This is the syllabus for the Lehigh University course only. Each participating institution will provide their students with a separate course syllabus.

Course title: Foundations of Sustainable Development Practice  

Course number: SDEV/ES 310/410 (Lehigh University)

Credits: 3 for ES 410, 4 for SDEV/ES 310

Meeting Dates and Times: Tuesday 07:45-10:35


The class session on Tuesdays will consist of two consecutive parts. The first part of the class, 8:00am to 9:15am, will constitute the “Global Classroom”. While it will be hosted by Lehigh University, it is streamed live to students from MDP institutions across the world who are taking this course concurrently. The other part of the class on Tuesdays, from 9:15-10:35am is exclusively for Lehigh students and conducted in a face-to-face format.  


Location (Lehigh): E.W. Fairchild Martindale Library 625.

Instructor: Prof. Donald Morris, Dept. Earth & Environmental Sciences and Director of the Environmental Initiative and the Sustainable Development Program

Office: STEPS 566 x85175


Lehigh University endorses The Principles of Our Equitable Community ( We expect each member of this class to acknowledge and practice these Principles. Respect for each other and for differing viewpoints is a vital component of the learning environment inside and outside the classroom.

Course description: With the world at 7.5 billion people and a current annual GDP of around US$75 trillion, human impacts on the environment have already reached dangerous levels.   By 2050 there may well be 9 billion people and global GDP of more than US$250 trillion.    The challenges of governance for sustainable development in a globalizing world are real and many. National governments must coordinate   policy development and implementation with diverse actors — businesses, local governments, regional/international institutions, and civil society organizations. The global Information and communication revolution is leading to increased transparency, with growing demands for participation in decision making in every country. Multinational corporations are key players in global trade, finance, manufacturing, resource extraction, and technological change, and more so than most national governments. Globalization makes possible regulatory and tax arbitrage across jurisdictions, undermining the effectiveness of national economic policies, taxation, and environmental regulations. Tackling problems that require global cooperation is extremely challenging in a multi-polar world. The world urgently needs a practical and effective framework for sustainable development to address the simultaneous challenges of ending poverty, increasing social inclusion, and sustaining local and planetary life systems.  

Leaders of 193 countries adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the UN Sustainable Development Summit on September 25, 2015. It includes a set of 17  Sustainable  Development Goals (SDGs)  to end poverty, fight inequality  and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.  In the years preceding the summit, a number of activities initiated under the leadership of UN Secretary-General set the stage for the SD Summit. They included the  UN SG’s High-Level Global Sustainability Panel Report recommending that the world adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals. As part of UN Secretary-General’s initiatives to promote sustainable development, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions  Network (SDSN) was launched in 2012 to mobilize global scientific and technological knowledge on the challenges of sustainable development, including the design and implementation of the post-2015 global sustainable development agenda. In 2014, the Open Working Group  of the UN released its  proposal for post-2015 development agenda  for consideration and appropriate action by the UN General Assembly. The outcome document of the United Nations Summit for the post-2015 development agenda, “Transforming Our World: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development” was agreed to by member states on Aug 11, 2015, and adopted at the UN SD Summit in New York, September 25-27.  

Feasible   pathways to   long-term sustainability   are highly complex, subject  to technological  uncertainty, and  requiring substantial  financial resources. Sound policy-making in each country requires a long-term approach that integrates strategies vis-à-vis many challenges: food and nutritional security, social service delivery, energy policy, water resource management, urbanization, infrastructure, human rights, biodiversity, adaption to climate change, mitigating GHGs, sustainable business, good governance, and much more. New kinds of cross-disciplinary expert teams, knowledgeable of and sensitive to these issues, and often working across national borders, are needed to provide an integrated approach to sustainability.   

The broad goal of this course is to introduce the foundations of key sectoral and thematic knowledge for these important challenges to sustainable development. Through the Global Classroom, an approach pioneered by Columbia University and the Global MDP Association, and led for the first time by Lehigh University, we will do this together with academic partners from around the world.


Course Objectives: Upon successful completion of the course, students will become familiar   with current and emerging global issues related to Sustainable Development Goals, be equipped to analyze critical dimensions of sustainable development in the context of both industrialized and developing countries, and be cognizant  of the key spatial and temporal connections and their integration for successful policy and practice of sustainable development.


Method of instruction: The course will achieve its learning objectives by deploying a combination of lectures from internationally recognized experts, classroom and online discussion, extensive readings, and class writing projects. Each class on Tuesdays will run for 170 minutes, in two parts. First, the Global Classroom with a lead speaker and discussion (for about 75 minutes). Following a short break, the second part of the class is the Lehigh classroom, involving moderated discussion.  


Discussion  format for the  Global Classroom:  The course will be sub-divided in two different ways:  

  • First, the course will be divided into four modules, one for each pillar of Sustainable Development: Economic Well-Being, Environmental Protection, Social Inclusion, and Governance for Sustainable Development.  
  • Thereafter, each module will be divided into 3 sections, starting with (i) a Global Thought Leader to provide a current overview of the module, followed by (ii) another world expert to lead a deeper dive into the module, and concluding with (iii) a practitioner currently applying the SDGs in action to offer a perspective  from the front lines.


An interactive discussion in real time involving students from across the MDP Network is highly desirable. However, at the current stage of ICT technology (marvelous as it is), this remains an aspirational goal. Nonetheless, we will be attempting several types of approaches for interactive discussion with the speakers and each other throughout the semester, using the Zoom Video Conferencing web- based platform, including but not limited to the following:


  • Global Thought Leaders will speak for at least 45 minutes, and any remaining time will be devoted to Q&A between classrooms and the speaker;
  • Experts  will speak  for a shorter  period than the  Global Thought Leaders,  at which time we will open  up to live Q&A and interactive  discussion among participating classrooms;
  • Practitioners will conduct a 20-30 minute rapid fire Q&A with participating classrooms, after which we will divide up into smaller breakout groups on Zoom of 2-3 universities each, before returning to a full Global Classroom discussion for the final part of the class.


Class Schedule: For Lehigh students, the weekly class schedule will be maintained on our CourseSite page.

Module Week Date Session Guest Speaker
Introduction 1 Sept. 4 Global Thought Leader Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs
Economic Well-being 2 Sept. 11 Global Thought Leader Professor P. Paul Walsh
3 Sept. 18 Expert Dr. David O’Connor
4 Sept. 25 Practitioner Professor Glenn Yago
Environ-mental Protection 5 Oct 2 Global Thought Leader Mr. Martin Visbeck (oceans)
6 Oct 9 Expert Professor Jonathan Donges (planetary boundaries)
NA Oct 16 Fall Break – No Class Sessions
7 Oct 23 Practitioner Mr. Felix Dodds (social inclusion)
Social Inclusion 8 Oct 30 Global Thought Leader Dr. Yanis Ben Amor (health)
9 Nov 6 Expert Dr. James Hansen (climate change)
10 Nov 13 Practitioner Prof. Hirokazu Yoshikawa and Ms. Katie Murphy (education)
Governance for Sustainable Development 11 Nov 20 Global Thought Leader Ms. Audrey Tang
12 Nov 27 Expert Ambassador David Donoghue
13 Dec 4 Practitioner Mr. David Smith (Policy Briefs)

Class Readings & Videos: All readings will be posted on the Global Classroom website,, a minimum of one week in advance, with some indicated as required and others as recommended. These may change as new ones are considered. For some topics, students may be requested to view a video or become familiar with relevant websites. While the Tuesday Global Classroom speakers will address some of the issues covered in the readings, the readings are designed to provide a background to the topic of discussion and are complementary to the lectures. Students may be invited at random to provide an overview of issues for debate. Take your readings seriously!  Video lectures by global experts occur via live stream on Tuesdays at 8:00 am (EDT). Video files are typically posted to the web page within 24 hours. The web site also contains videos and readings from the 2017 Global Classroom, which may be of interest to students.


Class Grading (applies to Lehigh University students only):


  • In an effort to raise the quality of our classroom discussions, you are responsible for material in The Age of Sustainable Development, an SDSN MOOC, or the book “The Age of Sustainable Development” by Jeffrey Sachs (2015). These two resources essentially provide identical content. You may choose your preferred medium. If you are not familiar with a topic being addressed in a particular unit, please start by reviewing the relevant section(s) in The Age of Sustainable Development BEFORE attempting the required class reading. You must complete the online quiz on this material before October 9th (on CourseSite). This quiz accounts for 15% of the final grade.


    • One Policy Brief, due by midnight Nov 20th:   The brief, written individually by students, would be approximately 750 words in length. The policy brief would require the student to display deep substantive knowledge of sustainable development policy field, and grasp of relevant methods / data challenges. The brief is submitted on CourseSite by the submission deadline. The policy brief accounts for 25% of the final grade.


  • One individual final paper, due by midnight Dec 18th: The paper should be approximately 1500 words. The paper will analyze key challenges in the implementation of sustainable  development, in a specific country or sub- national level setting. A clear exposition of the practical challenges in addition to fluency on substantive grasp of the relevant field is expected. The paper is submitted on CourseSite by the submission deadline. The final paper accounts for 30% of the final grade.
  • Active  class participation,  throughout the semester,  accounting for 30%  of the


final grade as described below. Students are expected to participate in the following efforts:  

o For the Lehigh classroom sessions, groups of 2-3 students will moderate a discussion  on the week’s topic, drawing on class readings, the Global Classroom discussion, and their own experience. Each student will do this 3 times over the course of the semester. Discussion moderation will accounts for 20% of the final grade, and will be assessed through peer evaluation.

o In addition to moderating selected Lehigh classroom sessions, each student is expected to actively participate in Global Classroom and Lehigh classroom discussions, drawing deeply on class readings and on their experience. Students are expected to attend every session and actively participate in the discussions. This participation accounts for 10% of the final grade.

Late  submissions  of  assignments  will  not  be  accepted  without  prior  approval.  Please  be  aware  that  such  approvals  would  not  be  forthcoming  on  a routine  basis.  Late  submissions  will  be  penalized  by  10%  of  the  assignment  value  for each day or any part thereof overdue.