Skip to main content

Principles of Sustainable Design

Learn about the context, motivations, frameworks and perspectives necessary to build a deeper understanding of sustainability and to form a solid foundation for sustainable design.

  1. Course Number

  2. Classes Start

  3. Classes End

    Jun 15, 2020


1. The Context of Sustainability


The Age of the Hunter Gatherer

The Age of Agriculture

The Early Age of Industry

The Late Age of Industry

The Age of Information

The Age of Integration

2. Motivations for Sustainability


The Invisible Hand

Managing The Commons



The Expanding Circle

Sustainability: the Great Resolution

Examples of the Great Resolution


3. Frameworks for Sustainability


Climate Change

Sustainability and the Triple Bottom Line

The Quadruple Bottom Line

4. Meta-Frameworks for Sustainable Design


Integral Theory

Integral Theory Examples

Integral Sustainable Design

Integral Sustainable Design: Examples

5. Perspectives on Energy


Energy from Renewable Stocks

Energy from Non-Renewable Stocks

Energy from Flows

Future Energy Sources

Conservation and Efficiency

Summary Quizzes

6. Perspectives on Environment


Climate Change

Environmental Impacts

The Anthropocene

7. Change Management for Sustainability

Introduction and Review

Barrett's Seven Levels of Consciousness

Barrett's Whole Change Methdology

Course Conclusion

Final Exam

Final Exam

About This Course

This course will explore the context, motivations, frameworks and perspectives necessary to build a deeper understanding of sustainability and to form a solid foundation for sustainable design. The course will be followed by a course focused on the practical aspects of sustainable design.

This course will begin by placing sustainability in its historical context in relation to other drivers of major world view shifts including Renaissance and Modernist paradigms. A close reading of the first and second invisible hands of wealth will be presented in order to reveal sustainability as a powerful motivation for action towards a sustainable future. A number of frameworks including the Quadruple Bottom Line and Integral Sustainable Design will be studied in order to organize those actions into holistic relationships. Finally, the course will take a deeper look at the state of energy and environmental systems and their impacts which sets the stage for the final Impact Project and also lays the groundwork for the second course in the sequence: Methodologies for Sustainable Design.


Week 1: The Context for Sustainability: Beginning at the origins of the planet and finishing with a close study of world view shifts in the relatively short time frame of humanity on the planet.

Week 2: Motivations for Sustainability: Resolving the duality between self-interest (greed) and empathy (altruism) as a means to build a new platform for “progress” in the 21st century.

Week 3: Frameworks for Sustainability: Moving beyond superficial greening efforts to authentic sustainability that features the use of the holistic Quadruple Bottom Line.

Week 4: meta Frameworks for Sustainable Design: The multi-lens and meta-paradigm approach of Integral Theory and Integral Sustainable Design.

Week 5: Perspectives on Energy Systems: This module features a close look at energy system (non-renewable and renewable) from an Integral perspective in order to build energy literacy as a foundation for effective sustainable design.

Week 6: Perspectives on Environmental Systems and their Impacts: This module will study the impacts of non-renewable energy sources and human progress around the globe as a means to build an expanded environmental literacy.

Week 7: The Impact Project: The course ends with the completion of an “impact project.” where students will collaborate to design and implement a short project that addresses the myriad problems and opportunities presented by sustainability.


At end of this course students will be able to:

Analyze the origins and founding principles of sustainability Synthesize the competing motivations of empathy and self-interest to build a foundation for a new sustainable world view

Combine the cultural, ecological, economic and experiential forces into holistic frameworks for sustainability

Analyze the state of the world’s energy and environmental systems and value the critical role of built environment professionals in responding to that challenge




You be offered a paid certificate by the Philadelphia University and Open Online Academy after you complete all the course assignments and exams. The basic certificate is $99 and the certificate with CEU (Continuing Education Units) costs $149. The Philadelphia University will not issue academic credits for this course. Please contact Prof. Fleming to learn more about how to gain university credits.


Course Staff

Course Staff Image #1

Prof. Rob Fleming, LEED AP

Rob Fleming is a registered architect with over 18 years’ experience of teaching, research and practice in sustainable design. He is the co-creator and Director of the award winning Master of Science in Sustainable Design Program at Philadelphia University. Rob is the author of Design Education for a Sustainable Future, a book focused on transforming design education in the 21st century. Rob is a Sustainability Fellow at Re:Vision Architecture in Philadelphia where he consults and facilitates integrated design charrettes.