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2015/2016  KAN-CCMVV1431U  Sustainability Challenges 1: Systems Thinking

English Title
Sustainability Challenges 1: Systems Thinking

Course information

Language English
Course ECTS 7.5 ECTS
Type Elective
Level Full Degree Master
Duration One Quarter
Start time of the course First Quarter
Timetable Course schedule will be posted at calendar.cbs.dk
Min. participants 45
Max. participants 60
Study board
Study Board for MSc in Economics and Business Administration
Course coordinator
  • Stefano Ponte - Department of Business and Politics (DBP)
Kontaktinformation: https:/​/​e-campus.dk/​studium/​kontakt eller Contact information: https:/​/​e-campus.dk/​studium/​kontakt
Main academic disciplines
  • CSR and sustainability
  • Innovation
  • Strategy
Last updated on 29-06-2015
Learning objectives
To achieve the grade 12, students should meet the following learning objectives with no or only minor mistakes or errors:
  • describe, classify and critically discuss the concept of sustainability from a holistic perspective;
  • explain the systemic nature of sustainability, drawing from earth, production and business interaction systems thinking;
  • identify the interactions and links between different parts of these systems;
  • account for the main approaches to examining sustainability, such as planetary boundaries, life cycle assessment, cradle-to-cradle, and the triple bottom line
  • reflect upon the sources of risk, uncertainty and controversy in carrying out actions targeted at sustainability – from the points of view of business, government and civil society actors
  • be able to identify various technological, scientific, business and political solutions to specific sustainability challenges and their interactions
Course prerequisites
Please note that only students from KU can apply as credit students.
Sustainability Challenges 1: Systems Thinking:
Exam ECTS 7,5
Examination form Oral Exam
Individual or group exam Individual
Duration 20 min. per student, including examiners' discussion of grade, and informing plus explaining the grade
Preparation time With the listed preparation time: 15 Minutes
Grading scale 7-step scale
Examiner(s) Internal examiner and second internal examiner
Exam period Autumn
Aids allowed to bring to the exam All written and electronic aids
Make-up exam/re-exam
Same examination form as the ordinary exam
Description of the exam procedure

This course is taught by faculty and attended by students at CBS, KU and DTU. The exam is Individual and oral, with two examiners (one from CBS and one from KU); the student will extract a question from a series of possible ones and will have one hour to prepare for the oral exam, with full access to all means.

DTU students will enrol separately at DTU and will have their exams organized separately.

Course content and structure




Business, government and civil society are facing complex sustainability challenges that they cannot solve alone. These challenges have financial, managerial, political, social and environmental components, and tackling them often requires partnerships between the private and public sectors, or multi-stakeholder initiatives that also involve non-governmental organizations, community-based organizations, venture capital and universities.


There is an increasing need, and demand for, managers and employees who have specialist skills, but who can also operate in multi-disciplinary teams. They need to have developed a common language and understanding with specialists in other fields so they can bridge the gaps between science, technology and business solutions to sustainability. Many scientific discoveries, technological developments or business innovations on sustainability fail because of the lack of understanding from each of these fields of the complex challenges that are involved. Business plans fail because of lack of understanding of their technological complexities; scientific breakthroughs are abandoned because they are miscommunicated to the public or the political system; technological innovations end up financially unfeasible.


This course seeks to fill this gap. It is taught by faculty members and includes students from CBS, KU and DTU (see details below). The aim is to provide a new generation of specialist professionals with the relevant skills to properly operate and communicate in multi-disciplinary teams that seek to tackle and find innovative solutions to the complex sustainability challenges society and business face. The course will consist of lectures from faculty in the three participant universities, group work, discussion, presentations and hands-on exercises; groups will include students from all 3 universities.




  • 33 contact hours organized in 11 blocks (3x45 min each) twice a week:
    • 1 block: joint introduction and overview
    • 9 blocks on specific topics (see below), delivered in rotation at the three participating universities
    • 1 block: joint conclusion and sum-up


Provisional programme


- Joint introduction

- Blocks 1-3: Earth system & planetary boundaries (@KU)

  • Earth system and planetary boundaries: Overview
  • Global assessments of nine planetary boundaries 1
  • Global assessments of nine planetary boundaries 2

- Blocks 4-6: Production systems & system thinking (@DTU)

  • Sustainability of products and systems: Introduction
  • Frameworks for assessing sustainability of products and systems
  • Societal challenges and environmental economics

- Blocks 7-9: Business interaction systems (@CBS)

  • Business, sustainability decision-making and communication 
  • Business strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship for sustainability
  • Business-government-civil society interactions and sustainability governance

- Joint conclusion


Teaching methods
• lectures, group work/​discussion/​presentations, hands-on exercises
• groups include students from all 3 universities
Further Information

This course is offered as an elective, but is one of two mandatory courses (Sustainability Challenges 1 and 2) for students wishing to obtain the CBS-KU-DTU ‘Joint Certificate in Sustainability: Science, Technology and Business’.


The joint certificate is assigned by a joint committee from the three participating universities and can be obtained in addition to a regular MSc degree. To obtain the certificate, students need to take and pass the two SC1 and SC2 courses.


For more info on this initiative, please see: http://cosiuni.weebly.com


CBS students:
CBS students not seeking to obtain the joint certificate can also take SC1 or SC2 as a self-standing electives.

Expected literature

Literature list: SC1


  • Andonova, L.B., M. Betsill, and H. Bulkeley (2009) Transnational Climate Governance, Global Environmental Politics 9.2: 52-73.
  • Bäckstrand, K. (2008) Accountability of Networked Climate Governance: The Rise of Transnational Climate Partnerships. Global Environmental Politics 8.3: 74-102.
  • Barnosky, Anthony D., et al. (2011) Has the Earth's sixth mass extinction already arrived? Nature 471.7336: 51-57
  • Barrett, J., H. Coninck, and C.F.D.  Morejon (2014), Drivers, Trends and Mitigation. Chapter 5, Sect 5.8. In Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. IPCC. Cambridge University Press.  https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_full.pdf
  • Bjørn, A., Hauschild, M.Z. (2013) Absolute versus Relative Environmental Sustainability. Journal of Industrial Ecology 17: 321-332.
  • Borucke M, Moore D, Cranston G, et al. (2013) Accounting for
  • Bridges, T. S., et al. (2013). Climate change risk management: a Mental Modeling application. Environment Systems and Decisions, 33.3: 376–390
  • Bruine de Bruin, W., & Bostrom, A. (2013). Assessing what to address in science communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 110 Suppl, 14062–14068
  • Day, G.S., and P.J.H. Schoemaker (2011), Innovating in uncertain markets: 10 lessons for green technologies, MIT Sloan Management Review, 52.4: 37-45
  • De Vries, W., et al. (2013) Assessing planetary and regional nitrogen boundaries related to food security and adverse environmental impacts. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 5.3: 392-402
  • demand and supply of the biosphere’s regenerative capacity: The National Footprint Accounts' underlying methodology and framework. Ecological Indicators, 24: 518–533
  • Demeritt, D (2002) What is the ‘social construction of nature’? A typology and sympathetic critique, Progress in Human Geography, 26.6: 767-790.
  • Elkington, J. (2001). Enter the Triple Bottom Line. The Triple Bottom Line: Does It All Add Up?, 1: 1–16.
  • Fleurbaey, M, Kartha, S, Bolwig, et al. (2014) Sustainable Development and Equity. Chapter 4, Sect. 4.4. In Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. IPCC. Cambridge University Press.  https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_full.pdf
  • Fleurbaey, M., S. Kartha, S. Bolwig, et al. (2014), Sustainable Development and Equity. Chapter 4, Sect. 4.1-4.3 and 4.7-4.8. In Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. IPCC. Cambridge University Press. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_full.pdf
  • Fransen, L. 2012. Multi-stakeholder governance and voluntary programme interactions: legitimation politics in the institutional design of Corporate Social Responsibility. Socio-Economic Review 10.1: 163–192.
  • Goldemberg, J. (1998) Leapfrog energy technologies. Energy Policy 26.10 (1998): 729-741.
  • Guinee, J.B. et al. (2011) Life Cycle Assessment – Past, Present, and Future, Environmental Science & Technology 45: 90-96.
  • Haapala, K.R. et al. (2013) A Review of Engineering Research in Sustainable Manufacturing. J Manuf Sci Eng. 2013;135(4):041013. doi:10.1115/1.4024040.
  • Hale, T., and C. Roger (2014) Orchestration and Transnational Climate Governance, Review of International Organizations 9: 59–82.
  • Hanjra, M.A., and M.E. Qureshi (2010) Global water crisis and future food security in an era of climate change. Food Policy 35.5: 365-377
  • Hauschild, M. (2005), Assessing environmental impacts in a life-cycle perspective. Environmental Science & Technology 39.4: 81A-88A
  • Henriksen, L. and S. Ponte (2015) Public Orchestration, Social Networks and Transnational Environmental Governance: Lessons from the Aviation Industry. Under review.
  • Hepburn, C. and A. Bowen (2013) Prosperity with growth. Economic growth, climate change and environmental limits. In Fouquet, R. (ed). Handbook of Energy and Climate Change, Edward Edgar.
  • Hoegh-Guldberg, O., et al. (2007) Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science 318.5857: 1737-1742
  • Hoekstra, A. Y. et al. (2011) The Water Footprint Assessment Manual - Setting the Global Standard. Earthscan: Washington, USA
  • International Reference Life Cycle Data System Handbook (“ILCD Handbook”) - General guide for Life Cycle Assessment - Detailed guidance. First edition March 2010, Chapters tba
  • IPCC AR5 Summary Report for policy Makers https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf;
  • Jackson, T. (2009) Prosperity without Growth. Earthscan.
  • Jasanoff, S. (2010) A New Climate for Society, Theory, Culture and Society, 27.2-3: 233-253.
  • Lieb, C.M. (2004) The Environmental Kuznets Curve and Flow versus Stock Pollution: The Neglect of Future Damages. Environmental and Resource Economics 29.4: 483-506.n
  • Lister, J., R.T. Poulsen and S. Ponte (2015) Orchestrating Transnational Environmental Governance in Maritime Shipping. Under review.
  • Matzler, K., V. Veider and W. Kathan (2015) Adapting to the Sharing Economy, MIT Sloan Management Review, 56.2: 71-77
  • McAloone, T. C. and N. Bey (2009) Environmental improvement through product development - a guide, Danish EPA, Copenhagen Denmark, ISBN 978-87-7052-950-1
  • McDaniels, D. and F. Bowen. (2011) Total's Carbon Capture and Storage Project at LACQ (A): Risk Opportunity in Public Engagement. Harvard Business School Publishing
  • Mulder, K. (ed.) (2006) Sustainability for Engineers, Chapter 1,  ‘Why do we need sustainability?’ Greenleaf Publishing, UK
  • Nidumolu, Ram, C. K. Prahalad, and M. R. Rangaswami (2009), Why sustainability is now the key driver of innovation. Harvard Business Review 87.9: 56-64
  • Orsato, R. (2009) Sustainability Strategies: When Does It Pay to Be Green? Palgrave, Chapter 2.  
  • Reinhardt, F.L. (1999), Bringing the Environment Down to Earth, Harvard Business Review, 77.4: 149-157
  • Richardson, K. and W. Steffen (2015). Network of Cooperation between Science Organisations in Handbook of Science and Technology Convergence DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-04033-2_80-1
  • Richardson, K., W. Steffen and D. Liverman (2014) The human-Earth relationship: past, present and future, Ch. 17 in Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions, Cambridge University Press.
  • Rothenberg, S. (2007), Sustainability Through Servicizing, MIT Sloan Management Review, 48.2: 83-89
  • Searchinger, T., et al. (2008) Use of US croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change. Science 319.5867: 1238-1240
  • Steffen, W., et al. (2015) Planetary boundaries: Guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 347.6223: 1259855.
  • Thomas, M., et al. (2015). Mental models of sea-level change: A mixed methods analysis on the Severn Estuary, UK. Global Environmental Change, 33: 71–82. 
  • Unruk, G.C. (2000) Understanding carbon lock-in. Energy Policy 28.12: 817-830.
Last updated on 29-06-2015