IØ8504 - Theory and Methods in Systems Approaches to Sustainability


Examination arrangement

Examination arrangement: Report
Grade: Letters

Evaluation form Weighting Duration Examination aids Grade deviation
Approved report 100/100

Course content

The course's academic content is geared toward how one in research can use system approaches to address society's sustainability challenges. Students are introduced to the theory and methodology that is relevant in such research, with the UN's global sustainability goals as a starting point, and how they can be monitored using criteria and indicators for measures. Emphasis is placed on how systems thinking, systems theory and systems analysis can be used to understand the cause-effect relationships, and how to manage tradeoffs across criteria. Various qualitative and quantitative methods in sustainability-related research are discussed, which support planning and decision making for improved environmental, economic and social sustainability. This includes methods in environmental management and industrial ecology based environmental systems analysis (including material flow analysis and life cycle analysis), ethical perspectives, multivariate decision analysis applied on different systems levels and decision criteria. The focus is how the different methodologies can relate to system perspectives with a goal to achieve more holistic improvements across sustainability criteria.

To a certain extent, the course will adapt issues and applications in relation to participants' research focus.

The course is taught every second year, next in spring 2021.

Theme 1: UN's global sustainability goals, incl. status and trends
Theme 2: Multidisciplinary, qualitative and quantitative research methods
Theme 3: System theory, system methodology and system analysis
Theme 4: Ethical perspectives
Theme 5: Industrial ecology environmental systems analysis
Theme 6: Environmental management in different systems levels
Theme 7: Circular economy
Theme 8: Multivariate Decision Analysis / - tools
Theme 9: Sectoral examples - strategy, goals, indicators, performance and critical factors for change

Learning outcome

Knowledge: The candidate must be able to document a good understanding of important dimensions and challenges of sustainability and how the UN's global sustainability goals can be used as a basis for strategies and actions for change. The candidate should be able to explain why and how various system approaches and system theory offer opportunities to better understand cause-effect relationships and more comprehensive improvements in communities, sectors and applications, in addition to how this can be achieved using qualitative and quantitative research on sustainability related issues.

Skills: The candidate should be able to formulate research issues related to the use of system approaches to sustainability challenges and discuss how theory and methodology covered in the subject can be benefitted through the analysis of coherent strategies and solutions for increased sustainability and change processes to achieve it. The candidate must be able to demonstrate and justify how this can be used in their research work, where appropriate.

General competence: The candidate must be able to assess how it is appropriate to apply multidisciplinary research and methods from a systems approach to sustainability, and see how this can provide academic gains when used in relation to their own work.

Learning methods and activities

Lectures, group work and presentation, plenary discussion. The course will be conducted through five meetings (with a sixth optional meeting).

Obligatory course attendance.

Compulsory assignments

  • Participation in seminars
  • Presentations

Further on evaluation

An essay (10-15 pages) will be evaluated with grades from A to F.

Specific conditions

Exam registration requires that class registration is approved in the same semester. Compulsory activities from previous semester may be approved by the department.

Required previous knowledge

Master degree or equivalent qualifications. Admission to a PhD programme.

Course materials

Will be announced when course starts.

Credit reductions

Course code Reduction From To
IØ8503 2.5 01.09.2016
More on the course



Version: 1
Credits:  10.0 SP
Study level: Doctoral degree level


Term no.: 1
Teaching semester:  SPRING 2021

No.of lecture hours: 4
Lab hours: 6
No.of specialization hours: 6

Language of instruction: English

Location: Trondheim

Subject area(s)
  • Industrial Ecology
  • Health, Safety and Environment
  • Industrial Economics and Technology Management
  • Industrial Economics
  • Technological subjects


Examination arrangement: Report

Term Status code Evaluation form Weighting Examination aids Date Time Digital exam Room *
Spring ORD Approved report 100/100
Room Building Number of candidates
  • * The location (room) for a written examination is published 3 days before examination date. If more than one room is listed, you will find your room at Studentweb.

For more information regarding registration for examination and examination procedures, see "Innsida - Exams"

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