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Sustainable Development in Humanitarian Action

Discover the principles and practices of sustainable development, and how to bring them to life in humanitarian organisations.

Sustainable Development in Humanitarian Action
  • Duration4 weeks
  • Weekly study2 hours

Find out how to make humanitarian action more sustainable

Incorporating sustainability into humanitarian action is key to making humanitarian organisations more effective and accountable. This course will show you how.

You’ll look at sustainability in the supply chain and field operations of a humanitarian organisation, covering the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic efficiency, social equity and environmental preservation.

Ultimately, you’ll learn how to design and implement a sustainability strategy; at project, programme and organisational level.

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsIn 2017, more than 5 million people received essential household items from the ICRC, almost 8 million people received food supplies, over 35’000 detainees were visited and their case monitored, and nearly 36 million people saw their housing or water supply conditions improved. That's the mission of the International Committee of the Red Cross, we protect and assist victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence. But our work, like any other activity, faces many sustainability challenges. The logistics behind our activities emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The plastic packaging used for goods we distribute amounts to 1’500 tons that would end up in the environment if not properly managed.

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 secondsEvery year, we purchase around 50’000 tons of rice, 13’000 tons of vegetable oils and almost a million blankets – just to name a few examples – from areas where labor rights or environmental standards may not be systematically enforced. So the question is, how can we mitigate these social and environmental risks without compromising the effectiveness of our humanitarian response? In this course, we want to share the initiatives the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement developed for integrating sustainable development into our activities. We will walk you through the steps from policy definition to programme implementation. We’ll take a product life cycle perspective, hearing from the logistics teams and our suppliers.

Skip to 1 minute and 44 secondsAnd field experts will explain their projects in the areas of water, energy and waste. By the end of the course, you will be able to set up your own sustainability program by applying our methodology to the risks carried by your organization. We’ll share our lessons learned and you’ll share your own experiences and opinions with other learners from around the world, thinking together on how to put sustainable development theory into practice. Sign up, and join us to transform humanitarian response into sustainable actions!

What topics will you cover?

  • Week 1: Sustainable development in a humanitarian context
  • Week 2. Sustainable supply chain: Applying the life-cycle perspective
  • Week 3. Sustainability in field operations: Water, energy and waste
  • Week 4: Setting up a sustainability program

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

  • Available now

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Explain what sustainable development is and its relevance to humanitarian action
  • Reflect on the importance of incorporating sustainability in a humanitarian organization
  • Describe the stages of the life-cycle assessment and the role each stage has in reducing the environmental footprint of humanitarian activities
  • Identify potential environmental and social risks associated with the procurement and logistics activities of a humanitarian organization
  • Identify challenges associated with implementing sustainability initiatives in a humanitarian context
  • Identify good practices of sustainability initiatives carried out to improve water, waste and energy management in the field
  • Explain how to develop a sustainability strategy and list its key elements
  • Identify what factors lead to the successful incorporation of a sustainability strategy in a humanitarian organization
  • Develop a sustainability development strategy to mitigate main environmental risks linked to the core activities of a company or organization

Who is the course for?

This course would suit staff and volunteers working in the humanitarian sector, particularly in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It’d also be of use to individuals operating in developing countries that have weak State capacity. It may also interest those who want to see how sustainability can be applied to humanitarian action.

Who will you learn with?

Kathrine Vad

Kathrine Vad

Kathrine Vad is the sustainable development adviser of the ICRC. She's an engineer in industrial ecology with a long experience in environmental policy development and implementation.

Anna Maria Liwak

Anna Maria Liwak

Sustainable Development Specialist at the International Committee of the Red Cross. Course facilitator.

Alain Oppliger

Alain Oppliger

Alain Oppliger, Director of sustain4, is a mechanical engineer specializing in renewable energy. He was previously adviser on sustainable development at the ICRC.
Course facilitator.

Who developed the course?

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is the world’s largest humanitarian network, with 190 national societies and 17 million volunteers around the world.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

The ICRC is an impartial, neutral and independent organisation whose humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence.


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