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

Always use your Chalmers e-mail address when registering!


Schedule GFOK105

Chalmers’ vision is to contribute to a sustainable future, but what does that mean? In this course you will be challenged to reflect on this question and on potential ethical and sustainability aspects of your own research.

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:
  •  Identify key ethical and/or sustainability aspects of their research and discuss these using relevant concepts such as
    - different ethical frameworks. (e.g., consequentialism vs. deontology),
    - sustainable development and its interpretations in relation to different worldviews and values,  
    - socio-technical systems and the interaction between technological and social factors in society.
  • Discuss and reflect on different roles that researchers can and should take in relation to sustainable development and other normative societal issues connected to their research

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. As the main aim of course is for you to reflect on ethical and sustainability aspects of your research or research field, we recommend that the course is taken in year two or three of your PhD studies (though, note that completion of this course is mandatory for obtaining a Licentiate degree at Chalmers), as by then you will have a better understanding of the context (academic and societal) in which your research takes place.

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 basic ethical concepts and frameworks needed to analyze the idea of sustainable development. We will then together 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. In doing so we will encourage you to reflect on your own values 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 the transition towards 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 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 CANVAS.

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


The main course book (available free of charge) is “Sustainable development:  nuances and perspectives” 2018 (also available in Swedish), by 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 potential ethical and/or sustainability aspects of your research or research field and your responsibility to account for or address these issues in research, teaching and utilization.
3. Provide peer feedback on the essay of another participant;

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: Mon 28 Oct 2019.