Sustainability is a broad field

A warm welcome to the course

Sustainability is a very broad field, and everyone means something different when they talk about sustainability.

To narrow down the term, we will follow two strands in this course:

One strand will lead us through the evolution of the term “sustainability”. We will look at both the differences and the similarities between the various concepts of sustainability. We will also go into the scientific meaning of “sustainability”.

The second strand will take us through the case of the clean energy transition in Switzerland. We will then bring both strands together to assess the sustainability of the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050.

For this assessment, we designed a conceptual framework for the course. It can also be used for other major challenges that relate to sustainability. We will show this at the end, using the loss of biodiversity as an example.

Each of the following five chapters has a different focus:

In the first chapter, we will set the scene by introducing sustainability. What was the starting point of sustainability? Who coined this term and why? We will also introduce our case study, namely the transition to clean energy in Switzerland.

The second chapter deals with the multitude of sustainability concepts. You are probably curious to know why different concepts are necessary. To clarify this, we will show the motivations for these different concepts as well as the consequences of developing solutions. Knowing about these different concepts helps us to understand why different stakeholders have such diverse expectations for sustainable solutions.

In the third chapter, we will dive into the case study. What does the transition of the energy system mean on the supply and demand side? You will discover some connections between energy, well-being and sufficiency. How can the energy transition be steered and supported by policies?

After this third chapter, you will be familiar with different perspectives of the energy transition. These are not limited to technologies, but also take into account the natural environment and households, including the needs and lifestyles of their members.

In the fourth chapter, we will assess the sustainability of possible energy futures. To do this, we will develop a conceptual framework that will make it easier to integrate and position the different actors in a socio-ecological context. After applying this framework to the Swiss case and assessing the sustainability dimension of this case, our challenge for you is to transfer the framework to your home country. If this is not possible, why is this? What is missing and what is different?

Finally, in the fifth chapter, we will apply the developed concept to other major sustainability challenges, such as biodiversity loss. We will discuss why biodiversity loss is a sustainability issue and why interdisciplinary approaches are needed. As a conclusion, we will provide a summary of what you have explored.

To navigate through the course, you have two options. If you click on the bar with chapter numbers on the left, the menu panel will appear. You will see the overview of the course and can go directly to a topic that particularly interests you. Or you can use the arrows at the bottom of each step to navigate forwards or backwards.

Each of the chapters is divided into several steps and offers formats such as videos, podcasts or articles. We also provide web links and articles for you to study on your own. The chapters end with quizzes so that you can assess your understanding of what you have just learnt.

Let us now dive into the topic of sustainability. We are glad you are here – and we hope you enjoy the course!

Author: Patricia Holm