The Future of Sustainable Business: Enterprise and the Environment

This course builds your knowledge of our greatest sustainability challenges for reaching net zero and meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It introduces you to the expectations and opportunities for sustainable businesses of the future, helping you explore the emerging tools to facilitate leadership in the creation of a positive sustainable future.

  • Type:
    Online short course
  • Length:
    Eight weeks (4-5 hours of study per week recommended)
  • Upcoming Intakes:
    August 2022, October 2022, February 2023, May 2023
  • Next start date:
    Friday 5 August 2022
  • Fees:
    £1,500 (including VAT)*
  • Award:
    Certificate of completion

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*Discounts available to alumni and those working in the public sector. Evidence required.

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*Students in your region are eligible for financial support. At check out, please use the code SSFEESUPPORT to receive around 33% off and pay £990.**

Certificate of Completion

Upon completion of the course, you will receive a certificate that will support your career in real terms.

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  • Module 0: Getting started
  • Module 1: Net zero, the SDGs, the world and you: Introductions
  • Module 2: The environment and enterprise journey
  • Module 3: Low carbon transition
  • Module 4: Resource management
  • Module 5: Sustainable finance
  • Module 6: Business transformation
  • Module 7: Technology, policy, and law
  • Module 8: Leadership for the future


Dr Caitlin McElroy

Lead academic, The Future of Sustainable Business

Dr Laurence Wainwright

Co-lead academic, The Future of Sustainable Business

Learning support

In addition to learning from our expert world-leading academics, you will also benefit from a course Facilitator who will provide academic guidance throughout your learning journey – from beginning to end.

The Facilitator will:

  • comment on weekly discussions on specific topics;
  • provide feedback on all project tasks; and
  • give comments and feedback on all activities throughout.

Upon completion of the course, you will receive a certificate that will support your career in real terms.

Find out more

Calls may be recorded for quality and training purposes. 

About the course

Throughout this course you will understand the scale and potential severity of the challenges we face, but also be empowered to adopt a mindset of seeing these challenges as opportunities for change and leadership.

  • You will see the diversity of impacts from climate change and unsustainable development framed from different organisations and global perspectives.
  • You will be introduced to the latest thinking about economic systems, technologies, finance, and policies to accelerate a sustainable transition.
  • You will gain insights into navigating the multiple often conflicting objectives sustainable business demands.
  • The course prepares you to understand, participate in, and create a future in which the businesses that contribute to sustainability thrive.

Five themes underpin our approach to this course:

  1. Intellectual curiosity: keeping an open mind, appreciating diverse worldviews, perspectives and possible solutions to the net-zero and sustainable development (NZSD) challenge
  2. Application in practice: being able to understand concepts and apply them practically, with confidence
  3. Integration and application of interdisciplinary knowledge: understanding and accounting for the way in which NZSD challenge – and possible solutions – intersect across multiple disciplines
  4. Personal connection and purpose: finding your unique connection to NZSDG – both personally as well as within your domain of professional practice
  5. Leadership for complex challenges and impactful solutions: leading impactful change within enterprise – and beyond – to tame wicked problems

The learning outcomes for the course are as follows:

  • understand the nature, trajectories and basic scientific principles of the net zero and sustainable development challenge (NZSD);
  • identify the broad range of socio-technical drivers that can accelerate progress to NZSD;
  • examine the role of enterprise and its relationship to environmental and development challenges across a range of risks, technological innovations, investment opportunities and policy responses;
  • learn about the expectations for sustainable businesses of the future and understand the enablers of these changes;
  • develop confidence in your ability to communicate about net zero and the sustainable development goals; and
  • explore the opportunities and skills necessary to develop sustainability leadership for yourself and/or your organisation.

We would recommend on average 4-5 hours of study per week. This may vary by individual and topic.

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Each week your assessment tasks will vary but each module gives you the opportunity to test your knowledge with knowledge check questions, ensuring you’re on track with your learning targets. You will also be able to join discussions specific to your interests with peers and a course Facilitator.

In your final assignment, you will demonstrate your understanding of the various concepts that have been considered during this course and use them to develop a pitch about how you would like to lead strategic change. You are encouraged to choose how you present your pitch. You can submit it as a written document or you can choose to record yourself presenting and submit it as an audio or video file.

Introduce yourself to your fellow cohort and meet the Facilitator, who will be providing support to you throughout the duration of the course. Learn more about what the course offers and how to navigate through it. Tell us more about yourself by answering the questions and posting to the discussion board.

  • You will be able to define key terms and concepts related to net-zero and the sustainable development goals (NZSDG);
  • you will be able to engage with these concepts and confidently apply them in practice;
  • you will be able to appreciate and account for conflicting objectives and tensions between interests, actors, and geographies in relation to NZSDGs; and
  • you will situate and reflect on your own motivations and objectives related to NZSDGs.
  • Understand how current conceptualisations of enterprise and the environment are the product of historical events – including key “tipping points”;
  • evaluate previous corporate responses to social and environmental issues and analyse why these responses are failing to meet our current challenges;
  • account for the significance of social and environmental irresponsibility to business; and
    assess how robust different business approaches are for achieving sustainability.
  • Define net zero, understand its scientific underpinnings, and account for the interdependence between ecological, social, and economic systems;
  • understand the changes to our energy systems as part of a low-carbon transition;
  • understand the essential ideas of systems theory and thinking in systems; and
  • identify possible solutions for transitions to net zero; appreciate the interplay of policy, markets, behaviour, and technology to enact them.
  • Define the concept of Planetary Boundaries and outline its key features;
  • understand interconnections between the SDGs , net-zero and enterprise; and
  • identify the SDGs important to your business or contexts of importance for you and understand possible strategies for addressing them.
  • Understand the role of financial markets as both a cause of – and solution to – unsustainable development and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • identify the key instruments currently in use to leverage and align financial systems and corporate finance to sustainability; and
  • consider how to translate knowledge of net zero and the SDGs into financial strategies for a sustainable future.
  • Define the principles of regenerative and circular economy and conceptualise them as solutions to the linear economy;
  • evaluate the challenges and opportunities of business transformations inclusive of factors such as the changing nature of work, emerging technologies, and managing innovation; and
  • explore different approaches to facilitate and manage innovation and transformation in business.
  • Understand how socio-technical interventions can accelerate the transition to NZSDGs;
  • learn strategic question to use in your evaluation of new technologies emerging to address sustainability and transform business;
  • situate the relationship between business and different scales of policy and global governance for sustainability considering how they present opportunities and risks; and
  • understand the role of the law for supporting NZSDG, particularly in relation to businesses.

As part of this final module, you will submit your final summative assignment. This will involve developing a pitch on how you would like to lead strategic change in your organisation. It will be an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the various concepts that have been considered during this course, as well as:

  • Identify the styles of management and leadership for sustainability best suited to you and your enterprise;
  • Evaluate how you plan to change your personal leadership for sustainability; and
  • Identify stakeholders of different organisations, understand their intentions and formulate a strategy for engagement.

Watch our one-minute video for an overview of the course

Academic expertise

Dr Caitlin McElroy

Lead academic, The Future of Sustainable Business

Dr Caitlin McElroy is a Departmental Research lecturer in Enterprise and the Environment at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE) and the School of Geography and the Environment. Her research addresses improving the sustainability and development of resource driven economies, advancing the circular economy of mineral resources, and the complicated relationships between finance, equality, and environmental services (cooling and water) in developed and developing economies. Caitlin is an economic geographer and her research has engaged with institutional theory, financial geography, science and technology studies, and environmental justice. Current research includes leading on Circular Resourcing, a related circular economy focused workstream as part of the Future of Cooling programme, and ongoing research on Sharing Resource Prosperity. She is also involved in partnerships to create tools to assist corporations, governments, and investors in the management of their environmental and social risks and opportunities such as with DAMSAT, a satellite-based dam monitoring project funded by the UK Space Agency. Support for her research has also come from the Oxford Martin School, The John Fell Fund, and as part of UpGro (NERC/ESRC/DFID).

Caitlin holds a BA (with Honours) from the University of Pennsylvania in History and Environmental Studies, an MSc in Nature, Society and Environmental Policy (with Distinction) and a DPhil in economic geography (Clarendon Scholar), both from the University of Oxford.

Dr Laurence Wainwright

Co-lead academic, The Future of Sustainable Business

Dr Laurence Wainwright is Course Director of the MSc in Sustainability, Enterprise and the Environment and a Departmental Lecturer. A teaching and learning oriented academic, Laurence has a decade of experience in lecturing, facilitation and supervision across universities in Australia, Sweden and the United States and United Kingdom. Laurence is passionate about the holistic development of the students who he teaches and helping them to develop into well-rounded individuals with a mindset of intellectual curiosity and courage, continuous self-improvement, and service to a mission beyond themselves. He has received several prizes and citations for his teaching, as well as appearing on lists recognising high scores in student feedback surveys.

Laurence completed his doctoral studies in Business Administration at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. Laurence’s PhD thesis used the contextual domain of the Swedish fishing industry in order to consider how contests to organizational legitimacy manifest around sustainability debates. Eighteen months of this programme was spent at the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business, and an additional six months across multiple universities in China, Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands.

Laurence also holds a Master of Science in Sustainable Development from Uppsala University, a Master of Education from the Queensland University of Technology, and a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Teaching and Learning, Bachelor of Accounting and Bachelor of Business (Honours) from the University of Technology Sydney.

**Applies to countries in Africa, Brazil, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar