University of Colorado Boulder
Sustainability and the Circular Economy
University of Colorado Boulder

Sustainability and the Circular Economy

1,519 already enrolled

Included withCoursera Plus


Gain insight into a topic and learn the fundamentals


(10 reviews)

Intermediate level

Recommended experience

23 hours to complete
3 weeks at 7 hours a week
Flexible schedule
Learn at your own pace

What you'll learn

  • Understand the reasons for climate change and its ramifications. 

  • Explain how power is generated today, and its associated impact on global warming.

  • Recognize how sustainability applies to transportation, homes and cities, food and fashion.

  • Describe the principles of the Circular Economy, and how the Butterfly Diagram can be used in product design.

Details to know

Earn a career certificate

Add to your LinkedIn profile

Recently updated!

February 2024


23 assignments

Taught in English

See how employees at top companies are mastering in-demand skills


Earn a career certificate

Add this credential to your LinkedIn profile, resume, or CV

Share it on social media and in your performance review


There are 6 modules in this course

Welcome to Sustainability and the Circular Economy! This first module introduces the course and how it operates. It then exposes you to the major challenges facing the world today, such as climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, plastic pollution and social inequity. We capture this with a discussion of planetary boundaries (Rockstrom) and the concept of the Anthropocene. The module ends on a high note with people and organizations that are making real change possible.

What's included

10 videos3 readings3 assignments2 discussion prompts

This module introduces the classic definition of sustainability and sustainable development (Brundtland Commission), along with contemporary concepts of regenerative and restorative practices. We discuss the IPAT equation as a means of providing a macro-view of environmental impacts as a function of population and affluence. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are covered, with a view to how business can impact these in a positive way. The module concludes with an overview of neoliberal economics and the resulting wealth inequality it led to, and a more positive, inclusive model proposed by Kate Raworth in her book, "Doughnut Economics".

What's included

6 videos1 reading1 assignment1 peer review1 discussion prompt

This module opens with an overview of the greenhouse effect resulting from greenhouse gases, both good and bad. We then illustrate from the Keeling Curve that GHGs are increasing and have been markedly since the dawn of the industrial revolution. We then discuss the relationship between GHGs and anthropogenic sources, meaning mostly fossil fuels, and the evidence linking the two. We cover the Carbon Dioxide Equivalent, and how one calculates it from GHG emissions and their respective global warming potentials (GWP). The Albedo Effect is then covered as a reinforcing mechanism to climate change. Finally, the module covers the Paris Accord and the need for change.

What's included

9 videos5 assignments

This module is all about conventional power generation using coal, natural gas and nuclear energy. The module begins with how coal, oil and natural gas are formed millions of years ago. We then discuss basic units of heat, power and energy, using both English and International units to communicate in a bilingual way. We dive deeper into nuclear energy, its pros and cons, and whether it should be part of a zero-carbon future. The module wraps up with a discussion of the UN's initiatives called Conference of Parties, or COP, and the resulting outcome of the Paris Climate Accord to limit global warming to 2.0o Celsius.

What's included

9 videos5 assignments1 discussion prompt

Now that you understand the global challenges facing all of us, this module showcases the emerging solutions demonstrating the value of sustainable products and to identify them. We cover the areas of transportation, noting the rapid transition to Electric Vehicles, and and developments in E-Planes. As billions of people across the globe migrate to the cities to live and work, there is considerable opportunity to design/redesign cities to be more livable, and this module highlights several successes across the world, including green building and retrofit techniques. We then explore sustainability in daily life, discussing the emerging area of Regenerative Agriculture, the process of growing more nutritious food with zero synthetic inputs, while benefitting the soil. How that food is distributed is changing as well, as consumers everywhere are paying attention not only to what they eat but who is providing it. The module then discusses the clothes that we wear, as consumers are becoming increasingly aware that what they put on their bodies is as important as what they put in their bodies. Apparel and the fashion industry are one of the greatest polluters of all industries, and consumers are demanding change. We wrap-up this module with a discussion of how Fast Fashion is giving way to a new model of Slow Fashion.

What's included

12 videos3 readings5 assignments1 discussion prompt

In this final module, we transition from greenhouse gases, climate change and power generation to the product lifecycle, introducing the concept of the Circular Economy, and how it differs from today's linear economy. We begin with a brief overview of the linear economy, and how it is challenged to support 8 Billion people on the planet. We then show the three basic principles of the Circular Economy, and how it decouples economic growth from resource extraction. We emphasize the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, going through the Circular Economy Butterfly Diagram in detail, with many examples highlighting how this is put into practice. We conclude with an overview of the recycling process, its successes and current challenges.

What's included

6 videos2 readings4 assignments1 peer review1 discussion prompt


Instructor ratings
5.0 (6 ratings)
Michael J. Readey, Ph.D.
University of Colorado Boulder
9 Courses19,806 learners

Offered by


Recommended if you're interested in Environmental Science and Sustainability

Why people choose Coursera for their career

Felipe M.
Learner since 2018
"To be able to take courses at my own pace and rhythm has been an amazing experience. I can learn whenever it fits my schedule and mood."
Jennifer J.
Learner since 2020
"I directly applied the concepts and skills I learned from my courses to an exciting new project at work."
Larry W.
Learner since 2021
"When I need courses on topics that my university doesn't offer, Coursera is one of the best places to go."
Chaitanya A.
"Learning isn't just about being better at your job: it's so much more than that. Coursera allows me to learn without limits."

Learner reviews

Showing 3 of 10


10 reviews

  • 5 stars


  • 4 stars


  • 3 stars


  • 2 stars


  • 1 star



Reviewed on Apr 14, 2024


Open new doors with Coursera Plus

Unlimited access to 7,000+ world-class courses, hands-on projects, and job-ready certificate programs - all included in your subscription

Advance your career with an online degree

Earn a degree from world-class universities - 100% online

Join over 3,400 global companies that choose Coursera for Business

Upskill your employees to excel in the digital economy

Frequently asked questions