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A Review of 5 Free Online Sustainability Courses

Are you looking to improve your sustainability knowledge?

This year I’ve been on a personal quest to improve my sustainability knowledge. Besides the paid courses I’ve been working on with the University of Cambridge, Eco-Business and the GRI standards, I’ve also been studying some online courses. Here I’ve compiled a list of 5 online courses you can access for free that provide some applicable sustainability learnings, especially in the business world. The courses are available on LinkedIn and Coursera and vary from under an hour to an entire university module, lasting a few weeks, depending on your study pace. It’s a good idea to pick a particular sustainability topic before diving into the longer courses and do some pre-reading on the basic concepts if you’re a beginner. Here are my top 5 from the free online courses I studied.

Sustainability communications

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1.   Social Impact Strategy: Tools for Entrepreneurs and Innovators

  • Course Platform: Coursera
  • University: University of Pennsylvania
  • Instructor: Peter Frumkin,  Professor of Social Policy
  • Duration: 6 hours
  • Cost: free
  • Overview: the course introduces social impact strategy and social entrepreneurship. It covers key concepts, provides an overview and provides us with tools to become changemakers. We can also learn to innovate, design ideas, and create organizations to implement those ideas. The course follows four stages – Define, Design, Pilot, and Scale – to turn passion into plans for launching a social impact venture. While we may not have the capacity to have a significant social impact as individuals, the course covers different business models for non-profits and for-profits, focusing on raising capital and embedding social impact.
  • Reflection: I found the course to be informative, clear and with easy-to-follow content. The model selection and elements were clearly explained in the contexts of different types of organizations and non-profits. I recommend this to any entrepreneurs considering their social impact strategy.

2.   Impact Measurement & Management for the SDGs

  • Course Platform: Coursera
  • University: Duke University
  • Instructor: Cathy Clark
  • Duration: 9 hours
  • Cost: free
  • Overview: The course incorporates sustainability and social impact factors into management decisions. It teaches how to align with sustainable business principles and best practices in impact management using the SDG Impact Standards. The course equips professionals to improve decision-making for positive impact, covering the four universal practices of impact management: setting strategy, integration, optimization, and reinforcement. It will likely benefit anyone interested in ESG, impact investing, social finance, or corporate reporting.
  • Reflection: This course provides in-depth content on the SDGs and helpful templates for applying the key elements taught. I reviewed many of the videos more than once to fully understand the content as there is so much depth to the topics.

3.   Corporate Finance: Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG)

  • Course Platform: LinkedIn Learning
  • University: BYU
  • Instructor: Earl Stice and Jim Stice
  • Duration:  2 hours
  • Cost: free if subscribed to LinkedIn Premium
  • Overview: This course explores the impact corporations have on the environment, society, and ethics, and how they can be held accountable for their actions. Earl and Jim provide examples from various companies to illustrate ESG reporting and investment strategies that consider ESG factors.

The course learnings include understanding the historical obligation of corporations, identifying methods to reduce carbon emissions, recognizing the components of a comprehensive ESG report, identifying the type of mutual funds that ESG-responsible companies typically invest in, and examining ESG goals and strategies in different industries and companies.

  • Reflection: Anyone who has studied accounting on LinkedIn would likely be familiar with Earl and Jim. These lovely instructors bring everything they explain to life in a straightforward yet engaging way. The case studies included made the material more applicable, but the quizzes were challenging. I recommend this course for anyone starting out in their sustainability studies who wants to learn more about sustainability reporting in the context of finance.

4.   Foundations of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB)

  • Course Platform: LinkedIn Learning
  • Organization: Inclusion Design Group
  • Overview: Dereca Blackmon’s course highlights the importance of fostering inclusivity in every aspect of our lives. Dereca’s insights and explanation of key terms gave me a lens to approach this complex and ever-evolving space. I learned more about the business rationale behind valuing diversity, and I was surprised to learn how biases can impact hiring and recruitment processes. The course also underscored how vital communication, mentorship, and sponsorship are in creating a culture of DEIB.
  • Reflection: This short course was insightful, even for those with many years of work experience. The discussion about microaggressions was particularly resonant. It opened my eyes to how my words or actions might unintentionally affect others. It’s prompted a new level of mindfulness in my daily interactions. I was interested in the emphasis on evaluating organizational transparency and accountability, which can sometimes be overlooked in discussions of DEIB.

5.   The Business Sustainability in the Circular Economy

  • Course Platform: Coursera
  • University: Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Instructor: Alan Pilkington
  • Duration: 12 Hours
  • Cost: free
  • Overview: The course provides a comprehensive understanding of sustainability and circular economy concepts as they apply to businesses. The modules cover the circular economy, sustainable business models, eco-innovation, and sustainable supply chain management.  The course explores critical questions about businesses’ role in promoting sustainability and their intersections with society, including topics like the Paris Climate Accord, carbon footprint, reverse logistics, recycling strategies, corporate social responsibility, and fair-trade business models.
  • Reflection: This in-depth course is helpful for anyone wishing to deepen their knowledge of the circular economy. For anyone reasonably new to the topic, I  recommend some pre-reading, such as The Ellen McArthur Foundation for an overview and valuable infographics before getting into the details of this course. The practical aspects of the course, such as sustainable business models and worked examples were the most useful.


The 5 online sustainability courses we’ve looked into are packed with great advice and resources. Whether you’re a businessperson hoping to start a venture that makes a difference, a professional wanting to make greener choices, or just keen on topics like ESG, these courses have helpful knowledge and templates.

However, it’s worth noting that some of the longer courses may delve into complex topics or assume a certain level of prior knowledge. If you are new to a subject or want to deepen your understanding before diving into the course, I highly recommend pre-reading. This could include exploring reputable sources, following relevant organizations or foundations, or consulting introductory books or online materials. This pre-reading will provide a solid foundation and enhance your learning experience when you engage with the courses.

Looking for more courses? Check out this comprehensive list of online courses created by Quentin Fouesnant.

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