Sustainable development: values, technology in society, and the researcher

Course Code: GFOK105
Number of Credits: 3 HEC

Number of Participants: 30

1 ordinary and 1 stand-by seat booking per course permitted


Schedule GFOK105

The overall aim of this course is to give the participants a thorough understanding of the concept of sustainable development, its ethical underpinnings and possible interpretations, stimulating them reflect on their own view of sustainability and what role and responsibility we as research have for sustainable development.

Intended learning outcome
After the completion of the course the participants should be able to:
  • explain basic ethical concepts (e.g., intrinsic vs instrumental values) and evaluate decisions based on different ethical frameworks. (e.g., utilitarian, justice, rights, and virtue based approaches).
  • explain the concept of sustainable development and discuss its historical roots and normative (ethical) foundations.
  • contrast and compare different interpretations of sustainability using concepts such as substitutability, critical natural capital, and weak and strong sustainability.
  • discuss the social embeddedness of technology and reflect over how society affects both the development and evaluation of technology and scientific knowledge.
  • relate the aspects on ethics, sustainable development and technology to their own research or research field, applying the concepts introduced to research, teaching and utilization activities.
  • reflect on the role and responsibility of researchers to contribute to a sustainable development.
Entrance requirements
No prior knowledge is required
This course is eligible within the "Generic and Transferable Skills" course curriculum for PhD students and young researchers at Chalmers University of Technology

Sustainable development, by definition, is a normative concept; it says something about how we should organize our societies for the betterment of current and future generations. Understanding the concept of sustainable development therefore requires a basic grasp of ethics, as different underlying value systems will give different answers to what is sustainable and not. This course will introduce the participants to the basic ethical concepts and frameworks needed to analyse the idea of sustainable development.

We will then together with the students unpack the concept of sustainable development, exploring how different underlying values lead to different interpretations of sustainable development, as well as the role of science in determining what is sustainable and not. The participants will be encouraged to formulate their own understanding and interpretation of sustainable development.

Based on this enhanced understanding of the idea of sustainable development we will then go on to consider the role of researchers in for a sustainable development. This requires, foremost, an understanding of the social embeddedness of technology and scientific inquiry; that is, the dynamics through which technological development and scientific progress is influenced by and influences society. It also requires an understanding of the "wickedness" of sustainability problems; that is, the social complexity of sustainability problems, how ethical and political factors affect how different actors and stakeholders perceive sustainability solutions, and the potential unintended consequences arising from proposed solutions to sustainability problems. Based on this we will together reflect upon which role we as researchers should take in the societal debate on sustainability issues and what responsibility researchers have for a sustainable future.

Running schedule
The course comprises lectures, group assignments and discussions as well as peer-response sessions.
Other resources used: learning platform PingPong.

Course leader and examiner sustdev.png
Martin Persson (examiner), Jörgen Larsson (course leader), Fredrik Hedenus, Ulrika Lundqvist and Frances Sprei


Sustainable Development: History, Definition & The Role of the Engineer, 2015, Fredrik Hedenus, Martin Persson and Frances Sprei

Completion of the course requires the participant to: 
1. Partake in each of the four course sessions;
2. Write an essay on their view of sustainability, as well as sustainability, ethics and society-technology aspects of their own research or research field;
3. Provide peer feedback on the essay of another participant;
4. Contribute actively to the open space activity in the final session.
Examination in the enrolled courses can be acquired within one year from the start. After the expiration date no missing assignments can be admitted and a participant should re-apply to another course occasion.


Stand-by list means that the course is fully booked but you may be offered a seat if one becomes available. In this case a notification will be sent to you.

Cancellation of participation in the GTS courses should be done as soon as possible and one week before start at the latest  via the link in the confirmation email. In case of cancellation less then 7 days before start, send email to Starting Autumn term 2018, late cancellations (less then 7 days) and no-showing up to the  course will be fined.

Published: Wed 14 Sep 2016. Modified: Thu 27 Jun 2019