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Online course materials for MCEL30022

Interdisciplinary Sustainable Development

Unit code: MCEL30022
Credit Rating: 10
Unit level: Level 3
Teaching period(s): Semester 2
Offered by Alliance Manchester Business School
Available as a free choice unit?: Y



Additional Requirements

This is a highly interactive problem-based-learning course unit. A significant amount of time must be spent engaged in independent work in between class sessions, researching projects and producing team collaborative project reports.

Theoretical concepts will be introduced in weeks 1, 2, 3 & 4.. Team work takes place weeks 3-12. Mark penalties will be applied upon students who do not attend scheduled team work sessions (weeks 3-12).


The aim of the ISD unit is to develop understanding and abilities in students relevant to meeting the ultimate challenge of creating change towards sustainable development in a complex world. Through developing students’ knowledge and professional skills, the objective is to contribute to delivering the environmental, social and economic development agendas through facilitating the application of sustainability and change management principles in graduates’ future careers and professional activities.

Through tackling a diverse series of short interdisciplinary projects based on topical, real-life challenges, teams gain understanding of the complex issues surrounding development towards social responsibility, environmental and economic sustainability. Through researching literature and then developing innovative strategies that balance conflicting needs and consequences, interdisciplinary teams are exposed to the concepts of social responsibility, environmental and economic sustainability and their implications for businesses, society and the environment, locally and globally.  This process requires recognising ethical considerations and using creativity and problem solving skills to overcome barriers to change.


The world’s population is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The standard of living around the world has been rising, but socio-economic disparities remain. Individuals, communities, companies and nations all have a role to play in tackling inter-connected global challenges, in order to provide every person in every country with water, food, energy and a home, in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

Sustainable development is increasingly becoming a goal to which numerous countries and organisations throughout the world aspire. There is a growing recognition and acceptance that society needs to develop new pathways to achieve a more sustainable future.  This is driving elements of government policy, business strategy and technical innovation, recognising that the past and present strategies of industrial societies have led to unacceptable damage of the physical environment and inequalities both within “developed” communities and with the rest of the non-industrialised world.  Sustainable development demands synergy, collaboration and integration across disciplines and stakeholders in order to generate solutions, foster change and contribute to delivering national and international environmental, social and economic development agendas. The goal is to achieve economic progress, ecological protection and social justice. Achieving a balance between all three elements is a challenging task.

University graduates from any discipline have a special place in leading change towards sustainable development by being able to develop solutions and tools such as new products, new technologies, new business practices, new policies, etc. to address global issues.  The challenge for many organisations across the globe is finding graduates equipped to work in ‘the real world’ and robust ways of implementing sustainable development at a practical level (addressing global challenges whilst remaining competitive on a global stage).

This unit provides students student with an awareness of current unsustainable practices across a wide range of disciplines, key global challenges, an understanding and application of basic concepts and principles for sustainable development and, an understanding of the place that their chosen degree specialism has in addressing global challenges. The unit has a much emphasis in knowledge and understanding of principles for sustainable development as it does in the development of skills and competences to influence change towards sustainable development. Both, the result and the process are equally important.

Interactive lectures are used to introduce basic concepts. However, this is a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) unit in which students learn a practical, holistic, approach to tackling real-life problems that applies the fundamental principles of sustainable development; requires both the development of close team collaboration, research skills and critical analysis of information; and precludes the common pitfalls of discipline-centrism, ethnocentrism and short-termism. Facilitated weekly group activities (setting ground rules, identifying team roles, reviewing team performance) are used to foster an effective group work environment and explore the relationship between multidisciplinary and multicultural  teams and  sustainable development.

Teaching and learning methods

This is a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and most of the learning will be student-led. A few lectures will be used to introduce key concepts. Facilitated team activities and workshops constitute a large part of scheduled activities.

Learning outcomes


Knowledge and understanding

Students should be able to:

Demonstrate critical understanding of the challenges associated with implementing changes for sustainable development:

  • the impact of differing perspectives of sustainability, social responsibility and global citizenship;
  • identifying and balancing social, environmental, economic and ethical considerations;
  • engaging with stakeholders and identifying and managing conflicting interests and views;
  • predicting short term and long term consequences, taking a “whole lifecycle” perspective;
  • handling complexity, uncertainty and risk and practising multi-criteria decision making;

Demonstrate knowledge of the role of different mechanisms for change and means of overcoming barriers to change.

Intellectual skills

Students should be able to:

Apply a holistic and systematic approach to investigating complex, “messy” open-ended problems.
Work across traditional disciplinary boundaries in order to develop innovative strategies and proposals.
Apply a framework to employ problem solving skills in examining complex, multi-criteria, issues that incorporate uncertainty and conflicts of interest.

Practical skills

Students should be able to:

Apply and develop information literacy skills.
Apply problem solving skills within the context of a team activity/project.
Research and critically analyse information from published literature and internet sources to produce written reports.
Create and deliver a team presentation.
Reflecting and analysing what has been learned through the experience.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Students should be able to:

Apply reflective practice to engage in continuing self-improvement in a professional context.
Work collaboratively as a member of a diverse multi-disciplinary team, contributing to the development of effective team dynamics and project management processes.
Develop strategies to work more effectively with those from different disciplinary, national or cultural backgrounds.
Demonstrate skills in debating, structuring and communicating ideas and proposals in writing, verbally in meetings, and also in presentation format.

Employability skills

  • OtherProblem-based learning, real-life challenges and cross-disciplinary team work are employed to equip students with sustainability literacy and competencies to enhance student employability such as: Business and customer awareness Team `consultancy┬┐ (not assay) report address to a real client Depending of the project, proposing strategies without compromising economic sustainability Communication and information literacy Contributing to weekly team activities Academic and business information research Team `consultancy┬┐ (not assay) report Group presentation

Assessment Further Information

Formative assignments:

Blackboard (BB) Quiz: Sustainability Principles 10-15 minutes. This test can be taken multiple times - mark not used

Summative assignments:

Team Project 1: - 20%*

Team Project 2: - 50%*

*Team marks for Project 1 and 2 are modified by summative peer-assessment results

Individual Reflective Report: 30%


Most of the unit uses a Problem Based Learning (PBL) format instead of formal lectures. Therefore, much of the student learning will occur through student involvement in a research-based team project. The following topics will be covered:

  •    Introduction to key global challenges from a multidisciplinary approach
  •  Introduction to sustainable development concept
  •  3-pillars model for sustainable development: integrating and balancing environmental, social and economic solutions
  •  ‘System thinking’, Life Cycle thinking,
  •  Introduction to stakeholders’ engagement and management in the context of sustainable development
  •  Introduction to multi-criteria decision making
  • Sustainable value creation and the Circular Economy
  • Team roles and effective interdisciplinary teams
  • Responsible management and leadership
  • Learning from reflective practice and continuous personal development


Recommended reading

Rogers P.P., Jalal K.F., Boyd J.A. (2012) An Introduction to Sustainable Development Routledge (ASIN: B0081YWAQ4)

Conaway, R. N., Laasch, O. (2014). Principles of Responsible Management: Glocal Sustainability, Responsibility, and Ethics (ISBN-10: 1-285-08026)

 Allenby B.R.  (2012). The Theory and Practice of Sustainable Engineering Pearson (Prentice Hall) (ISBN10: 0 273 75216 2)

Azapagic A., Perdan S.  (2011).  Sustainable Development in Practice: Case Studies for Engineers and Scientists 2nd Edition  Wiley (ASIN: B005FMLIMM)

Mulder, K. ed. (2006). Sustainable Development for Engineers: A Handbook and Resource Guide Greenleaf Publishing (ISBN-10: 1874719195)

Nicholas Ashford and Ralph Hall (2011).   Technology, Globalization, and Sustainable Development: Transforming the Industrial State,  Yale University Press  (ISBN-10: 0300169728)

Stibbe, A. ed. (2009). The Handbook of Sustainability Literacy: Skills for a Changing World. Totnes, Devon: Green Books Ltd.

Kolb. A. D, 2nd Ed. (2014), Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (ISBN-10: 0-13-389240-9)

Feedback methods

1. You will receive immediate feedback regarding your understanding of basic principles of sustainable development upon completing a blackboard multiple choice quiz. The quiz can be taken unlimited number of times.

2. Your team facilitator is available to give feed back to the whole team during scheduled team work. Your facilitator will also be available to discuss your own individual performance with you or help you individually with any team problems you are having, at the end of each class session, if there are a few minutes to spare. The nature of the facilitation role means that staff members are unlikely to offer you individual advice unless you specifically ask for it. Facilitators are there to support your team’s development rather than to evaluate your performance and they are not formally assessing you or contributing to the allocation of your final mark.

3. Your lecturer may provide brief replies to your e-mailed enquiry within their scheduled working hours if time permits, or may arrange to meet immediately before, following or during a scheduled class session.

4. Your lecturer may feedback messages to the whole class via Blackboard if the point that you have raised could be of benefit to the whole class. It is your responsibility to check blackboard regularly.

5. After each team project, your lecturer will provide written feedback.

Study hours

  • Practical classes & workshops - 24 hours
  • Independent study hours - 76 hours

Teaching staff

Veronica Sanchez-Romaguera - Unit coordinator

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