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Sustainability Challenge (MSc IE)


Admission requirements

This course is obligatory for students of the MSc Industrial Ecology (joint degree TU Delft and Leiden University).

Students can only participate in the course if they have finished at least 25 EC of the core modules of the first semester of the first year. In addition, students should have passed the integrated project course (Industrial of Urban systems ) of the second semester of the first year.

This course is only open for students that are enrolled in the MSc Industrial Ecology.


In this course, students work in teams on a real-world industrial ecology problem by applying and combining knowledge acquired during the first year. The project is commissioned by an external party (i.e., the commissioner) and supervised by an assigned supervisor. In this setting, students are trained to cooperate in an interdisciplinary team and to come up with real-life practical solutions to fulfill the commissioner’s deliverables.

Course objectives

By the end of the sustainability challenge, students will be able to:

  • Approach a real-world problem from an interdisciplinary systems perspective (i.e., from an industrial ecology perspective)

  • Translate a problem or question of a commissioner to a ‘researchable’ or ‘actionable’ question

  • Develop sustainability strategies that can be implemented in their specific societal or organisational context

  • Assess the implications of the solution regarding sustainable design and innovation

  • Manage both internal (e.g., team members) and external (e.g., commissioner) stakeholders

  • Evaluate and reflect on collaborative skills of self and peers

  • Manage time effectively


You will find the timetables for all courses and degree programmes of Leiden University in the tool MyTimetable (login). Any teaching activities that you have sucessfully registered for in MyStudyMap will automatically be displayed in MyTimeTable. Any timetables that you add manually, will be saved and automatically displayed the next time you sign in.

MyTimetable allows you to integrate your timetable with your calendar apps such as Outlook, Google Calendar, Apple Calendar and other calendar apps on your smartphone. Any timetable changes will be automatically synced with your calendar. If you wish, you can also receive an email notification of the change. You can turn notifications on in ‘Settings’ (after login).

For more information, watch the video or go the the 'help-page' in MyTimetable. Please note: Joint Degree students Leiden/Delft have to merge their two different timetables into one. This video explains how to do this.

Mode of instruction

The format consists of problem-oriented teamwork in groups of five students, two plenary presentations where students present research plan and methodology (and preliminary results), and a poster presentation where students showcase the findings and recommendations of their project. In addition, several lectures and trainings are provided:
*The introductory lecture in which the coordinator provides information on the structure, requirements, and objectives of the course.
*A consulting skills training in which students will get valuable insights from professional consultants on various aspects, including transforming problems into consulting proposals, tackling sustainability issues, implementing solutions, managing stakeholders effectively, and fostering teamwork.
*Two lectures and short tutorials on multi-criteria decision analysis methodologies in which students will learn about problem framing and structuring strategies, such as decision hierarchies and decision generation tables. They will also be introduced to theories that help develop decision recommendations.

Assessment method

  • Active participation/cooperation in class/group

  • Essay, paper

  • Abstract, oral presentation

The final grade is determined based on the consulting proposal, the final report, two oral and one poster presentations, and group-work process.
The consulting proposal is a written document on which the group works during the first three week of the course. The consulting proposal details the agreements made between the commissioner and the team, detailing a realistic number of deliverables and an appropriate timeline. The proposal is submitted after about 3 weeks from the start of the course.
The final report describes thoroughly and succinctly the strategy to tackle the commissioned problem. As such, the main body of the final report should focus on contextualizing the proposed strategies (with regards to the literature and the boundary conditions of the problem) and detail the approach used by the team to reach such findings. The report should always be scientifically sound and defensible, and professionally presented. The final report is submitted at the end of the course.
There will be two oral presentations of the work of each group, namely a presentation about the research plan and one about the methodology (and preliminary results). In each presentation session, each group will be given 10 minutes for presenting their work followed by 10 minutes of Q&A.
There will be one final poster presentation in which students showcase the findings and recommendations for the commissioner. Poster sessions will take place during the annual symposium. Each poster session will consist of 45min in which students will present their poster and interact with the public (including academics, industrial practitioners, policy officers and others).
Team cohesion, collaboration, proactivity and time management as well as communication with supervisor and commissioner(s) are monitored by the supervisor (in consultation with the commissioner where applicable) and are also part of the final assessment.
Specific guidelines for the structure, contents and word limits of the various components are provided in the course manual. All assessments will follow the rubric provided on brightspace.


According to the rubric (available on brightspace), the various parts of the course will be graded as follows:

  • Consulting proposal: 15%

  • Final report: 55%

  • Presentation quality: 15%

  • Group-work process: 15%


An overall sufficient grade of 5.5 is required to pass this course.
In case of an insufficient grade, then the group is given two months to submit an additional assignment related to the project and reach therefore a sufficient grade. The maximum final overall grade that can be scored by the group (including the resit assignment is then a 5.5). The assignment is established by the course coordinator in consultation with the supervisor.

Inspection and feedback

The supervisor of the group advices the course coordinator on a grade for the consulting proposal and a grade for each presentation according to the rubric criteria. All partial grades are submitted to Brightspace and are reported in the final rubric. The supervisor of the group, in consultation with the commissioner (where necessary), advices the course coordinator on the final grade. The coordinator of the course operates as the final examiner and warrants the equality of the evaluations among the groups.

Reading list

Brightspace will be used for communications and distributing study material.


This course is only open for students that are enrolled in the Master’s Programme Industrial Ecology.
From the academic year 2022-2023 on every student has to register for courses with the new enrollment tool MyStudyMap. There are two registration periods per year: registration for the fall semester opens in July and registration for the spring semester opens in December. Please see this page for more information.

Please note that it is compulsory to both preregister and confirm your participation for every exam and retake. Not being registered for a course means that you are not allowed to participate in the final exam of the course. Confirming your exam participation is possible until ten days before the exam.
Extensive FAQ's on MyStudymap can be found here.


  • For substantive questions, contact the course coordinator listed in the right information bar.


MSc Industrial Ecology students can register for the course and exam via uSis.

Students should be available for at least one and a half days a week to work on the project.

This course is only open for students that are enrolled in the Master’s Programme Industrial Ecology.