Sustainability Homework Assignments

Business, Governance & Health(34)


Includes topics of business,economic development, governance, individual and community health, management, politics, policy, profit, psychology, regulation and research that informs these topics. Disciplines in this section tend to be from business and the social sciences.

Disciplinary Lenses of the Arts and Science(25)


Sometimes the medium is as important as the message, whether dramatic, musical, narrative, or visual art or a very narrow report from a scientific disciple. A broad range of research and creative work informs sustainability. These include the exhaustive reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that include physical, biological, social and economic assessments and integration to the poetry of Mary Oliver or the documentary photography Penn State students and faculty have done on natural gas development in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale gas fields.

Education for Sustainability(19)


These essays, articles, and documents inform you about how to integrate sustainability deliberately into formal education and life-long learning about and for sustainability.

Environmental Problems and Possibilities(34)


These resources include foundational and important reports on human-environmental problems and possibilities. These include anthropogenic climate change, extinction, deforestation, soil erosion, ocean acidification, and fresh water depletion. We also include work on reforestation, conservation, re-wilding, and other actions taken to bolster ecosystem services and society and economy.

Philosophy of Sustainability(27)


There are a lot of things to consider about sustainability. There are prominent debates about our ethics particularly regarding issues of justice, care, utility, and moral standing. There are also issues of ontology, epistemology, aesthetics and meaning. Many of these sources have a direct bearing on documents in the Deliberation, Governance, and Management section.



We mean technology as broadly as possible: the techniques, methods or processes we use to accomplish our goals. They range from hand tools to wind turbines and even behavioral technologies like advertising or propaganda and policies that shape our behaviors. You will find resources here on agriculture, the built environment, energy, waste, water, and behavior change.


There are eight problem sets for this course. Undergraduate students should answer 2 out of 4 questions on each of the first five problem sets, and then answer all questions on the remaining problem sets. Graduate students should answer 3 out of 4 questions on each of the first five problem sets. The term paper takes the place of the other three problem sets for graduate students.

Problem Set 1(PDF)
Problem Set 2(PDF)
Problem Set 3(PDF)
Problem Set 4(PDF)
Problem Set 5(PDF)
Problem Set 6(PDF)
Problem Set 7(PDF)
Problem Set 8(PDF)


Undergraduates enrolled in Introduction to Sustainable Energy complete two take-home midterm exams and a final exam. The take-home exams are due at noon the day after they are issued.

Take-home exam 1(PDF)(PDF)
Take-home exam 2(PDF)(PDF)
Final exam(PDF) 

Term Paper

Students enrolled in the graduate course must complete a term paper. The term paper is to answer a question based upon information available in the literature. It is not a research paper, demanding original intellectual contributions. Your paper should answer the question, noting important uncertainties, areas of unavailable knowledge and including a critique of the information in the literature. You should not become an advocate for a policy or position. Please choose a topic that is of interest for a term paper. Do not pick a topic that you are working on or have worked on as a project already – we want you to look into something outside of your main expertise.


A term paper prospectus is due in Session #4. In your prospectus, please provide us with the following information:

  1. What is the question?
  2. Why is the answer important?
  3. What are the important elements and phenomena?
  4. What literature resources are available? List at least four.

We will return your prospectus with feedback during Session #6. If there is significant interest in a few topics, we may ask people to choose a different topic. A revised prospectus incorporating these comments will be due in Session #8.

Once topic selections are finalized, advisors will be assigned to each project in Session #11. These people should be seen as a valuable resource to guide you in seeking out sources and understanding methodologies.

You will be required to turn in an outline of your paper during Session #17. We will comment on it and help you get a good start. Please include an abstract, an introduction to the problem, the relevant research you have found reported (with references to the sources at the end of the paper), your assessment of the data and your conclusions. This will also require you to identify any gaps, discrepancies, or uncertainties in the information used as a basis for your conclusions and include your findings. Each paper is expected to review the state of the art on the topic and do some independent analysis and assessment that add insight to the topic.

A final draft of the papers will be due Session #20– there will be no extensions. Papers will be reviewed and returned with feedback in Session #23. During Finals Week, you will have an opportunity to turn in a more finalized version of your paper based on the feedback.


The most important rule for these papers is quality over quantity. Take the space you need to say what you need to make your argument. Beyond that, some general formatting guidelines:

  • 20-30 pages, including figures and references
  • 1.5x spacing
  • 12 pt font size
  • 1" margins

Past Term Paper Topics

The following list of topics is provided to illustrate the breadth and scope of the assignment.

Carbon Sequestration Technologies

Wind Power in France

Diagnostics of Blackouts - Implications for More Robust Grids in the Future

Non-proliferation and Growth of Nuclear Fuels: Iran

Sustainability of Ethanol and Other Biofuels

Sustainable H2 Production from Next Generation Nuclear Plants

Hydrogen - Fuel for the Future?

Role of Microfinancing in Off-grid Development in Poor Areas

Universal Heat Mining


LNG Terminal Siting

Solar Power Satellites

Future Sustainable Suburban Lifestyle?

Wind Projects: Lessons Learned

Concentrating Solar Power

Coal Bed Methane as NG Source

Eco-concrete? Opportunities and Challenges

Turbine Selection Issues for Wind

Sequestration and Impacts on Carbon Trading Markets

Tidal Energy

Future for Next Generation of Nuclear Power Plants

Biomass for Carbon Sequestration

Ethanol Experience in Brazil, US

Green Buildings Unplugged, Ultimate Frontier of Sustainability

Biodiesel as a Commodity

Ethanol Experience in Brazil and US

Tidal Energy Harvesting

Distributed Energy Generation

PURPA and Lessons for the Future

How Much Oil is there?

Future of the Yucca Mountain Repository

Future of Breeder Reactors

Geothermal in Ireland

Opportunities and Barriers for Electric Vehicles

Push-Pull Policies to Promote Renewable Energy

Implementation of co-gen/CHP

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