Sustainability: Principles and Practice

Lead Instructor(s): 

Noelle Selin



Course Length: 

5 Days

Course Fee: 





  • Closed

It is highly recommended that you apply for a course at least 6-8 weeks before the start date to guarantee there will be space available. After that date you may be placed on a waitlist. Courses with low enrollment may be cancelled up to 4 weeks before start date if sufficient enrollments are not met. If you are able to access the online application form, then registration for that particular course is still open.

This five-day course is planned to run in June, July, or August of 2017


This course is designed to help participants deepen and strengthen their sustainability efforts, by introducing new research on how sustainability principles and practice can inform goals and actions. Many organizations, companies, and institutions are increasingly conducting their activities with an eye towards managing environmental, social, and other concerns over a longer-term future. However, despite many existing efforts, substantial challenges remain. This course will deepen and enhance knowledge and practical skills for participants in the area of integrating sustainability into business practices, operations, policies, and research and development. 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. We will explore why, despite much talk about sustainability, many trends are still headed in the wrong direction — and how the latest research in sustainability science and engineering can help reverse them. The course emphasizes sustainability in all its dimensions, including all “three E’s” of environment, economics, and equity.

Takeaways from this course include:

  • Describing and defining the state-of-the-art in sustainability assessment and planning
  • Understanding the environmental, social, and economic drivers of sustainability challenges and their status and trends
  • Analyzing the benefits and addressing the shortcomings of sustainability goals and indicators
  • Formulating effective short and long term sustainability objectives and plans
  • Appraising and evaluating new 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. There is approximately equal emphasis on science/engineering, policy, and business perspectives.

Computer requirements:

Laptops are required for this course. All materials will be provided exclusively in electronic form.

Program Outline: 

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: 

View 2016 Course Schedule (pdf).

Class runs 9:30 am - 5:00 pm on Monday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm Tuesday through Thursday, and 9:00 am - Noon on Friday.

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.

Participants’ Comments: 


"The class was a great overview of sustainability, and explained the many facets that are involved."


"A good course for someone wanting to learn different approaches of the private sector to sustainability."


"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."


"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."


"The combined depth of knowledge, background and perspective of the faculty AND students made the class very real-world applicable!"



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 complete the Custom Programs request form for further details.


Fundamentals: Core concepts, understandings, and tools (40%) 40
Latest Developments: Recent advances and future trends (20%) 20
Industry Applications: Linking theory and real-world (40%) 40

Delivery Methods: 

Lecture: Delivery of material in a lecture format (40%) 40
Discussion or Groupwork: Participatory learning (30%) 30
Labs: Demonstrations, experiments, simulations (30%) 30



Introductory: Appropriate for a general audience (70%) 70
Specialized: Assumes experience in practice area or field (20%) 20
Advanced: In-depth explorations at the graduate level (10%) 10