Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Course Description

Modern industrial activities - which MIT engineers and scientists play a major role in - have significant environmental and social impacts. Trends towards further industrialization and globalization portend major challenges for society to manage the adverse impacts of our urban and industrial activities. How serious are current environmental and social problems? Why should we care about them? How are governments, corporations, activists, and ordinary citizens responding to these problems?

This course examines environmental and social impacts of industrial society and policy responses. We will explore current trends in industrialization, urbanization, and globalization, analyze the impacts these trends have on human health, environmental sustainability, and equity, and then examine a range of policy options available for responding to current problems. The course will present key trends in both domestic and international contexts.

We will examine four policy problems in particular during the course: (1) regulating industrial pollution; (2) regulating "sweatshops" and the broader impacts of globalization; (3) protecting ecosystems; and (4) protecting urban environments during development. We delve into specific cases of these challenges, including: chemical safety and toxins; computers, e-commerce, and the environment; biotech and society; sweatshops; and food production and consumption. Through these cases, we will explore underlying processes and drivers of environmental degradation. Finally, we will analyze opportunities and barriers to policy responses taken by governments, international institutions, corporations, non-governmental organizations, consumers, and impacted communities.

Objectives and Aims

Through the study of these issues, the course will encourage the development of:

  • An understanding of the complexity of environmental and social impacts of industry;
  • An ability to critically analyze policy responses;
  • An understanding of the roles of different actors and institutions in environmental and social controversies;
  • Means to evaluate institutional barriers to environmental and social policies;
  • New ideas for better integrating industry, environment, and equity;
  • New strategies for regulation in the global economy;
  • An understanding about personal responsibilities and roles in environmental and social problems.


The class will involve considerable reading each week, class participation, several short assignments, and a term paper and presentation.

Specifically students will be expected to:

  • Read the assigned texts before each class session. The reading will range from 30-60 pages per class. Students are required to do this reading (and it will lay the basis for much of the class dialogue and learning).
  • Participate fully in class discussions. The classes will be run as a guided discussion with lecture interspersed. Engagement with the readings and the topics of the day is critical to the learning experience.
  • Complete four short "problem sets" during the semester. These will be designed to be learning exercises focused on evaluating individual impacts on the environment and society. For instance, one will involve calculating your personal "ecological footprint," another will involve evaluating our own "sweatshop" clothing. Late problem sets will be counted down one grade (i.e., from A to A- or B+ to B) for every day they are late.
  • Write a term paper for the course. In the process leading up to the final paper, students will submit an outline for a proposed project and a bibliography of sources for the project. Students will meet with the professor (or TA) at least once during the semester to discuss their plans for the term project.
  • Finally students will present their term project research to the class in short oral presentations.


The course grade will be based on the following activities:
20% - Class participation
30% - Problem Sets
40% - Term project
10% - Class Presentation

Required Texts

Hawken, Paul, Amory Lovins, and L. Hunter Lovins, Natural Capitalism, Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1999.

Individual chapters of Natural Capitalism are also available at:

Additional required readings for the class will be available in a course reader. The reader can be purchased from CopyTech in the basement of building 11. The required books and reader will also be on reserve in Rotch Library.