Course 2023-2024 a.y.


Cross-institutional study L. Bocconi - Politecnico Milano

Course taught in English

Class timetable
Exam timetable
Go to class group/s: 26
TS (6 credits - II sem. - OB  |  BIO/07)
Course Director:

Classes: 26 (II sem.)

Synchronous Blended: Lessons in synchronous mode in the classroom (for a maximum of one hour per credit in remote mode)

Suggested background knowledge

The course has no special prerequisites, except for some basic math and (including the concepts of limits, derivatives and integrals) very basic chemistry (stoichiometry of reactions). Students without such knowledge are warmly invited to attend one of the many pre-courses available online.

Mission & Content Summary


This course deals with key aspects of ecological processes, with impacts to nature and people of current anthropogenic activities and with solutions towards sustainability of the biosphere. Besides understanding how to manage renewable resources and valorize biodiversity and ecosystem services, some technological innovations are presented together with some applications in order to minimize impacts (e.g., moving toward carbon neutrality) in different contexts, processes and industries. The course is structured in two modules, both dealing with basic principles, strategies, and tools for sustainable development. The first module is intended to provide an overview on fundamentals of ecosystem processes as well as on indices, footprints, and models to evaluate the impacts on nature of business-as-usual activities and to promote ecological transitions. The second module of the course is intended to provide an overview on the basic technologies for atmospheric emission control, contaminated soil remediation, water and wastewater treatment, and waste management and disposal.


The course is structured into two modules.


Module 1 covers the following topics:


Fundamental ecosystem processes

Ecosystems at work: productivity, decomposition, efficiencies, and ecological pyramids. The grand cycles of nutrients (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur) in natural and industrialized processes.

Management of renewable resources

The essential nature of managing natural resources and the tragedy of the commons. Dynamics of harvested renewable resources. Effects of some regulation policies. The problem of maximum sustainable yield. The bio-economic viewpoint and ways to optimally managing natural resources.

Valorizing biodiversity and ecosystem services

Indices of biodiversity and pricing of it. Ecosystem services and their values. Effects of altered cycles and anthropogenic activities on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Various kinds of footprints and ways to reduce them toward an ecological transition.


Module 2 covers the following topics:


Strategies and instruments for sustainable development

Environmental pollutants: definitions, features, space-time scale of pollution phenomena. Environmental indicators and related conceptual models. Approaches and methodologies for environmental impact assessment.

Air pollution control

Air quality management at global and local scale. Technologies for gaseous and particulate emission control.

Contaminated soils

Remediation technologies for soil and groundwater: in situ versus on site and ex situ methods. Biological and physic-chemical treatment technologies.

Waste and wastewater treatment technologies

Basic concepts for waste and wastewater treatments. Biological and chemical-physical processes. Sludge production and treatment.

Waste management and disposal:

Waste management hierarchy. Integrated waste management schemes. Technologies for waste treatment and disposal.


Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO)


At the end of the course student will be able to...

a basic capacity of identifying and understanding the major ecological processes,

• a basic understanding of how to manage renewable resources,

• a basic knowledge of the metrics used to evaluate impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services

Attending the second module of the course, students are expected to develop:

• a basic understanding of the general principles of environmental pollution issues

• a basic knowledge of approaches and methodologies for environmental impact assessment

• a basic knowledge of the technologies used for air pollution emissions control, water and wastewater treatment, soil remediation, and waste management.

These capacities will help students to elaborate strategies that can support policy-design of public institutions and private organizations at various scales (local, regional, national and global) towards sustainability.


At the end of the course student will be able to...
  • make a preliminary design of a power plant based on a renewable source, as well as energy efficiency and decarbonization interventions in the industrial sector, assessing both the economic feasibility and the environmental benefits, in terms of avoided emissions and energy saving.
  • autonomously manage the design choices concerning the construction and operation of a real plant.
  • communicate the results of their activities in a clear and effective way.

Teaching methods

  • Face-to-face lectures
  • Group assignments


The three SDGs that are most related to the course as a whole are SDG11 (Sustainable cities and communities), SDG12 (Responsible consumption and production), and SDG 13 (Climate action). Being the course centered on topics that concern sustainability and sustainable development, the three SDGs indicated above are the most relevant at the intersection between the two modules. It is however notable to remark that each of the two modules will indipendently provide tools to deal with targets of other SDGs as well. More precisely, Module 1 deals also with ecological topics that are key for SDGs related to life both below water (SDG14) and on land (SDG15). Module 2, instead, deals also with aspects of concern for clean water and sanitation (SDG6)

Assessment methods

  Continuous assessment Partial exams General exam
  • Written individual exam (traditional/online)
  • Group assignment (report, exercise, presentation, project work etc.)
  • Active class participation (virtual, attendance)


Learning outcomes are evaluated through the results of a written test based on open and closed questions concerning the theoretical issues and on the solution of some simple numerical exercises.

Teaching materials


- Class notes and slides provided by the instructors

- Articles and other material posted on a reserved area of the instructors' website

- Consultation books, like

· Marino Gatto and Renato Casagrandi (2022), Ecosystem Conservation and Management: Models and Applications, Publisher: Springer Nature. ISBN: 9783031094798

· James R. Mihelcic and Julie B. Zimmerman (2021) Environmental Engineering: Fundamentals, Sustainability, Design, Publisher: Wiley. ISBN: 9781119604457

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