University of Colorado Boulder
Applied Sustainability Engineering
University of Colorado Boulder

Applied Sustainability Engineering

Taught in English


Gain insight into a topic and learn the fundamentals

Intermediate level

Recommended experience

19 hours to complete
3 weeks at 6 hours a week
Flexible schedule
Learn at your own pace

What you'll learn

  • Learn how to complete a carbon footprint analysis, analogous to conducting a Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions analysis.

  • Recognize the characteristics that define a sustainable product and the packaging it comes in.

  • Understand wind, solar and hydropower and how these technologies generate electricity.

  • Apply LCA, SLCA and Eco-Audit techniques to design a product that meets specific sustainability certification standards.

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April 2024


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There are 5 modules in this course

Welcome to Applied Sustainability Engineering! This first module introduces the course and how it operates. Then, it is all about renewable energy (RE); the different technologies and economics associated with them. We begin with a discussion of hydropower, the largest global source of renewable energy. You'll then learn about the second most abundant and cost effective type: onshore and offshore wind power. After, we'll discuss solar power and you'll learn the terminology behind its operations, physics, and economics. A future with renewable energy requires energy storage, so its important to discuss topics of pumped hydro, battery technologies, and hydrogen, as well as the emerging technologies, such as wave and tidal power, concentrated solar, geothermal and hydrogen fuel cells. The module concludes with an overview of how the world is transitioning to renewable energies in an effort to limit global warming to only 1.5o Celsius, which is the newest target established by the International Panel on Climate Change.

What's included

11 videos1 reading4 assignments1 discussion prompt

This module is all about bringing the effect of carbon production home, so to speak, by determining your own carbon footprints based on personal energy use. Note that the method for calculating one's carbon footprint is similar to calculating Scope 1 and 2 emissions for a business (as part of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.) After an initial exercise of calculating your personal transportation carbon footprint, we turn our attention to the residential footprint. First, you'll uncover the standard utility bill; what's on it and what it all means. Then, you'll be introduced to, and apply, the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency)'s eGrid website to determine the Carbon Emissions Factor and mix of power generation technologies for your area. Next, you'll calculate a CO2-equivalent footprint, based on the EPA's emission factors for methane, nitrous oxide, natural gas, and propane. The module concludes with an example of a typical U.S. college student's residential carbon footprint. Then, you'll see how it compares to other countries as well as your own!

What's included

11 videos2 peer reviews

The module is all about sustainable products and packaging. We introduce the concept that sustainable products are true differentiators in the market and highlight several well-known examples. You'll learn what constitutes a sustainable product in terms of the circular economy's butterfly diagram: safe materials, long-life, ease of repair and maintenance, and ease of disassembly for ultimate recycling. We then shift to sustainable packaging, starting with understanding the significant challenge associated with packaging waste. We end the module with an overview of why packaging exists, and some ways of making it more sustainable. This week, you'll also gain awareness of your own packaging consumption as you undergo the 7-day plastics challenge and share your experience with peers. We can't wait to hear what you learn from it!

What's included

5 videos2 readings4 assignments1 peer review1 discussion prompt

This module introduces the topic of life cycle assessments or LCA's. You will learn how to establish system boundaries, define functional units, and know where to look for environmental impact data. More importantly, you'll think critically about conflicting paradigms, such as product designs that could good from a greenhouse gas perspective but are detrimental from an eco-toxicity view. While you may not become a full LCA specialist by the end of this module, you can begin to appreciate the complexity and cost of conducting a full LCA, which is why the Streamlined LCA was designed. It simplifies the process at the expense of accuracy, yet it still provides guidance to product and process designs to reduce environmental impact. You'll be able to practice this hands on, when you conduct an SLCA on gold wedding rings. Finally, you'll learn one last tool for environmental impact analysis: the Eco-Audit. Eco-Audits are particularly important in analyzing the impact of materials and understanding the concept of embodied energy.

What's included

8 videos1 reading4 assignments1 peer review1 discussion prompt

Congratulations on almost completing the course! This final module outlines the specific tools and frameworks used to design, engineer, and manufacture sustainable and circular products along with the packaging that protects them. As a useful and pragmatic framework, we discuss the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) design methodology in some detail, showing how the C2C's Certification process is analogous the the LEED standards for the built environment. We'll also touch on other approaches to sustainable product design with the frameworks of Biomimicry and The Natural Step. You've almost come full circle, and we hope you've enjoyed this course!

What's included

7 videos4 assignments


Michael J. Readey, Ph.D.
University of Colorado Boulder
9 Courses17,817 learners

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Recommended if you're interested in Environmental Science and Sustainability

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