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University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Introduction to Sustainability

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via Coursera


This course introduces the academic approach of Sustainability and explores how today’s human societies can endure in the face of global change, ecosystem degradation and resource limitations. The course focuses on key knowledge areas of sustainability theory and practice, including population, ecosystems, global change, energy, agriculture, water, environmental economics and policy, ethics, and cultural history.

This subject is of vital importance, seeking as it does to uncover the principles of the long-term welfare of all the peoples of the planet. As sustainability is a cross-disciplinary field of study, this foundation requires intellectual breadth: as I describe it in the class text, understanding our motivations requires the humanities, measuring the challenges of sustainability requires knowledge of the sciences (both natural and social), and building solutions requires technical insight into systems (such as provided by engineering, planning, and management).


  • Orientation and Introduction
    • In this module, you will become familiar with the course, your classmates, and the learning environment. The orientation also helps you obtain the technical skills required for the course. In the introduction, we will examine some of the central ideas that underpin the Earth as a system, and their consequences for environmental sustainability.
  • Population
    • In this module, we will see how human populations have evolved over time and get a sense of where the next century of change will take us.
  • Ecosystems and Climate Change
    • In this module, we will see that the Earth faces many environmental pressures that result from human exploitation of natural resources. We will also look at the issue of climate change.
  • Energy
    • In this module, we will look at energy use. We will also consider what the trend of energy use means for the planet, and how we might transition to a more sustainable pattern of use.
  • Water and Agriculture
    • In this module, we will explore the connection between water and food, and see what will be required to feed the planet over the course of the century.
  • Environmental Policy
    • In this module, we will examine some of the common tools used by policy-makers, and some of the forces that shape (or misshape) policy.
  • Measuring Sustainability
    • In this module, we will examine what tools are available to measure sustainability. Finally, I will make some predictions on global sustainability for the 21st century, based on the models we have spoken about in this course and the trends that have been observed in the early part of this century.
  • Conclusion
    • Welcome to the end of the course! This module has a final, comprehensive quiz that covers all of the topics that we’ve seen in the previous seven modules. You’ll want to be familiar with the goals and objectives, key phrases, concepts, and guiding questions from the earlier modules to do well on this final quiz.

Taught by

Jonathan Tomkin


4.4 rating, based on 16 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 2527 ratings

Start your review of Introduction to Sustainability

  • Anonymous
    Complex subjects such as Malthusian thinking, Tragedy of the Commons, Milankovitch cycles, climate vs. weather, greenhouse gases, and many others were very well explained by Prof. Tomkin. Now I'm able to understand sustainability discussions as well as possible ways of keeping our planet healthy.
  • Profile image for Claire B
    Claire B
    I completed this course in Nov 2013 so it may have changed. It was quite interesting, easy to understand and pretty complete. Be prepared though: it took me a lot of time, especially since the assignments were real pieces of work if I remember well. In the end, a greater understanding of the theme and definitely the feeling of deserving my certificate (free at that time btw).
  • Md. Arefin Hossain
    It is quite good. And i tried to learn about it. It should be for free of cost and it is possible by coursera to make some free cost of certificate courses. They have ability to do it.
  • Anonymous
    Certificate should not be paid. Because all we don't have the ability to pay for a certificate. But if we complete the course than I deserve a certificate.
  • Patrick E.
    Very interesting! Course was well-setup. I was a bit reluctant to participate in the discussion forums at first (as this was my first MOOC), but once I did I learned a lot from it.
  • The course is easy to follow and provide basic information for sustainability in various aspect. However, the flow of the course seems not very organised.
  • Anonymous
    Few days I have covered in Module 1 have opened my mind for instance, Malthusian theory on Population Growth. Interestingly, how modern technology suppressed his predictions.
  • A great course, very well organised. Highly recommended. Quite a bit of work, I spent around 9 hours per week on it. Feel like I have earned my certificate.
  • Paul
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    Michael Mazzola
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