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Tools of the Trade: Sustainability Research


Admission requirements

This course is required for all students who wish to major in Sustainability. Students should have successfully completed the Global Challenges 4: Sustainability-Earth course, the Numeracy/Exploring Mathematics course, and have basic knowledge of chemistry, biology, and physics


Data on the past and present, and predictions about the future and decisions are key ingredients for policy officials, managers, and scientists. Particularly the focus point of sustainability is a data and model intensive field, for which sufficient skills in data management, computational thinking and visualisation are critical. In this course, students will acquire these skills and gain sufficient fluency to adequately analyse and evaluate some of the existing models and their applied results. Models and tools discussed include Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), Material Flow Analysis (MFA). The course consists of six major blocks of one week in which the different topics will be discussed and put to practice. Each block will start with a lecture and an introduction to an assignment.

Course objectives

After completion of the course students will be able to:
• Collect and manipulate data from various sources
• Understand issues related to data and data quality
• Perform basic data management and data mining
• Create meaningful visualisations to convey specific messages
• Interpret visualised data in a better way
• Apply the basics of system thinking
• Perform a simplified Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
• Perform a simplified Substance Flow Analysis (SFA)
• Create simple scenarios based on consistent story lines

After completion of the course students will know:
• How to collect data and check data on consistency
• The basic mathematical and software tools that can be used to solve simple quantitative problems related to sustainability analysis
• The different options that are available for the visualisation, select the best visualisation to convey a certain message and to recognize manipulation with the visualisation of data
• The basics of systems thinking
• The basics Life Cycle Assessment and Material and Substance Flow Analysis
• The basics of scenario analysis and Integrated Assessment in a policy context


Please see the LUC website:

Mode of instruction

During this course 6 topics will be discussed: data handling, computational thinking, visualisation, LCA, SFA and Scenarios. Every topic will be introduced through a plenary lecture on Thursday, sometimes including guest speakers. At the end of the lecture an assignment will be introduced. Students will work in teams of 2-3, all teams will be asked to present the results of their work the next Monday (10 minutes), which will be graded. After the presentations the outcomes will be discussed in a plenary debate. Finally, in week 8 there will be written, closed book exam.

Assessment method

The assessment of the course will consist of two parts: a set of 6 presentations, one each Monday in week 2-7 and a written exam in Week 8. Students will work on assignments in groups of 2-3. The assignment will be introduced at the end of the plenary lecture on Thursday and will focus the particular topic of the week. Each Monday the groups will present the outcomes of their specific assignment. In week 8 a written closed book exam will used to test the individual understanding of the course.

  1. Individual engagement with course readings & group work: assessed through 6 Presentation(s) of assignments: (6×10% of final grade) (Grade >5): Ongoing
    Weeks 1 – 7
  2. Individual understanding of course content: assessed through written exam (closed book; 40% of final grade) (Grade >5):Week 8 (30-3-2012 / 9.00-11.00)


This course is supported by a BlackBoard site

Reading list

  • Selected articles and texts will be handed out during class or uploaded on blackboard


This course is only open for LUC The Hague students.

Contact information

Dr. Rene Kleijn, CML, Leiden University

Weekly Overview

Mon:06/02/2012: Introduction to the course: Lecture
Thu:09/02/2012: Data handling:Lecture & introduction assignment
Mon:13/02/2012: Data handling:Presentations and discussion assignment
Thu:16/02/2012: Computation:Lecture & introduction assignment
Mon:20/02/2012: Computation:Presentations and discussion assignment
Thu:23/02/2012: Visualisation:Lecture & introduction assignment
Mon:27/02/2012: Visualisation:Presentations and discussion assignment
Thu:01/03/2012: LCA:Lecture & introduction assignment
Mon:05/03/2012: LCA:Presentations and discussion assignment
Thu:08/03/2012: SFA:Lecture & introduction assignment
Mon:12/03/2012: SFA:Presentations and discussion assignment
Thu:15/03/2012: Scenarios:Lecture & introduction assignment
Mon:19/03/2012: Scenarios:Presentations and discussion assignment
Thu:22/03/2012: Exam preparation:Plenary discussion/ last minute question
Mon:26/03/2012: No class:No class
Thu:30/03/2012: Exam