• IFRC logo
  • ICRC logo
  • Homuork logo

Sustainable Development in Humanitarian Action

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

14,980 enrolled on this course

Somalia: people affected by severe drought  © Pedram Yazdi, ICRC
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    2 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.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds In 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 seconds Every 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 seconds And 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!


  • Week 1

    What is sustainable development in a humanitarian context?

    • Welcome to the course

      Welcome to the course about Sustainable Development in Humanitarian Action. Meet the course team and find out what we will be learning in the upcoming weeks.

    • What is sustainable development?

      In this first activity of the course, you’ll be introduced to the concept of sustainable development. We will explore how to incorporate its principles into humanitarian organizations.

    • From conceptualization to implementation

      Learn how to apply the principles of sustainable development to humanitarian activities by hearing from some of our colleagues in the field about their projects and achievements.

    • Mainstreaming sustainability into an organization

      We will show you how to integrate sustainability in all organizational processes and activities using the example of the new ICRC’s Sustainable Development strategy.

    • Recap

      In this activity, we provide a summary of what we have learnt so far. You can also test your understanding of the topics we covered in this week by taking a short quiz.

  • Week 2

    Sustainability in the supply chain: a life-cycle perspective

    • Introduction

      In this activity, we'll find out what we'll be covering this week.

    • The life-cycle analysis

      Evaluating the impact of our activities is the first step towards reducing our environmental footprint. Discover life-cycle analysis, a method based on the perspective of the product life cycle.

    • Quality, social and environmental audit

      To run a sustainable organization you need to look at your supply chain. We explain the ICRC’s auditing process, and look at how we should assess the suitability of suppliers in terms of quality, social and environmental standards

    • Procurement optimization

      We will introduce you to ecodesign: an approach that helped the ICRC to design products that would meet beneficiaries’ needs while mitigating their environmental and social impacts.

    • Recap

      In this activity, we provide a summary of what we have learnt so far. You can also test your understanding of the topics we covered in this week by taking a short quiz.

  • Week 3

    Sustainability in field operations

    • Introduction

      In this activity, we'll find out what we'll be covering this week.

    • Water management

      Water is a valuable resource, without water there is no life. How can a humanitarian organization like the ICRC manage water sustainably?

    • Energy management

      How can we secure access to reliable, clean and cheap energy for our operations and beneficiaries? Learn about the technical and behavioral solutions we implemented to become more energy-efficient.

    • Waste management

      How can we reduce and manage waste generated by our activities to minimize the impact on human health and the natural environment? Time to discover Waste Management Hierarchy.

    • Humanitarian action and climate change

      Double vulnerability: the humanitarian implications of intersecting climate and humanitarian crisis risk.

    • Recap

      In this activity, we provide a summary of what we have learnt so far. You can also test your understanding of the topics we covered in this week by taking a short quiz.

  • Week 4

    Setting up a sustainability programme

    • Introduction

      In this activity, we'll find out what we'll be covering this week.

    • Contributing to SDG'S at a local level

      Discover how the Swedish Red Cross managed to implement its economic, social and environmental strategies in their local branches across the country.

    • Developing a sustainability strategy

      Hands-on approach. What are the steps to build a sustainability strategy? How can you foster engagement and motivation in your organization?

    • Final Project

      It’s time to put what you have learned into practice.

    • Recap

      In this activity, we provide a summary of what we have learnt so far. You can also test your learning with our final quiz covering all four weeks.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

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
  • Describe the impacts of climate change on humanitarian work and affected populations

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for staff and volunteers working in the humanitarian sector, particularly in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement who want to develop their understanding of sustainable development. It will also benefit individuals operating in developing countries that have weak State capacity, helping them inform their sustainability-related decision making.

This course is also suitable for those with an interest in social justice, activism and humanitarian aid, and learning how sustainability can be applied to humanitarian action.

Who will you learn with?

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.

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


Homuork designs e-learning experiences for companies and universities. From their headquarters in Barcelona, they foster social & digital transformation for clients worldwide.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Learner reviews

Learner reviews cannot be loaded due to your cookie settings. Please and refresh the page to view this content.

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...