This post is about the evolution of the Holistic Design course that I have been teaching at SDU in Esbjerg in the last five years. Since I “inherited” this course I don’t know where the name Holistic Design comes from and I didn’t get many indications at that time, but I was given quite some freedom in choosing the topics - as long as it was around LCA and within the hours available.


Early days. I didn’t start completely from scratch, but I built this course relying on a previous bachelor LCA course also taught at SDU-Esbjerg and other bachelor and master courses in LCA and sustainability at AAU. In the same year I also developed a new course on LCA and ecodesign at AAU together with my colleague Henrik Riisgaard, that was influenced by this.

The course was originally structured in six lectures:

  • Ecodesign Workshop (by Henrik Riisgard as guest lecturer): A combined workshop and lecture focused less on the analytical skills and more on the creative processes to come up with sustainable solutions and designs
  • Systems thinking Again soft skills on system thinking, reflecting on the relation between sustainability, complexity, and systems. Doing this exercise on causal loop diagrams - Product systems Introduction to LCA, focus on inventory: functional units, product systems, computational structure with matrix algebra
  • Consequential LCA Again life cycle inventory, focus on multifunctional activities and constrained suppliers
  • Indicators Basically Life Cycle Impact Assessment
  • Input-Output analysis and case studies Touching on IOA, doing this exercise on personal consumption patterns

For each lecture, a different group exercise. All exercises collected together in a portfolio. Portfolio starting point for the individual oral exam.


Several changes in structure based on the feedbacks from the students and what I thought was not working well or was too abstract or irrelevant.

New structure: Systems thinking, Ecodesign workshop, Product systems I (Functional units, inventories and multifunctionality), Product Systems II (LCA databases and software), Indicators (LCIA), Planetary boundaries and circular economy, Scenario workshop.

The lecture on planetary boundaries and circular economy was intended to introduce these concepts and link them to system thinking and LCA, but also looking critically at them via exercises about the analysis of sources with pro/contra stances. The scenario workshop was about a compressed version of the participatory scenario development exercise.


Less is more. Again changes compared to previous year, mainly cutting to make more space for core elements. I removed the ecodesign workshop (Henrik could not join), spread the LCA content in more lectures, added a buffer lecture for finishing exercises (students were always delayed with them), and included the SDGs in the last lecture.

New structure: Systems thinking, Product systems I (qualitative, FU and flow chart), Product Systems II (quantitative: matrices for inventories and multifunctionality), LCA databases and software, Indicators (LCIA), Planetary boundaries circular economy and SDGs.


The course started basically simultaneously with the COVID pandemic. No time to prepare for the sudden shift to remote teaching so the same program was maintained with minor modifications, and the main change was that all lectures were given online. Using Zoom for presentations and discussions in plenum and Slack for chatting and posting material and notes.

After a couple of lectures I realised I could record them and upload them for the students to see them again. I started learning about using videos and the potential of videos.

Overall, not the best settings and constant emergency mode, but we managed.

That year I skipped the module on scenario workshop. Not possible remotely, but in all honesty it didn’t work well live either, there was not enough time for it even if compressed (should be done in two days). We instead used the extra time for more Q&A and group exercises, since doing things online we were overall delayed.


Still pandemic, still teaching online. I had realised early on in 2020 that “doing the same things as before but in zoom” was a terrible approach to teaching. So I switched to flipped-classroom mode. I recorded some videos and provided the materials to students in advance on the course platform. Then spent the online class time on Q&A on the material and supervision of group exercises, jumping from one Zoom breakout room to the other. It worked better than previous year.

In this year I also included a module on critical assessment of models, inspired by the work of Funtowic, Saltelli & co. In particular I developed this exercise:


Back to teaching in person. Full flipped-classroom mode: all the videos made during the pandemic provided in advance, together with readings. At the classes, the structure is always Q&A on the material, and supervision of group exercises (in person). Worked very well, probably the best version of the course I ever made. I strengthened also the focus on the critical assessment of models, and model limitations, proposing again exercises like the one above.

At the end of the course the assignments were very high quality, full LCAs and very reflective students.

Stop when you are on top

After five years, I feel this course has been fine-tuned to a very high degree. In the last editions I really enjoyed the discussion and the overall process. Why stopping now? Got a large project that will keep me occupied next years and the course is at another university than mine (they collaborate) so I need to reduce and focus on the in-house teaching.

The point of this post is: it takes time to make a good course.

Also, a big thank you to all the students, I hope the course was just as useful and enjoyable to you as it was to me.