575.736.81 - Designing for Sustainability: Applying a Decision Framework

Environmental Planning and Management
Fall 2023


In this course, students will apply a sustainability decision framework, developed by the National Research Council, to an environmental project of their choice. This will include developing a project management plan, a project action plan, and an evaluation and adaptation assessment that will outline how sustainability principles will be incorporated into their project. This applied approach will give students experience in systems thinking, linkages across governmental bodies, development of indicators, use of environmental support tools, transdisciplinary cooperation, and the use of structured decision framework.


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Deborah Kopsick


Course Structure

The course materials are divided into 13 modules which can be accessed by clicking "Modules" on the left menu of our Canvas class site. A module will have several sections including the overview, content, readings, discussions, and assignments. You are encouraged to preview all sections of the module before starting. All modules run for a period of seven (7) days starting on Wednesday and ending the following Tuesday. You should regularly check the Calendar and Announcements for assignment due dates. I reserve the right to revise the syllabus as necessary, and I will inform you of any substantive changes.

Course Topics

-Sustainability and Systems Thinking

-Transitioning toward Sustainability

-Sustainability Framework for U.S. Environmental Actions and Decisions

-The Role of Decision Frameworks in Producing Consistent and Effective Results

-Phase 1: Preparation and Planning

-Linkages and Governing for Sustainability

-Phase 2: Design and Implementation

-EPA’s support for sustainability in decision making: Tools and actors

-Phase 3: Evaluation and Adaptation

-Phase 4: Long-term Outcomes

-Using indicators to evaluate and assess outcomes

-Transdisciplinary approach to sustainability

-Sustainability Case Studies

-The Need for Policy Coherence

-Student-led discussions related to presentations on class projects

Course Goals

The primary objective of this course is to analyze how sustainability concepts can be incorporated into environmental projects and into solutions for complex environmental issues. A framework developed by the NRC will be used to guide this process. All across the U.S. government and internationally, sustainability policies are being created and implemented. For example, the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 provides goals and targets for every country to achieve. However, how to accomplish this is less defined, which makes implementing a decision framework to ensure the success of sustainability-oriented projects critically important. Using a sustainability framework defined by the NRC, you will frame the issue, identify the appropriate stakeholders, develop project goals and strategies, engage partners and boundary organizations, identify outcomes you wish to achieve, and develop indicators to evaluate your progress.  During this process, you will (1) assemble a management plan, (2) an action plan and (3) an evaluation and adaptation assessment. These components will form the basis for your sustainability assessment report on the environmental project of your choice, which will serve as your final project for this class. As you’ll learn throughout the semester, implementation of this process is relatively new for both the public and private sectors and during the course of the semester you will explore how each is approaching their transition toward sustainability.

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs)


The textbook for this course is Futures Research and Environmental Sustainability: Theory and Method by James K. Lein (2017).

Other Materials & Online Resources

Each week there will be specified readings which will be listed in the appropriate week’s course materials. Readings will be available through e-reserves, which can be accessed through Canvas (menu on left panel). The readings will not only reinforce the lectures in each module, but they will help illustrate and add perspective to the material presented. It is expected that you will use these assigned readings as reference material for your writing throughout the semester and you will be able to contribute your insights on the readings and lectures during the weekly discussion posts.

Student Coursework Requirements

It is expected that each module will take approximately 7–10 hours per week to complete. Here is an approximate breakdown: assigned readings (approximately 3 – 4 hours per week), listening to the audio annotated slide presentations and watching the videos (approximately 1 - 2 hours per week), and writing assignments, which include discussion posts and specific weekly assignments (approximately 3 - 4 hours per week).



Student Requirements

% of Grade


Module Discussions*: 8

Preparation and participation includes reading all assigned material, listening to the module lectures, watching the videos and posting/answering discussion posts

* Review Rubric for Module Discussions which will guide grading




(25 points each)


Personal Introduction: 20 points

All other assignments: 40 points

*Review Rubric for Writing Assignments which will guide grading




(40 points each)

Sustainability plans/reports*:

●       Sustainability assessment topic-20 points

●       Project Management Plan-100 points
●       Project Action Plan-100 points
●       Evaluation and Adaptation Assessment-100 points
●       Sustainability Assessment Report-80 points
●       Class presentation on Sustainability Report; responses to comments; critique of other student’s presentations -100 points
* Review Rubric for Writing Assignments which will guide grading








1000 points

This course will consist of three basic student requirements:

  1. Module Discussions (22% of Course Grade)

You are responsible for carefully reading all assigned material and being prepared for discussion. The readings are from a number of sources including, but not limited to, scholarly journals, international organization reports and research from independent and governmental public policy institutions.

Post your initial response to the discussion questions no later than the evening of Day 4 (Saturday 11:59 pm) for that module week. It is important you post your initial response to the discussion question on time, as a deduction of 5 points will be taken for late initial posts.

Posting a response to the discussion question is one component of your grade for module discussions. The second component of your grade for module discussions is your interaction with a minimum of two of your classmates. Just posting your response to a discussion question is not sufficient; the success of our class depends on your interaction with your classmates by providing thoughtful responses to their posts and engaging in an asynchronous dialogue. Be detailed in your postings and in your responses to your classmates' postings. Provide references, including class readings, to support your ideas and proposals. Feel free to agree or disagree with your classmates, however, please ensure that your postings are civil and constructive.

Your responses to your classmate’s posts are due no later than the evening of Day 6 (Monday 11:59 pm) to allow the original poster to respond to any questions or comments before the module ends on Tuesday night. 

I will monitor and engage in module discussions and will respond to some, but not all, of the discussions as they are posted. A rubric for discussion posts is included. I encourage you to become familiar with this rubric to guide your discussion posts.


  1. Assignments (28% of Course Grade)

Assignments will include a mix of qualitative assignments such as analysis of community sustainability plans, development of measures and indicators and assessment of tradeoffs and synergies. You should apply the concepts learned in the course and include them in your writing to better understand the role of sustainability concepts in the design of environmental projects. I expect your writing to improve as the semester progresses based on the comments and edits you receive on your graded assignments.

A grading rubric for writing assignments is included in your course materials for your reference. I encourage you to become familiar with this rubric to guide your writing assignments. All Figures and Tables should be captioned and labeled appropriately. References should be properly cited (use APA style).

All assignments, listed in the table above, are due according to the dates in the calendar posted in Canvas. Specific instructions on each of the assignments will be posted in the appropriate module in Canvas. Please note the grading policy below for late assignments.


  1. Sustainability Assessment Report (50% of Course Grade)

Your Sustainability Assessment Report is your opportunity to delve deeply into an environmental policy issue where the incorporation of sustainability concepts can lead to more effective outcomes. The Sustainability Assessment report topic will be submitted for approval during Module 3. The topic you select will relate to a specific environmental policy-making issue or action.  Specific requirements for this assignment are listed in the Sustainability Assessment Report document located under the “Course Projects and Rubrics” tab and in Mod 3 in Canvas.

This project consists of 6 parts. All parts will be graded separately:

  1. Sustainability assessment topic - 20 points (Pick a topic you are interested in and want to understand more fully as you will be working on it throughout the semester.)
  2. Project Management Plan - 100 points
  3. Project Action Plan - 100 points
  4. Evaluation and Adaptation Assessment - 100 points
  5. Final report: Sustainability Assessment Report - 80 points
  6. Final presentation: Sustainability Assessment - 100 points

Due dates for all assignments are posted on the calendar in Canvas.

All rubrics are posted in the “Course Projects and Rubrics” section of Canvas.


A word about word limits:

Most of your writing assignments and final paper components will have word limits.  These limits are to help you keep your writing concise and to the point and to help you exclude extraneous material.  The word limits only apply to the text, including any quotations. The limits do not apply to tables, graphics, figures, or the reference list, so consider using tables and graphics to organize your data and explain complex data. Do not use appendices unless directed to.

Grading Policy








































VERY IMPORTANT: The date and time for submitting the assignments are clearly stated on your Canvas course site. You may check these due dates in the calendar or the assignment section in the corresponding modules. I will attempt to post grades within one week after assignment due dates.

Unless you have received approval from your instructor in advance, any late submissions received after the due date and time will graded accordingly:

Initial discussion post

Deduction of 5 points if posted late (after Saturday 11:59 pm).

Assignments and plan/report components:

Deduction of 20% of available points if submitted up to 24 hours late.

Deduction of 40% of available points if submitted 24-48 hours late.

Deduction of 60% of available points if submitted 48-72 hours late.

No credit will be given if submitted after 72 hours.

Important note: I understand that there are valid reasons for not being able to complete an assignment on time. I ask that you communicate with me as early as possible if you are having difficulty meeting a deadline so we can work out an alternative deadline, if appropriate. If you don’t let me know before the deadline, it reduces my flexibility to do this. My goal is to be fair to all the students in the class.

NO changes to any grade will be made after final grades are submitted, unless there is an error on the part of the instructor.

Course Evaluation

Course evaluations can be found at https://ep.jhu.edu/student-services/academic-services/course-planning/ 

Academic Policies

Deadlines for Adding, Dropping and Withdrawing from Courses

Students may add a course up to one week after the start of the term for that particular course. Students may drop courses according to the drop deadlines outlined in the EP academic calendar (https://ep.jhu.edu/student-services/academic-calendar/). Between the 6th week of the class and prior to the final withdrawal deadline, a student may withdraw from a course with a W on their academic record. A record of the course will remain on the academic record with a W appearing in the grade column to indicate that the student registered and withdrew from the course.

Academic Misconduct Policy

All students are required to read, know, and comply with the Johns Hopkins University Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS) / Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) Procedures for Handling Allegations of Misconduct by Full-Time and Part-Time Graduate Students.

This policy prohibits academic misconduct, including but not limited to the following: cheating or facilitating cheating; plagiarism; reuse of assignments; unauthorized collaboration; alteration of graded assignments; and unfair competition. Course materials (old assignments, texts, or examinations, etc.) should not be shared unless authorized by the course instructor. Any questions related to this policy should be directed to EP’s academic integrity officer at ep-academic-integrity@jhu.edu.

Students with Disabilities - Accommodations and Accessibility

Johns Hopkins University values diversity and inclusion. We are committed to providing welcoming, equitable, and accessible educational experiences for all students. Students with disabilities (including those with psychological conditions, medical conditions and temporary disabilities) can request accommodations for this course by providing an Accommodation Letter issued by Student Disability Services (SDS). Please request accommodations for this course as early as possible to provide time for effective communication and arrangements.

For further information or to start the process of requesting accommodations, please contact Student Disability Services at Engineering for Professionals, ep-disability-svcs@jhu.edu.

Student Conduct Code

The fundamental purpose of the JHU regulation of student conduct is to promote and to protect the health, safety, welfare, property, and rights of all members of the University community as well as to promote the orderly operation of the University and to safeguard its property and facilities. As members of the University community, students accept certain responsibilities which support the educational mission and create an environment in which all students are afforded the same opportunity to succeed academically. 

For a full description of the code please visit the following website: https://studentaffairs.jhu.edu/policies-guidelines/student-code/

Classroom Climate

JHU is committed to creating a classroom environment that values the diversity of experiences and perspectives that all students bring. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. Fostering an inclusive climate is important. Research and experience show that students who interact with peers who are different from themselves learn new things and experience tangible educational outcomes. At no time in this learning process should someone be singled out or treated unequally on the basis of any seen or unseen part of their identity. 
If you have concerns in this course about harassment, discrimination, or any unequal treatment, or if you seek accommodations or resources, please reach out to the course instructor directly. Reporting will never impact your course grade. You may also share concerns with your program chair, the Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, or the Office of Institutional Equity. In handling reports, people will protect your privacy as much as possible, but faculty and staff are required to officially report information for some cases (e.g. sexual harassment).

Course Auditing

When a student enrolls in an EP course with “audit” status, the student must reach an understanding with the instructor as to what is required to earn the “audit.” If the student does not meet those expectations, the instructor must notify the EP Registration Team [EP-Registration@exchange.johnshopkins.edu] in order for the student to be retroactively dropped or withdrawn from the course (depending on when the "audit" was requested and in accordance with EP registration deadlines). All lecture content will remain accessible to auditing students, but access to all other course material is left to the discretion of the instructor.