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Principles and Methodologies for Sustainable Design
A Massively Open On-line Course (MOOC)
Beginning on June 1st, 2014
By Rob Fleming, Director, MS in Sustainable Design Program at Philadelphia University


Course Context

In the year 2005 Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf of Mexico. Gas prices reached $3, $4 and $5 dollars in the US. Al Gore published an Inconvenient Truth and the world began to pay attention. The BP Oil spill in 2010 reminded us that oil and gas are still plentiful but more difficult to obtain. Unusually hot weather, extreme drought and new weather patterns continued into 2014. The world is changing and society thankfully society has begun to take action. While green design is both desirable and useful, it may not be enough to directly address the challenges we may face in the coming years. As a response, this course will help students go beyond green to explore the more impactful and exciting principles of authentic sustainability and also the evolving methodologies of integrated design and construction of the built environment. Taught by Architect Rob Fleming and a number of guest appearances by a wide array of sustainability experts, this course will go far beyond the standard sustainability course by introducing the role of cognitive empathy, integral theory, integrated project delivery, biophilia and much more. Click here for a week by week description.  


Course Content: Watch the video or read below!


The First Half of the course will focus on the principles of sustainability that underlie the movement to a new more integrated world view.

  • Week 1 looks at the Context for sustainability, beginning at the origins of the planet and finishing with a close study of the relatively short time frame of humanity on the planet.
  • Week 2 studies the underlying Motivations for sustainability, especially focused on the resolving the duality between self-interest (greed) and Empathy (Altruism) as a means to build a new platform for “progress”. 
  • Week 3 explores the Frameworks for sustainability with an emphasis on moving beyond superficial greening to authentic sustainability that features the holistic Quadruple Bottom Line and the multi lens perspectives of Integral Theory.
  • Week 4 delves deeper to look at some Perspectives for sustainability that include better understanding energy systems and their relationship to a changing climate. This sets the stage for the next four weeks which looks more specifically at sustainable design for the built environment.


The Second Half will focus on the methodologies of sustainable design t

  • Week 5 includes a thorough look at the Rating Systems and Standards that govern sustainable design. The LEED® Rating System, Passivhaus and the Living building Challenge among others will be presented. Students have the option to receive training in preparation for the LEED® Green Associate exam
  • Week 6 covers Integrative Design Behaviors which include the Integrated project delivery process (IPD), design charrettes, BIM integration, green construction and more.
  • Week 7 explores the pivotal role of Eco-Cities and EcoDistrcits in achieving deeper levels of sustainability.
  • Week 8 focuses on the Sustainable Future by studying biophilia, biomimicry, urbiphilia and, resilience.


Click here to see the detailed syllabus


Who should take this course?

This course is geared towards built environment professionals but those without a background can still succeed in the course. The course is taught at the graduate level but those with an undergraduate degree or equivalent work experience can also succeed in the course.

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How much time is required to complete the course?

There are three levels of participation in the course:


The Grazer (Causal learner) 2 hours/week

  • 2 hours of video watching per week

 The Student (working professional) 5 hours per week 

  • 2 hours of video watching per week
  • 1.5 hours per week interacting with learning modules
  • 1.5 hour per week occasionally engaged in discussion board

 The Scholar (Taking the course for credit) 14 Hours per week*

  • 2 hours of video watching per week
  • 1.6 hours per week interacting with learning modules
  • 1.6 hours per week engaged in discussion board (professor moderated)
  • 4 hours per week of readings (necessary to get good grades on the assignments)
  • 4 hours per week completing the assignments

  * For those pursuing the LEED® Green Associate Exam, an additional 3 nights of study is recommended.


About The Professor

Associate Professor Rob Fleming is a LEED® Accredited Professional and 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 a Sustainability Fellow at Re:Vision Architecture in Philadelphia where he consults and facilitates integrated design charrettes. Professor Fleming is the author the book Design Education for a Sustainable Future published by Routledge/Earthscan. 16 sustainability experts will also make cameo appearances during the course through short interviews or recorded Skype sessions.

Course History

This course had its beginnings 8 years ago as it became the foundational education experience for the MS in Sustainable Design program at Philadelphia University. Over that time, over 300 students have taken the course both on-campus and on-line. Because the course has traditionally included students from any major it is purposely broad in scope. The course has evolved into a very deep exploration of sustainability values followed by a comprehensive presentation of corresponding sustainable design methodologies. Each week remains broad in scope with opportunities for students to take very deep dives into the content. The MS in Sustainable Design Program has received awards from the United States Green Building Council and the National Institute of Building Science. Over 150 students have graduated from the Program since 2006.


What are the assignments?

The course includes a variety of assignments. Some are short 2-page papers posted in the discussion board for peer evaluation. The midterm project is a case study that becomes part of a larger data base of sustainability projects that are organized, compared and contrasted through the four lenses of Integral Theory. There are some short quizzes in the second half of the course flowed by a final project that is still in development.


 Course Logistics

This is a 3 credit course with 42 hours of on-line instruction. Because this is a massively open on-line course, interaction with the professor is limited.

 The course will feature a variety of ways to take in the content. They include:

  • High quality HD Videos of powerpoint lectures with narration – (click here for a sample)
    • Includes skype sessions and interviews with prominent figures in sustainable design
  • Text based learning modules with interactive quizzes – click here for a sample
  • Faculty moderated and Ppeer to peer on-line discussions


 What do I get in the end?

  • The student will have experienced a transformation event in their lives
  • The student will receive a certificate of completion if all assignments are completed by the end of the course.
  • The student will receive 3 graduate credits if the following conditions are met:
    • Signed course participation form
    • Completed assignments posted before the end of the course
    • Student registers at Philadelphia University as a non-matriculating student
    • Student pays the tuition required for a 3-Credit course at Philadelphia University
    • Student will receive a transcript from the Registrar when all conditions above are met
    • The Fine Print:
      • Philadelphia University is a Middle States accredited university. However, different universities have different standards for accepting transfer credits. Philau accepts no responsibility for whether the 3 credits will be accepted by the home institution


When does the course begin?

The course begins on June 1st, 2014. Registration ends on May 15th, 2014


How do I register?

To register for the course simply click here and you will be taken to the Blackboard Coursesites login page


Will I receive CEU Credits?

At this time the course has not been approved by GBCI  for LEED® CE credits. However, students may self-report the hours for the class. Please follow all GBCI guidelines as listed on their website The number of hours that can be claimed will vary on the level of involvement in the course.


At this time, this course does not have AIA CEU’s available.


What books are required?

There are no required books. The on-line learning modules and pdf readings are stored within the Blackboard CourseSites platform. However, the following books are highly recommended for deeper study:

  • Design Education for a Sustainable Future by Rob Fleming
  • Plan B 4.0 by Lester Brown
  • The Integrative Design Guide to Green Building: Redefining the Practice of Sustainability by the 7 Group
  • Integral Sustainable Design by Mark DeKay
  • Brief History of Everything by Ken Wilber

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