Design for Sustainability E-Learning Programme

Join our online programme 'Design for Sustainability'. Receive a certificate in Design for Sustainability, and become a practitioner of regenerative development


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En Español | Em Português | Goddard College Partnership

Why does the world need sustainability designers?

We live in a rapidly changing world that is transforming before our very eyes. A multitude of deep and pressing concerns such a global inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss, unrestrained urbanisation and destructive forms of economic growth are calling for our immediate attention. All of us are called to actively be part of this civilisational effort to co-create a healthier and more fulfilling world for all.

Gaia Education’s online programme ‘Design for Sustainability’ will provide you with a deeper understanding of integrative whole systems design, the analytical abilities, design thinking skills, and a wide range of methods and practical tools to redesign the human presence on Earth - one local community and bioregion at a time. The overall aim is to transform our impact from degeneration to regeneration.


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Receive a certificate of design for sustainability, and become a practitioner of regenerative development.

Upon certification you will have the background and confidence to take an active role in designing for sustainability, both professionally and personally, working for small and large scale community projects, eco-social enterprises, or transition initiatives in civil society, the public sector or business. You will feel ready to offer your contribution and facilitate others to contribute to the collaborative transformation of our existing communities, institutions and neighbourhoods towards more sustainable and regenerative patterns of production and consumption. What is more, you will be able to support yourself and other in leading more joyful, meaningful and healthier lives.

"The structure of the curriculum was beautiful and holistic. Hope to teach the curriculum in the future and am already using it everyday in the development of our community." Carrie Campbell, Community Activist, USA

How the Course is Structured


The course is structured in such a way that by dedicating 10 hours a week of study and engagement with the material you will be able to follow the flow and get a lot out of it - enough to reach the level of understanding and the quality of completed assignments to successfully complete the course and get your certification. That said, we feel that 10 -12 hours per week of engagement is about the norm and leads to the exceptional results and successful future professional pathways we are so glad to observes in many of our students.

The 10-month course totals 400 hours of study, leading to a Certificate of Completion. For those students interested not only in applying what they have learned to their own practice as professionals and activists but who also would like to become a certified Gaia Education trainer and share this curriculum with others, this course is an important stepping stone towards that certification.

Planning your Study Time and Learning Activities - typical distribution of hours spent on each Dimension (80h) plus the Design Studio, comprising of a total of 400 hours

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The e-learning programme consists of four dimensions: Social, Ecological, Economic and Worldview, each contained in a 8-week period, you will learn skills and effective methods to collaborate with other in regenerative design for societal transformation and the creation of thriving communities within vibrant regional economies. The course will explore case studies and best process examples that demonstrate how regenerative cultures use energy and materials with greater efficiency, distributes wealth more fairly, and strive to eliminate the concept of waste in the aim to regenerate the material, energy and social resources they depend upon as much as possible at the local and regional scale.

The course material contains about 120-160 pages of written curriculum content for each of the four dimensions: Social Design, Ecological Design, Economic Design and Worldview. This material is further enriched with images, short videos, and links to websites and source documents for further study. You will have access to a flexible online platform that is easy to navigate and allows you to exchange and study with a global communities of co-learners and experienced tutors. The content can also be downloaded in pdf format to make it easier for you to work offline. The modularity enables you to progress at your own pace wherever in the world you are located.

Once you have successfully completed the four dimensions you can sign up for the Design Studio - an exciting opportunity to work within a global design team - composed of fellow students from different countries, and focussed on real world design projects that will give you the perfect opportunity to revise and apply what you have learned in the course. Have a look at the kind of design projects created in previous years here.

Programme available in English, Portuguese and Spanish

The programme is offered by Gaia Education in English, Portuguese and in Spanish through our academic partner at the Universidad Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) - the latter with the option of working towards a Masters degree. You can either take all four dimensions in sequence and then do the design studio to get certified within ten month, or you could choose to do one or two dimensions this year and complete the course in your own time over the next two years.

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Course Dates 2016-2017

To receive a certificate of completion students need to engage in all four dimensions plus the Design Studio over a 10-month period. However, the dimensions do not need to be completed within the same year. For those who require more time it is also possible to complete within 24 months, once registered in the full programme. At the end of their participation the students will have successfully completed the minimum required activities for each dimension and a satisfactory team-design project.

Orientation to the online platform: 17 to 21 Oct 2016 
Duration: 10 months (1 academic year)
Hours: 80 hours per Dimension and 80 hours for the Design Studio (= 400 hours)
Your investment (Educational fee): 997 GBP

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24 Oct to 16 Dec 2016

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2 Jan to 24 Feb 2017

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6 Mar to 28 April 2017

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8 May to 30 Jun 2017



10 Jul to 1 Sep 2017



As a Scottish Registered Charity we are able to offer an exceptional price of only GBP 997


The 10-month course has begun - you can still sign-up now and finish and get certified next year


"The course has helped me explore a wide range of sustainable development issues, both theoretically and practically. Through this course, I have learned a lot about teamwork, time management, creativity and art."" Any Sulistyowati, Indonesia



What You Will Learn


At the heart of all of Gaia Education’s courses lies the 4-D Framework for integrative whole systems design. It transcends and includes the conventional three dimensional model of sustainability aiming to integrate social, ecological and economic concerns in the creation of sustainable solutions, by taking a more holistic approach that also addresses the critical importance of worldview and value systems change as the main drivers of behaviour change and cultural transformation.

’Design for Sustainability’ draws from the experience and expertise of a network of some of the most successful ecovillages, community projects and sustainable design practitioners and educators across the Earth.

The curriculum content of the GEDS has recently been substantially reviewed and rewritten by Gaia Education’s ‘Head of Innovation and Design’, Dr. Daniel Christian Wahl, who is also the author of the acclaimed new book Designing Regenerative Cultures. The material not only reflects the best lessons and practices from communities and transition initiatives around the world, it also offers an up-to-date perspective of regenerative design for cities, bioregions, eco-social enterprises, and regional economic development.

Below you can find a brief summary of what you will learn in each of the four Dimensions and the Design Studio.



Social Dimension


The aim is to give you a better understanding of the true meaning of social equity, inclusivity and justice as well as the need for widespread participation and collaborative action in a collectively envisioned and implemented transition towards resilient, nourishing and thriving social systems. In your journey through the social dimension of design for sustainability you will rediscover the importance of community cohesion and collaborative rather than competitive advantage, and reconnect with the beauty, compassionate nature, and innate power of human beings to co-design the changes they wish to see in their communities and bioregions.

geds soc webIn the Social Dimension we will address the following questions:

  • What will be the vision that will help our projects be coherent and inspiring?
  • How will decisions be made and conflicts resolved?
  • How will we walk that delicate line between being an individual and growing our personal empowerment, while being part of a collective endeavour?
  • How will we be able to celebrate our diversity in a just and inclusive manner, when we are challenged by our differences?
  • What will we do to reconnect with the creative source in the Web of Life and bring a sense of beauty and artistic craftsmanship to everything we do?
  • How will our group, organisation, project or community reach out to other local and bioregional communities, to build bridges, and facilitate learning from each other and more effective collaboration towards shared goals?

For more detail on the content and structure of the Social Dimension continue here.



Ecological Dimension


Ecological designers ensure that life-supporting natural functions are not only preserved but regenerated whenever possible. They work with Nature rather than against her. They understand that sustainable settlement design is the creation of predominantly self-reliant, self-maintaining, self-regenerating ‘living systems’ that can support thriving community life for all their inhabitants. They know that ecological concerns are fundamental to the design and development of ecovillages and sustainable intentional communities while recognising that such initiatives need to collaborate regionally and globally to improve the whole system for all of humanity and the wider community of life.

geds ecol webIn the Ecological Dimension you will address the following questions:

  • Why is the current impact of humanity on the planet’s life support system degenerative, and how can we change this?
  • How can we co-create elegant solutions carefully adapted to the bio-cultural uniqueness of place?
  • What is the wide range of water collection, management and ecological treatment technologies that can support us in the design of watershed stewardship systems?
  • How can we use the best of permaculture, regenerative agriculture, agroforestry and ecosystems regeneration to co-create thriving regional food systems?
  • Which renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and transport technologies can help us to create zero-carbon energy solutions while increasing community resilience and strengthening regional economies?
  • What range of ecological construction methods are appropriate for which kind of local conditions and how can they support regenerative development at the local and regional scale?

For more detail on the content and structure of the Ecological Dimension continue here.



Economic Dimension


Our current economic system is no longer sustainable, yet few are aware of the alternatives? Our aim is to give you a better understanding of those alternatives and the true meaning of economy and wealth. Participants will learn about existing systems and tools that are useful, and explore how to redesign those that have proven dysfunctional based on already tested alternatives.

geds econ webIn the Economic Dimension you will address the following questions:

  • What are the root causes and design faults of our current dysfunctional economic and monetary systems?
  • How can we take local, regional and global action to shift the global economy towards sustainability and regeneration?
  • What kind of complementary currency systems, community banks and local investment vehicles can help us to strengthen local and regional economies in global collaboration?
  • Why is Growth Domestic Product an insufficient measure of wealth and wellbeing and what alternative indicators already exists?
  • What methods and models are currently emerging in the field new economics and the sharing economy to support collaborative consumption and peer-to-peer collaboration?
  • How can we learn from successful experiments to revitalise local economies and promote social innovation and entrepreneurship?
  • What legal and financial considerations are important for the creation of successful regenerative enterprises and sustainable business models?

For more detail on the content and structure of the Economic Dimension continue here.





Worldview invites you to become more conscious about how your own worldview and value system affects your perceived needs and how it informs the way you might propose and design solution in any given situation. By identifying a series of valid perspectives, worldviews and value systems and putting them into context with each other, rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive or contradictory, we are taking the important first step to being able to facilitate the complex multi-stakeholder dialogues upon which the local, regional and global transition to sustainability and regenerative cultures will depend.

geds wv webAfter completing the Worldview Dimension, students will be able to:

  • Summarise the main characteristics of the dominant worldview and explain how its spread was closely linked to the development of Western science with its focus on the quantifiable, measurable, and predictable;
  • Explain how over last century, first physics, then chaos and complexity theory, and more recently earth systems science and biology have revealed a fundamentally unpredictable complex reality in which we participate and intervene perpetually;
  • Name a series of practices that have been used by effective change agents to reconnect with the natural world and gain strength and insight from activities like meditation, council, vision fasts and/or solo-time in nature;
  • Structure a multi-stakeholder engagement process in a way that integrates multiple perspectives into a shared whole systems understanding of any collaborative project they work with;
  • Design for whole systems health using health as an integrative framework that helps us to foster systemic wellbeing and resilience at local, regional, and global scale.

For more detail on the content and structure of the Worldview continue here.



Design Studio


The objective of the Design Studio is to practice the application of Gaia Education’s Design For Sustainability principles and develop skills in collaborating with an international design team in applying what you have learned to real world case studies. The case study serves as an integrative exercise where participants explore the relationships between personal, social, ecological, and economic sustainability. Design teams will be created around a number of case studies, that will be decided before the beginning of each Design Studio. These may – but do not necessarily need to be – drawn from initiatives that students are currently involved in.

For more information on the Design Studio continue here, or take a look at the design projects created in previous years.


The 10-month course has begun - you can still sign-up now and finish and get certified next year

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"It will change the way I teach Permaculture from now on. I would recommend this course to anyone who seriously wants to learn in-depth what it means to live sustainably."Barb Hazenvald, Permaculture Teacher, Canada

A final word on the importance of integrative whole systems design:

While your personal preferences and professional background may make you feel more drawn to certain dimensions of the curriculum than others, we would like to invite you to consider the importance of integrative whole systems design very carefully. So many of the problems we are facing today stem from our compartmentalised approach to identifying and solving problems in isolation. In an interconnected and constantly changing world most problems and most solutions are always somehow hitched to each other.

Finding wise responses and truly transformative innovations to get us from the mess we are in towards a thriving future for all will require us to not just change our practices, but equally importantly the way we think and the worldview and value systems we base our design decisions on. The GEDS curriculum has been carefully crafted to help you become a specialised generalist - able to facilitate multi-stakeholder conversations and help diverse teams create integrated whole systems design solutions. For this intention to be successful, we would invite you to take the whole course first, even if you later choose to practice or teach predominantly in one of the four dimensions.

The value and significance of each dimension will be amplified and strengthened by a deeper understanding of the value and significance of all the other dimensions. To shift from a cultural narrative of separation and competition to a cultural narrative of interbeing, we need more people to be able to articulate the importance of seeing the whole picture and working as integrative whole systems designers. Please join this course. Your community and the community of life needs your help in creating a thriving future for all!


The 10-month course has begun - you can still sign-up now and finish and get certified next year