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 am US EST/EDT. See weekly schedule below.  

The class session on Tuesdays will consist of two consecutive parts. The first part of the class, 8:00am to 9:15am, would constitute the “Global Classroom”. While it will be hosted by Lehigh University, it is common to students from MDP institutions across the world who are taking this course concurrently. The other parts of the class on Tuesdays, from 7:45-8:00am and 9:15-10:35am, in the syllabus is for students of the Environmental Policy Design Masters Program and Sustainable Development Program at Lehigh University. 

The Age of Sustainable Development, an SDSN MOOC, is an integral resource for the course. Students are expected to have reviewed the material and watched the online lectures in advance of completing the course. 

Location: E.W. Fairchild Martindale Library, Room 625

Global Classroom Course Coordinator:
Prof. Mark Orrs, PhD

Instructor (Lehigh University):
Prof. Don Morris, PhD, Director of the Environmental Initiative
Office: STEPS 566, x8-5175

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 7.8 billion people and a current annual GDP of almost US$90 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 Local Classroom (for Lehigh students), involving moderated discussion. 

Discussion format for the Global Classroom: As shown in the class schedule below, 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, 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 and Practitioners 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;


Class Schedule

Module Week Date Session Guest Speaker
Introduction & Governance for Sustainable Development 1 Sept. 7 Global Thought Leader Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs
2 Sept. 14 Expert Mr. Jan-Gustav Strandenaes
3 Sept. 21 Practitioner Ms. Paula Caballero
Economic well-being


4 Sept. 28 Expert Prof. P. Paul Walsh
5 Oct 5 Global Thought Leader Sir Ronald Cohen with
Prof. Glenn Yago
6 Oct 12 Practitioner Prof. Khanjan Mehta
Environmental Protection 7 Oct 19 Global Thought Leader Mr. Martin Visbeck
8 Oct 26 Practitioner Mr. Daniel Zarrilli
NA Nov 2 No Class: Election Day/Fall Break NA
9 Nov 9 Expert Prof. Seema Jayachandran
Social Inclusion 10 Nov 16 Practitioner Ms. Torey de Rozario
11 Nov 23 Expert Ms. María Cortés Puch
12 Nov 30 Expert Dr. Stephanie Wear
13 Dec 7 Short Student Presentations with Q&A Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs & Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake

Grading (applicable to Lehigh University students):Class Schedule Class Readings: All readings will be posted on the course 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! 

  • One Policy Brief, due by midnight Nov 15th:  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. It is submitted on CourseSite by the submission deadline. The policy brief accounts for 30% of the final grade.
  • One individual final paper, due by midnight Dec 15th: The paper would need to be approximately 1500 words. The paper would 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 to be submitted on CourseSite by the submission deadline. The final paper accounts for 40% of the final grade.
  • Active class participation, throughout the semester, accounting for 30% of the final grade: Students are expected to participate in the following efforts: 
    • For the Local 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 (20% of the final grade, through peer evaluation)
    • In addition to leading selected Local Classroom sessions, each student is expected to actively participate in Global Classroom discussions and Local Classroom discussions moderated by their classmates, drawing deeply on class readings and on their experience. Students are expected to attend every session and actively participate in the discussions (10% of final grade

Late submissions of assignments will not be accepted without prior approval of the Professor. 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.