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Principles of Sustainability

Members of the Teaching and Learning Subcommittee of the UIC Chancellor's Committee on Sustainability and Energy have created a new graduate course entitled Principles of Sustainability (GC 550). Offered for the first time Spring 2017 (CRN 39801), GC 550 is open to all students with graduate standing at UIC. The course aims to provide a common foundation for students wishing to understand the basis of sustainable systems, who seek to incorporate sustainability into their scholarly pursuits, or who require an elective to round out their graduate coursework. This is an interdisciplinary course that will examine the intersection of the three pillars of sustainability: economic development, social drivers, and environmental and human health.

Meeting Tuesdays (4:00 - 6:50 p.m. in Taft Hall 120  BSB 117), the course will be co-taught by Dr. Cynthia Klein-Banai (, Associate Chancellor for Sustainability, and Professor Thomas Theis (, Director of UIC’s Institute for Environmental Science and Policy. Please direct any questions to them. A topical listing is below. The elective course carries 3 hours of credit and runs the entire semester with normal letter grading. GC 550 is eligible to be used as a free elective, although all programs may not allow the credit to be used towards degree requirements.  If this is a concern, students are advised to confer with their Director of Graduate Studies.

[Note: The classroom was changed to BSB beginning with Week 2.]

GC 550 Principles of Sustainability

Wk 1 Introductions/Expectations/Grading (Course Outline, Grading Guide, Plagiarism)

*Systems Definitions (Open, closed, complex), examples

*System Optimization

*Background reading and discussion on the Earth System, Coupled Human-Natural Systems


Wk 2 Definitions of Terms (Sustainability, Sustainable Development, Resource Intensity, Eco-efficiency) 

*The IPAT Equation

*Patterns of Consumption and the Modern Consumer Society


Wk 3 Environmental and Resource Economics

*Externalities, Stocks and Flows, “The Fishing Game”

*Environmental Valuation


*Case study CAFÉ standards and/or artificial lighting

Note: Formation of Project Teams—balanced for multidisciplinary composition—discussion of project expectations


Wk 4-5 The Evolution of Environmental Policy


*The 20th Century—the Rise of “Wicked” Problems (Acid Rain, Climate Change,

*Acidification, Stratospheric Ozone, Reactive Nitrogen, Urban Sustainability, Acid Rain)

*Sustainability and Health

*The response: Environmental Laws and Regulations

*Sustainability and Policy—Treaties and Accords (Montreal, Paris)


Wk 6-7 Economic and Social Dimensions of Sustainability

*The Inequalities (Health, Education, Resource, Income and Wealth)

*Values, Norms and Responsibility

*Inter- and Intra-generational equity

*System Integrity

*Trade-offs vs Reinforcing gains

*Environmental and Social Justice

*Case study: The Flint Water Crisis


Wk 8 Organizational Change and the Plurality of Perspectives

*Stakeholders and Knowledge

*Ethical Perspectives

*Corporate Sustainability

*Case study: the Dow Jones Sustainability Index


Wk 9-10 Metric and Measures of Sustainability

*Life Cycle Impact Assessment (Scoping, Inventory, Impacts, Interpretation)

*Case study: TBD

*Life Cycle-Based Tools and Indices: Footprints (eco, carbon), Rating systems (STAR Communities, LEED)

*Life Cycle-Based System Networks


Wk 11 Team Work

*Discussion of Projects

*Planning Process

*Facilitation Skills


Wk 12 Resilience (Shauhrat Chopra)

Wk 13-14-15 Project Presentations



1. Class participation 30%

2. Three approximately 5-page papers 35%

3. Final group project 35%