty—key challenges in describing the evolution of the Earth System. This research has led to Earth-centered applications including new mesoscale data assimilation and storm tracking systems, ecological informatics applications, tools to quantify hurricane risk in present and future, and new laboratory techniques to understand the ocean and atmosphere better. It has also made it out of academia, specifically to a company (WindRisk Tech) he co-founded in 2005. Dr. Ravela has served as a board member for Sustainable-step New England in the past and has delivered several talks communicating climate, complex systems theory, and sustainability to the community. He remains deeply committed to sustainability science and engineering.
Stacy D. VanDeveer is Chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of New Hampshire. His research interests include international environmental policymaking, and its domestic impacts, the role of expertise in policymaking and the politics of consumption and environmental and human rights degradation in global commodities markets. He co-edits the journal Global Environmental Politics (MIT Press). He spent two years as a post-doctoral research fellow in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government after getting his PhD from the University of Maryland. He has received research funding from the (U.S.) National Science Foundation, the Embassy of Canada, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research (MISTRA), among others. He has authored and co-authored over 70 articles, book chapters, working papers and reports, and six co-edited books on international and comparative environmental politics. He was a Visiting Fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University (2006-07) and On-site Director of the UNH London Program at Regents College (2007-08). He directed the MA program in Political Science at UNH from 2006-2011 and developed and launched the Graduate Certificate Program in Sustainability Politics and Policy. He was the Interim Director of the UNH Center for International Education in the first half of 2010. More recently, he was a Senior Fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, D.C. from 2011-12.
This course takes place on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We can also offer this course for groups of employees at your location. Please contact the Short Programs office for further details.
Link and resources
- MIT Technology Review: Noelle Selin Answers Three Questions on Energy Policy
- MIT World Video: Air Pollution Trends and Impacts: Assessing Transportation in Context of Global Change, featuring Professor Noelle E. Selin, March 29, 2011
- Future trends in environmental mercury concentrations: implications for prevention strategies