1915 Sustainable Economics and Business II: Needs and Boundaries
Hanja Pisa, MSc.
Contact details
Weekly hours
Language of instruction
09/08/23 to 10/07/23
Registration via LPIS
Notes to the course
Subject(s) Bachelor Programs
Day Date Time Room
Tuesday 10/10/23 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM D4.0.127
Tuesday 10/17/23 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM D5.1.004
Tuesday 10/31/23 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM TC.3.07
Tuesday 11/07/23 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM TC.5.02
Tuesday 11/14/23 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM D4.0.019
Tuesday 11/21/23 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM TC.5.05
Tuesday 11/28/23 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM TC.4.17
Tuesday 12/12/23 01:00 PM - 04:00 PM TC.4.12

Change and innovation are central aspects of human societies. We are curious beings and strive for making things better for us and our surroundings. However, what does "better" mean? In the current economic system, the idea has increasingly turned into an "innovate or die"-mania, claiming that innovation is a must which leads to prosperity for all and will solve our problems of sustainability. Is all innovation good? How do we define progress in general? What about the prevalent idea of "green growth"? Is there progress without more production?

Debates about sustainable transformations often center on contrasting human needs with planetary boundaries. Discussions on limits are essential in view of the sustainability crisis and a seemingly ever faster turning world. Can we reconcile lower limits (human needs/welfare) and upper limits (planetary boundaries, ecosystem integrity)?

In this course, we will critically reflect upon narratives of endless growth, and of innovation as both its driver and solution. Our inquiry aims at understanding whether and how we could untangle innovation, needs and development from growth in material throughput.

Course content

  1. Biophysical foundations of economic activity (planetary boundaries)
  2. Growth theories: green growth vs degrowth
  3. Different theories of human wellbeing, focussing on human needs theory
  4. Notions of lower and upper limits
  5. Complexity and evolution
  6. Different perspectives on innovation
Learning outcomes

In this class, students will...

... acquire a holistic view of economy and society as embedded in biophysical systems.

... compare different theories of human wellbeing, focussing on human needs theory.

... reflect critically on innovation, economic growth and the link between the two of them.

... learn to reflect on and evaluate the impact of current economic activity and the idea of green growth.

... understand the effects of technology and economic activities on society and environment.

... discuss complexity and modeling.

... reflect on economics in a historical context, on economic evolution and both its similarities and differences to biological evolution.

... consider ethical, social and environmental issues implied in their decisions, their social responsibility and contribution to sustainability.

... read, present and discuss academic literature.

Attendance requirements

Attendance is mandatory.

  • You may miss one of the sessions. Please inform the lecturer in advance anyway.
  • For exceptional reasons, additional absences are negotiable and agreed upon case by case.

The course is scheduled to take place in person. Please prepare to be physically present for the entire teaching time.

Teaching/learning method(s)

This class will be composed of a diverse set of elements, such as:

  • Input by lecturer
  • Student group presentations
  • Discussions
  • Student summaries and reflections of homework assignments (e.g. readings of (academic) articles, short writing assignments, watching lecture casts, etc.)
  • Various in-class group exercises

Grading will be based on:

  • Active in-class participation -- 10%
  • Homework assignments -- 25%
  • Group presentation and handout -- 35%
  • Discussion of another group's presentation -- 10%
  • Small oral exam -- 20%

The use of AI-based software for text generation such as ChatGPT is forbidden. The oral exam will be a short personal chat/discussion about the course content (replacing the submission of an essay).

Prerequisites for participation and waiting lists

Course enrollment is on the basis of "first-come, first-served” principle. If you have registered but cannot participate in the course, please de-register via LPIS during the registration period so that your course is available to students on the waiting list. If there is a waiting list for enrollment in the course, students at the waiting list will be notified after the end of the enrollment period, and will be allocated to available places. Students will be ranked by their study progress not by their rank on the waiting list. This procedure, however, is not to be understood as a place guarantee.


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Last edited: 2023-06-19