Environmental responsibility: ethics, policy and action
Have you ever wondered how to be a responsible environmental citizen? What it means to be responsible, to make a 'right' decision, or to achieve a 'just' outcome for our natural world that we share? Such questions affect many of us both on personal and professional levels. This module provides a framework for analysis, and innovative tools promoting individual and collective responsibility for decisions and action. You will examine how cultural traditions influence attitudes towards the environment, and develop skills in advocacy, argumentation, debate, evaluating direct action, and constructing and making sense of environmentally related documentation such as briefing papers and viewpoint articles.
01 May 2015
Registration closes 31/03/15 (places subject to availability)Click to register
07 May 2016
Not yet available
Registration opens on 01/10/15
This module is expected to start for the last time in May 2016.
What you will study
The module consists of four parts: an introduction followed by three core sections.
Part 1 Introducing environmental responsibility provides an understanding of environmental responsibility in terms of caring for the environment and being accountable for harm or wrongdoing to the environment. A mini case-study explores these dimensions of responsibility associated with economic and ecological relations between a country from the global South and countries in the global North. The vignette provides an exposition of three interrelated and recurring questions relating to environmental responsibility:
Firstly, what matters? What are the values being privileged or needing to be privileged in any environmental dilemma, and in what way do they relate to other values?
Secondly, who matters in terms of individuals and communities, and how are matters addressed by these different stakeholders? Questions regarding who the stakeholders might be are intimately connected to questions of how particular stakeholders enact their responsibilities.
And thirdly, why should these issues matter in contrast with other issues? What reasons are there for privileging particular interests over others and what political and institutional opportunities are there for challenging the legitimacy of some issues over others?
Part 1 then briefly summarises three ethical traditions and how these traditions inform particular forms of policy and action. Based on the features of environmental responsibility outlined in Part 1, a heuristic framework is proposed providing a roadmap for the rest of the module as well as providing guidance to environmental responsibility in any ensuing professional or personal capacity. It concludes with an overview of the remaining part of the module emphasising the need to keep open space for re-conceptualising ideas on environmental responsibility.
Part 2 Nature matters, focuses more on the ecological (‘natural’) world in relation to human cognition and institutional practice.
What issues of value are at stake – i.e., what matters?
What is this thing to which we profess responsibility?
Is it something to preserve or shape?
Part 2 delineates environmental responsibility from related subject areas in environmental studies through the attention given to the integral relationship between human and non-human nature. This relationship is explored using the metaphor of ‘conversation’. Drawing on this metaphor and the need to connect more between human and non-human nature, issues of ‘what matters’ are explored from:
a caring perspective (i)
an accountability perspective (ii).
The implications of (i) and (ii) are further examined in the context of contemporary broad based consequentialist traditions underpinning systems thinking and environmental pragmatism as means of improving environmental responsibility. The emphasis here shifts towards practical means for (re)constructing what matters in terms of socio-ecological well-being, and the implications for policy and action.
Part 3 Individual and collective responsibility focuses more on the human world in relation to ‘nature’ and institutional practice. Who is responsible and how responsibility is enacted, including what conditions must be satisfied if individuals are to be able to take responsibility. More specifically, the part covers:
individual responsibility in terms of who is accountable and individuals trying to ‘do the right thing’, including how individual responsibilities and actions accumulate, often in ways that do not address environmental problems as much as they might
rights and contracts based traditions including ethical issues associated with ‘Commons’
the relationship between individual and collective responsibility and discussion of different kinds of responsibilities operating at different levels and in different contexts - including consideration of some of the ethical assumptions concerning autonomy competition and collaboration and the role of social learning in fostering the multi-level interactions that can enable second-order change (i.e. change that requires thinking and acting differently rather than continuing with ‘more of the same’).
Part 4 Ecological citizenship: social and environmental justice and corporate social responsibility focuses more on the political, social, institutional contexts of environmental action and thus links ethics to policy. It considers how ethics, policy and action work together and how movements, NGOs, civil organisation partnerships and private-public partnerships can provide the space for enacting environmental responsibility? More specifically, the part covers:
central virtues of ecological justice in relation to other virtues (hope, love, wisdom, forgiveness, sadness, courage, obligation etc.)
initiatives relating to notions of corporate responsibility and ecological citizenship measuring up to multiple values and requirements of 'virtue' as well as 'the good' and 'the right'
the politics of new types of citizenship where the framing of ecological citizenship might enable appropriate dialogue between public and the private, local and the global, future and the present, acting and thinking, rights and responsibilities etc. bridging the gap between (a) awareness of environmental injustices and development of environmental responsibility, and (b) civic engagement with ecological citizenship.
You will learn
The practical challenges and theoretical underpinnings of environmental responsibility.
A common grounding in debates on questions about applied ethics in an environmental context using a range of appropriate sources.
To interpret, analyse and develop environmental reports and briefing papers with an ethical dimension.
The relevance of ethical standpoints associated with a variety of ethical assumptions, and ascertain the strengths and weaknesses of the standpoints in question.
The links between environmental and social justice through a range of environmental topics such as ecological restoration, waste management, food security and individual and collective action.
To reflect on the relationship between ethical and political assumptions and values as they are manifest in academic sources, policy documents and public debates on the environment.
This module aims to support continual development of skills amongst managers in the public, private and voluntary sectors associated with environmental decision making. Within the UK and internationally there is substantial interest among the many existing and aspiring practitioners involved with environmental decision making for developing skills in constructing and making sense of environmentally related briefing papers and associated documentation, advocacy, argumentation, debate and evaluation.
This module can be taken on its own or as a module of a qualification. If you are taking it as part of a postgraduate qualification, you must have adequate preparation for study at this level, usually demonstrated by a bachelors degree (or the equivalent) from a UK university.
Your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you will need a minimum overall score of 6 and minimum score of 5.5 in each of the four components: reading, writing, speaking and listening under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Please see the IELTS website for details.
If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.
TD866 is an optional module in our:
This module can also count towards F13, which is no longer available to new students.
Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. These qualifications allow most postgraduate modules to count towards them. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.
Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service before registering.
As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are
available on our Essential documents website.
If you have a disability
Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.
If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.
You will be provided with four printed Study guides, one for each part of the module, as well as a copy of The Environmental Responsibility Reader (Reynolds, M., Blackmore, C., and Smith, M., eds (2009)). The printed material also available in PDF format on the dedicated website.
Supplementary audio and visual material is provided through a DVD, which is also available on the website.
There will also be online activities, including opportunities for you to contribute to online discussions with fellow students on the module.
You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, for use with a web browser. There is also software to download and install on your computer.
If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2008 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device it will probably not be suitable for the downloaded software; check our Technical requirements section.
If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this module by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.
You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).
Teaching and assessment
Support from your tutor
You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. You will be able to contact your tutor by telephone, email and post. There may be opportunities to meet your tutor and other students. You also can keep in touch with other students via an online forum.
Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.
The assessment details can be found in the facts box above.
You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper. The end-of-module (EMA) assessment must be submitted online using our eTMA system.
The EMA comprises a project which provides an opportunity to apply what you have learnt from the module in a situation of your choice, including work-related situations.
Students also studied
Students who studied this course also studied at some time:
The details given here are for the module that starts in May 2015. We expect it to be available once a year in May.
How to register
To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.
The Open University is the world's leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you're at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you'll be supported throughout your studies - your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.
For more information about distance learning at the OU read Study explained.