How ?

How does one teach sustainable development to business and economics students ? What do they need know ? What should they be able to do ?

Key sustainability knowledge and skills

Pedagogical research identifies four categories of knowledge and skills for sustainability: 1) a strong grasp of key concepts and knowledge related to sustainability (e.g. the carbon cycle or how one measures inequality and its effects);  2) the ability to think holistically and see how different facets of a problem intertwine; 3) the ability to integrate different perspectives and disciplines in the design of a solution; and 4) the capacity to see themselves as actors for change, with the confidence and knowledge to transform ideas into action.


The relevant sustainability-related knowledge is specific to each course but, at a minimum, at the end of their degrees, our students need to (1) be exposed to the historical and ethical perspectives on the relationship between humans and nature, (2) learn about the state of the planet and understand how human and natural ecosystems interact, (3) understand the social challenges and negative impacts on our societies that result from the current unsustainable development, and (4) master the tools and methods for monitoring, analysing and managing the sustainability-related issues and phenomena relevant to their course of study.

System thinking

The "Systems Thinking" skill refers to the ability to understand how different issues are interconnected as part of a complex dynamic system, to analyse the causes of non sustainability, and to integrate complexity and uncertainty into decisions.


The "Integration" skill refers to the ability to identify and understand paradigms and value systems and their influence on perceptions and knowledge construction, to approach problems from different disciplines and perspectives (geographic, time, individual versus collective, ...), to understand the positions of different stakeholders and identify individual and collective room for maneuver.


The "Action" skill refers to the student's ability to see oneself as an actor for change, to think critically, constructively and creatively to shape solutions, and to work collaboratively to overcome barriers and conflicts.

This knowledge and these skills are integrated into the learning objectives of all of our programmes, as well as programme-specific learning objectives and other transversal skills such as critical thinking.

Thematic pathways

Thematic pathways are an innovative pedagogical mechanism that we have developed in order to offer students an integrated and comprehensive learning experience around sustainability. It builds on the Solvay Brussels School’s long tradition of multidisciplinarity and dialogue with practice, and on its integration into a university covering all disciplines. Each thematic pathway consists of several courses within a programme, typically from different disciplines, each of which address aspects relevant to a sustainable development theme. Pathway instructors work closely together to make sure that their courses complement each other and build on one another to provide comprehensive coverage of the theme.

« We are breaking down barriers between courses, disciplines and instructors » - Estelle Cantillon

Pathways guide content development, ensuring that students are exposed to the key concepts and tools relevant for the theme in question (knowledge). By fostering dialogue between disciplines, both within and across courses, pathways also promote students’ ability to see different facets of an issue and to integrate different perspectives when analysing a problem (system thinking and integration). Each pathway ends with a capstone course, where students are asked to use what they have learned to solve real-life problems (action).

So far, seven thematic pathways have been created in four different programmes (the BA in Economics, the BA in Business Engineering, the Master in Management Science and the Master in Business Economics). Other pathways are in development.

  • Energy (Bachelor in Business Engineering) – combining science, history, economics and management
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  • Circular Economy (Bachelor in Business Engineering) – combining science, marketing, innovation and entrepreneurship
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  • Work & People (Bachelor in Business Engineering) – combining law, psychology and human resource management
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  • Human Development (Bachelor in Business Engineering) – combining history, geography, economics, sociology and management 
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  • Sustainable Business Operations (Master in Management Science) – combining management and data science
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  • Sustainable Finance (Master in Business Economics) – combining management, economics and finance
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  • Governance (Bachelor in Economics) – combining sciences, sociology, economics, history, and law
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Pedagogical innovations

We cannot teach students to think out-of-the-box if we do not think out-of-the-box ourselves. Sustainable development has been a great impetus for pedagogical innovation at the Solvay Brussels School. Most of the instructors involved in the project have naturally moved towards a greater use of student-centered learning activities in order to meet their teaching goals. For example, students participate in an international student competition and contribute to a wiki page. There are common cases and practice sessions for different courses as well as interactive workshops. These teaching innovations sit alongside more familiar practices such as group projects and guest lectures by business practitioners.

Beyond the classroom

Learning does not stop at the classroom door. Students are also encouraged to develop their own projects related to sustainable development through credited internships, field projects and master’s dissertations and to get involved in the many sustainability-related initiatives on campus.
Updated on July 5, 2023