The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

8. Case studies (in practice)

This is an unusual area and therefore there are few examples of practice. Plumridge (2010) surveys contemporary provision of areas of the economics curriculum relevant to sustainability. Below we draw extensively from that work to describe relevant case studies.

At the University of Bath, a concern with sustainability is prominent in research and some staff have international reputations in environmental and natural resource economics. There is an interdisciplinary research centre concerned with sustainability, namely the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment. There are two optional modules concerned with sustainability offered at level 3: Environmental Economics, and Natural Energy and Resource Economics. The latter is actively underpinned by research by teaching staff. In the case of these specialist modules, tutorial discussions revealed that, initially, students did not have much familiarity with the concept of sustainability or with areas of economic analysis that were relevant to the concept.

At UWE, Bristol, some economics module leaders are responding to institutional incentives by introducing sustainability issues. A level 2 module, the Business and Economics of Fun and Games, includes applications of economic analysis to the sports and tourism sectors. In the latter, there is consideration of sustainable tourism. At level 3, there has been a long history of teaching environmental economics as an optional module. The recent move of economics into the Bristol Business School resulted in this module being repositioned as Sustainable Business. Some 60 per cent of the content is common to the previous environmental economics module. There is some pressure from students to introduce a module in sustainable business at level 2. As a response, Good Business, Bad Business and Sustainability (GBBBS) has been designed. Recognising the importance of values in the study of sustainability, GBBBS has a strong emphasis on ethics and corporate social responsibility, as well as introducing foundations of sustainability and frameworks for the economic analysis of it.

The University of Sydney offers a course in the political economy of the environment, which stresses the role of political economic processes in shaping the relation between the economy and the environment. It is an example of a contending perspectives course on the economics of the environment (see Table 3 above). The course uses a mixed assessment strategy. It also deploys a reading kit rather than assigning a textbook, which allows students to read widely and for them to be exposed to canonical readings. Students provide very positive feedback on the course, citing it as engaging, relevant and challenging; and they report that it develops their ability to think about problems from multiple perspectives. Some of the feedback received suggests that there is an important affective dimension to taking such a course.

We can also report that colleagues at Keele University, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and Flinders University have run successfully modules that stress sustainability. They report positive student feedback, engagement and successful achievement of learning outcomes.