Here we bring together The Open University’s free articles, interactives and courses relating to learning about and living more sustainably.
Dive in and discover more from diverse perspectives around the world, ranging from ecology, energy and food choices, to economics and design solutions – explore the issues, empower yourself with knowledge and decide what you want to do to make a difference.
Understanding the problems is key to finding solutions and bringing about change. The following free resources will drive home the challenges as well as the opportunities ahead, and help you start your exploration and journey towards sustainability.
If you're new to the topic of sustainability, then there is much to discover, and there is always more to learn.
Articles and interactive content
A starling in the countryside is just a starling, but when it enters the city it becomes a pest. Andy Morris discusses how pests exist when nature is ‘out of place’.Read now ❯Nature, space and the shifting geographies of human-starling relations
Pakistan will have to prepare for ever rising temperatures - and the threats that brings with it.Read now ❯What does climate change mean for Pakistan?
Dr David Assinder takes a look ahead at the next 50 years and explores the changes to our oceans.Watch now ❯Golden Globe Ocean Race: The next 50 years?
Copyright: Supplied by Tony Chase of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies to The Conversation to support CC-BY-ND article
How bad are things at the Great Barrier Reef?
Coral bleaching is being reported at unprecedented levels, caused by rising sea temperatures. Researchers explain what's going on.Read now ❯How bad are things at the Great Barrier Reef?
Climate crisis is one of the grand challenges we face as a society, but it can be hard to approach as a subject. Not only can the science at times seem dauntingly complex, but the solutions are also far from clear. This leaves many people feeling confused, guilty, anxious, angry, or else completely switched off from the subject. This course tells the story of climate science in a new way, to find a fresh perspective for thinking about the future. It looks at the problem through the lens of climate engineering - the idea of deliberately trying to modify the climate, to counteract the changes we’re observing and predict what will happen in the future. The subject contains everything from hope – new technologies that could prevent the worst impacts of climate change – to enormous controversies over their risks and the way they could be used. More than that, climate engineering serves as a useful tool to move beyond the usual, often frustrating conversations around what to do about the climate crisis. By examining exactly what we want for our planet's climate, and what we would be willing to sacrifice to get there, we might find more clarity in our search for solutions.Learn more ❯Could we control our climate?
This free course, Exploring economics: the secret life of t-shirts, aims to describe what goes into making and selling t-shirts. Which resources, which markets, who is involved, the income people get, the income and value they create are all discussed. You will explore these questions at different stages of the production of a t-shirt, and you'll use concepts from economics such as 'supply chains' or 'value added' to answer them. The course will be described using data. You should think about key numbers and data which help constructing evidence of how a t-shirt is produced, from raw cotton to our wardrobe.Learn more ❯Exploring economics: the secret life of t-shirts
Energy resources are essential for any society, be it one dependent on subsistence farming or an industrialised country. There are many different sources of energy, some well-known such as coal or petroleum, others less so, such as tides or the heat inside the Earth. Is nuclear power a salvation or a nightmare? This free course, An introduction to energy resources, provides background information to each, so that you can assess them for yourself.Learn more ❯An introduction to energy resources
What affects the atmospheric and ocean flows? This free course, Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows, explores the mechanisms that are important; the most rapid carrier is the wind. The basic principle of global atmospheric circulation is simple: warm air rises and cold air sinks. How does this principle affect the atmosphere and flow of water in practical terms? Starting with an iconic environmental icon, the polar bear, you will learn how global flows of water, heat and pollution are affecting the Arctic region and changing our world.Learn more ❯Environment: understanding atmospheric and ocean flows
What is ecology and why is it important to our understanding of the world around us? This free course, Introducing the environment: Ecology and ecosystems, looks at how we can study ecosystems to explore the effect that humans are having on the environment.Learn more ❯Introducing the environment: Ecology and ecosystems
Effects of pollutants on the aquatic environment is a free course. It begins with an introduction to water and goes on to briefly outline the major sources of water pollution (these being sewage works, manufacturing and industrial plants, the farming and animal husbandry sectors, landfill sites and urban surface water run-off). It considers the major water pollutants and describes the effects they have on water.Learn more ❯Effects of pollutants on the aquatic environment
This free course, The science of nuclear energy, will delve into the science behind nuclear power and explain what happens inside a nuclear reactor and what it means for an element to be radioactive. It will explore some of the risks of producing nuclear power and examine the arguments for and against including it in future energy planning as well as looking at other potential future solutions.Learn more ❯The science of nuclear energy
The search for sustainable energy will dominate the twenty-first century. This free course, An introduction to sustainable energy, provides an introductory overview of the present energy systems and takes a brief look at where the world may find energy in the future - cleaner use of fossil fuels or renewable energy sources?Learn more ❯An introduction to sustainable energy
Maybe you already have some awareness of the issues at hand but feel unsure about what to do or where to start when it comes to taking action.
The following resources will help you decide where to focus your sustainable efforts. Knowledge is power.
Articles and interactive content
Matthew Cole and Kate Stewart explore why veganism stimulates such aggressive responses.Read now ❯Vegans: why they inspire fear and loathing among meat eaters
A psychologist‘s intimate experience with Extinction RebellionRead now ❯On the inside of the rebellion against climate change
The supermarket chain Iceland was the first supermarket to remove palm oil from its product ranges, a decision that was applauded yet quickly gathered controversy.Read now ❯Climate change – How awareness is prevented through media sanitation
The animals are rebelling because they are dying. And we should too. Lessons from a modern-day fable
Reading news about animals as modern-day fables alerts us to human beings’ vulnerability to climate change. What moral lesson about sustainable futures are exposed by restorying news of animals in the context of climate change?Read now ❯The animals are rebelling because they are dying. And we should too. Lessons from a modern-day fable
Old computers, knackered telly sets and phones that are so last year: How much of this discarded stuff is piling up?Read now ❯How much electronic waste do we generate as a species?
Planting trees seems to be a good thing, ecologically. But... what if the saplings come wrapped in plastic bags? Kenyan Teddy Kinyanjui has come up with an elegant solution to take the plastic out of the forest.Read now ❯How has Teddy Kinyanjui taken plastic out of reforestation?
We ask the question ‘Can renewable energy sources power the world?’ as a response to the growing awareness that increased use of renewable energy technologies is making a major contribution to global efforts to limit anthropogenic climate change. The course begins by examining the environmental concerns that have caused a rise in interest in renewable energy, introducing the main sources and technologies, and describing global efforts to increase the share of renewables. The course then looks at each of the principal renewable energy technologies and the contributions they might make to global energy demand. Finally, several future energy scenarios are analysed to show how combinations of renewable energy sources and technologies could provide a major share of global energy needs.Learn more ❯Can renewable energy sources power the world?
Human societies have to take urgent action to end their dependences on fossil fuels. We have to alter the whole path of our development and decision making in order to make our societies both environmentally adaptable and sustainable. This free course, Climate change, takes on the task of trying to chart some of the ways in which it might be possible.Learn more ❯Climate change: transitions to sustainability
This free course, Waste management and environmentalism in China, is an introduction to waste generation and waste management processes currently being practiced in China. This course explores how the Chinese can deal with increasing volumes of waste, drawing parallels with the UK experience of waste management. It also discusses the conceptual tools that can be used to make the cycle of material use, waste production and treatment more sustainable. The course ends with a brief examination of the growth of environmentalism in China.Learn more ❯Waste management and environmentalism in China
When you consider that the global annual consumption of primary energy increased more than ten-fold during the 20th Century, the importance of planning future energy supply becomes clear. Future energy demand and supply is a free course that offers an introduction to how this is being undertaken.Learn more ❯Future energy demand and supply
Global warming: are we responsible? Is our environmental impact damaging the planet? This free course, Working with our environment: an introduction, examines the use of ozone-depleting technology, the impact of fossil fuel use and explores how the development of technology can influence the direction of a society. From the Industrial Revolution to the present day, find out how we have changed the planet.Learn more ❯Working with our environment: an introduction
Feeling empowered to make a change? You can take action and influence others in your home, community, and globally by making informed choices about what you buy, how you travel, the properties of your home, where your energy comes from, who you vote for, the causes you support and how you do your job. You can train for a career supporting a more sustainable future. There are so many areas where you can make a difference!
To make a positive step towards a more sustainable life, take a look at the following free resources and courses.
Articles and interactive content
Plastics are ubiquitous in society, but poor disposal leads to widespread pollution especially in the rivers and oceans. How is this pollution monitored? What are some of the effects? How might we help tackle this pollution?Read now ❯Monitoring and tackling plastic pollution
How can appreciating multiple benefits from nature help us to take care of it? What can you do to help?Read now ❯Valuing Nature, assessing its benefits and why we need to care
The UK could reduce its emissions by converting farmland to absorb more carbon dioxide − but risks increasing climate change effects abroad.Read now ❯UK must balance food farming impacts
Responding to the climate crisis can feel overwhelming. There are so many things we can do to be greener that it's hard to know where to start.Take part now ❯Ideas about living sustainably
‘You are what you eat’, goes the old adage, but what you eat also has an impact on the environment. Transcript This free course, Eating for the environment, will explore the links between food, nutrition and environmental sustainability. It will start by exploring the diversity on your dinner plate and encourage you to reflect on it in relation to dietary choices and preferences of people around the world. It will explore the connections between food, culture and traditions, and the challenges in providing healthy and nutritious food to the world’s growing population. The course will examine innovative approaches to food that also help environmental sustainability.Learn more ❯Eating for the environment
Environment: treading lightly on the Earth focuses on the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide. This free course will give you an understanding of the nature and importance of carbon footprints of individuals and households. It will enable you to measure your own carbon footprint and explore what you could do to reduce that footprint and so ‘tread more lightly on the Earth’.Learn more ❯Environment: treading lightly on the Earth
Themes covered in this free course, Energy in buildings, include reducing heating demand in buildings, heating systems and fuel emissions, and reducing electricity use by appliances. The course looks at the importance of energy in buildings in the UK, investigate heat loss and how to prevent it, ways of increasing building efficiency, decreasing CO2 emissions of different fuels and the use of efficient appliances.Learn more ❯Energy in buildings