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Society's Metabolism


Coordinator: Stefano Cucurachi

Other involved teachers: Carlos Felipe Blanco

Description course:

Society’s metabolism can be defined as society-nature interactions characterised by material and energy flows – i.e. input of raw materials, processing to manufactured products, services, and release of waste and emissions, including the energy conversion and use. Society's metabolism is determined by the modes of production (economy), the technology, and the lifestyle (culture) of society.

This course introduces students to the evaluation and communication of the impacts that society’s metabolism has on the functioning of the earth’s physical and biological systems. The main themes addressed in this course are the Anthropocene, Economics of the Anthropocene, Resources and Energy scenarios, Water, Food System, and Governance. Additionally, the course challenges students to communicate relevant aspects of society’s metabolism to broader audiences; for this, the course introduces several science communication techniques, which are applied in tutorials and project work.

Each lecture session of the course consists of an analysis of readings facilitated by the course lecturers, a content lecture given either by the course teacher or by an an invited speaker, and finally a debate and/or class exercises and student presentations.

Lectures are complemented by workshops and interactive tutorials and pre-recorded materials. The workshops focus on science communication and support students in structuring their project work. At times, course coordinators facilitate hands-on tutorials to deepen understanding on some course topics.
Preparation before class and active participation in class are fundamental for the success of the course. For this reason, we stimulate discussions in class so that everyone can bring and share their experience, values and opinions with their peers.

Entry requirements

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

Learning goals:

After completing this course, students are able to…

  • Describe society’s metabolism and the pressures it exerts on the environment;

  • Understand the connections between the drivers of demand for energy and natural resources;

  • Design effective ways to communicate to broader audiences the interactions between society’s metabolism and the environment;

  • Analyze the water, food and energy systems and understand their contribution to society’s metabolism;

  • Investigate the extraction and use of natural resources at the global level and examine societal issues related to these;

  • Discuss economic constructs, theories, and models to establish relationships between economic growth and the environment

Education format:

The course will be given one day a week, with lectures given in the mornings and workshops/tutorials in the afternoons.
Education methods include lectures (including flipped classroom format), debates, presentations, discussions, elaboration of group projects, writing of reports.

Assessment forms:

  • 50% final exam (Take-home)

  • 50% final project (45% group project + 5% final proposal)

Weekly schedule

The course will be held on Wednesdays

Brightspace/MS Teams

This course uses Brightspace, and Microsoft Teams. Course documents, the course manual can be found via Brightspace. To get access to the Brightspace page of this course, you first need to register via uSis.


This course is open for students of the MSc Industrial Ecology (joint degree TU Delft and Leiden University). Students can register for the course and exam via uSis.