MSc Design Thinking for Sustainability

Graduate Taught (level 9 nfq, credits 90)

The MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability is a unique programme that bridges sustainability knowledge and skills, ensuring students begin to affect change within the programme and are ready to quickly transition to new roles and opportunities upon graduation.

Every aspect of the global economy is changing rapidly due to the effects of climate change. As a result, employers need people who are agile and innovative,  who understand sustainability challenges and crucially, are capable of taking action. 

Students learn the Design Thinking process, a human centred problem solving methodology that originated in Stanford University, to create innovative, sustainable solutions to complex, real-world problems. In tandem, students develop a sustainability mindset through sustainability literacy including a working knowledge of sustainability systems, issues and tools, framed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability, introduces key concepts such as the circular economy, decarbonisation, and just transition. Students also  learn how to embrace their creative and entrepreneurial side to lead change, embed sustainability, and address complex challenges. 

Everything students learn is into practice with a project to look at a real-world sustainability challenge. This will be set by one of our industry partners, who have previously included ESB, Oxfam, Dublin City Council, and SuperValu. In the final component of the MSc students apply their learnings to a project of their own choosing - an opportunity to lead a project with real world impact, offering an ideal springboard for the next step in your career.

By the end of this MSc students are ready to reposition their career for the emerging green economy.


3 July: Online Info Session 1pm

Join us on Wednesday, July 3rd, from 1pm – 1:30pm. Discover the course structure, learning outcomes and funding options available for this full-time Level 9 program.

Register Here

Curricular information is subject to change

Full Time option suitable for:

Domestic(EEA) applicants: Yes
International (Non EEA) applicants currently residing outside of the EEA Region. Yes

The MSc programme is for learners seeking the following attributes:

Learning Agility 

  • An in-depth understanding of the Design Thinking process, a human centred problem solving methodology, and the ability to apply it appropriately across a wide range of contexts and sectors, and the aptitude to continuously adapt and develop your  approach and to learn in a collegial, professional manner. 

  • Sustainability literacy comprising a range of sustainability systems, issues and tools, all framed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals and underpinned by the skills for continuous and self-directed learning into the future.

Professional Adaptability 

  • Well-developed intellectual curiosity, analytical and interpersonal skills to lead multi-disciplinary approaches for the successful development of creative and innovative solutions to real-world sustainability challenges across a broad range of stakeholders, sectors and disciplines.  

Globally Engaged; Ethical Leadership

  • An ethical perspective to leading change – sensitive to the beliefs and values of others, able to contextualise and communicate with diverse groups in a way that engages and influences behaviour. 

  • An awareness of your  own role and responsibilities as an active global citizen especially in the context of sustainability 

  • An inclusive values-based approach to your life and work, appreciating the importance and benefits of diversity and equity.

UCD Innovation Academy provides transformational educational experiences for the betterment of society and the economy. We prepare learners from all walks of life to succeed in an uncertain world. We work with higher education, enterprise and the public sector, national and international, to equip learners with the mindset, tools and skills to embrace the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. We act as a catalyst for positive change, within individuals, institutions and societies.

Our approach to teaching and learning - the “IA way" is underpinned by innovation, creativity, leadership, entrepreneurial thinking and design thinking. Our unique 21st century learning pedagogy centres on experiential, challenge based learning in interdisciplinary groups. By providing learners with the tools, the skills and the mindset to enable innovation, we help people and organisations unlock their true potential.

Students who successfully completed the MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability will be able to: 

  1. Apply the Design Thinking process to create innovative, human-centric, sustainable solutions to complex, real-world problems. The five-stage process includes skills in (a) insight gathering, (b) analysis, (c) ideation, (d) prototyping, (e) iterative design and testing.  

  2. Develop a sustainability mindset through sustainability literacy including a working knowledge of sustainability systems, issues and tools, framed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

  3. Apply and cultivate teamwork and leadership skills to support effective collaboration across diverse stakeholders and within multi-disciplinary teams practising design thinking.

  4. Communicate persuasively, both individually and in teams, proposed solutions, ideas and concepts, using supporting evidence, insights and an awareness of assumptions, to influence different stakeholders, decision-makers and a wider general audience. 

  5. Adopt and apply an entrepreneurial mindset - a way of thinking that creates value by recognising and acting on opportunities, making decisions with limited information, and remaining adaptable and resilient - in the design and implementation of sustainability solutions. 

  6. Practise reflective techniques to enhance decision-making, draw insights to inform future approaches and enable self-directed learning into the future in the fast changing field of sustainability, among others.

  7. Apply the Design Thinking methodology to design learners’ own careers and vocations, using practical career skills to identify and navigate relevant and possible career and life pathways. 

  8. Identify sustainability challenges, opportunities, and needs, and design innovative implementation plans.

  9. Lead a complex and ambitious sustainability project, managing multiple stakeholders and competing needs to deliver an actionable solution.

Decision makers in government, enterprise and civil society now recognise that learners must have not just the knowledge to act on sustainability, but also the skills to act quickly. The MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability is a unique programme that bridges knowledge and skills, ensuring students begin to affect change within the programme and are ready to quickly transition to new roles and opportunities upon graduation.

The MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability offers students an opportunity to apply, test and master their learnings individually with a high degree of autonomy in a high stakes, real world context. Students must design innovative implementation plans and individually lead a complex and ambitious sustainability project, managing multiple stakeholders and competing needs to deliver an actionable solution.

As a result of the highly applied nature of this MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability, students may leverage the project for future career opportunities.

Ireland’s ‘Second National Strategy on Education for Sustainable Development – ESD to 2030: “Learners must acquire the knowledge, skills, values and dispositions needed to promote sustainable development.

“The Irish economy will need to fill more than 20,000 jobs by 2030 just to support green economy sectors.” IDA Ireland

“Key to guaranteeing a more sustainable and secure future is ensuring we have the right green skills to power the transition to net zero” Minister for Transport, Climate, Environment and Communications Eamon Ryan, TD

View All Modules Here

The course is split into 8 core modules, totalling 90 ECTS. Some modules are configured as ‘block weeks’ – five days in a row. Some modules are split over multiple weeks. All sessions take place from 9:30am to 1:30pm with self-directed individual or team project work in the afternoons.

*9th September 2024 is Orientation day. This is a kick-off session for the programme and is mandatory.

IA40310: Creative Thinking and Innovation (5 ECTS)

  • Learn to see with fresh eyes and develop your teamwork skills.

  • Mon 16th – Fri 20th Sept 2024

IA40620: Sustainability: Systemic Approaches, Interdisciplinary Solutions (15 ECTS)

  • Explore global problems in sustainability and consider interdisciplinary and systemic solutions. 

  • Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays 23rd Sept – 4th Oct, and 14th – 25th Oct, and 11th Nov – 13th Dec 2024

IA40470: Entrepreneurship: Application & Mindset (5 ECTS)

  • Gain the mindset of an entrepreneur: a bias towards action. 

  • Mon 7th – Fri 11th Oct 2024

IA40350: Innovation Sprint (5 ECTS)

  • A hands-on and immersive deep dive into the design thinking process. 

  • Mon 4th – Fri 8th Nov 2024

IA40340: Leadership for Innovation and Creativity (5 ECTS)

  • Develop a leadership practice to cultivate a culture of innovation and sustainability in a future workplace or venture. 

  • Mon 20th – Fri 24th Jan 2025

IA40610: Design for User-Centric, Sustainable Solutions (20 ECTS)

  • Apply the skillset, toolkit, and mindset gained in the first trimester to solving a real-world sustainability problem for an organisation. The module ends with a showcase event. 

  • Monday and Thursdays 27th Jan – 10th April 2025, and a showcase on 3rd April

IA40460: Design Your Purposeful Life (5 ECTS)

  • This module provides an approach in which you will reflect upon your learning, consider your life and career goals, and make plans to reposition your career for the emerging green economy. 

  • Mon 28th April – Fri 2nd May 2025; Thursday, May 8th and Friday, May 9th.

IA40830: Applied Sustainability Project (30 ECTS)

  • This module is a problem-based project focused on solving a real sustainability problem. The project is led on an individual level to develop a students’ mastery of the methodology - Design Thinking for Sustainability. The module asks students to apply the cumulative knowledge and skills learned to date to help a specific organisation (enterprise, non-profit, start-up) integrate sustainability into their strategy, operations, and/or governance, ensuring that sustainability will be grounded as a source of innovation for driving environmental, social and economic change. Students will work individually, with a high level of autonomy, and closely with the relevant organisation, to apply the design thinking methodology to an organisation-wide sustainability need or opportunity. 

  • June to August 2025

MSc Design Thinking for Sustainability (F252) Full Time
EU          fee per credit - € 113.78
nonEU    fee per credit - € 221.67

***Fees are subject to change

2024 Fees

€9750 (EU students)

€19,500 (non-EU students)

Payment Schedule:

  1. €500 Deposit to secure your place
  2. First instalment September 2024 Second instalment January 2025
  3. Third instalment May 2025


Bursaries are available for eligible students. Please speak to a recruitment advisor by contacting or via the ‘Ask a question’ button.


Pathway Entry Option

A pathway entry to gain a UCD MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability (90 ECTS) is to complete the UCD Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability (60 ECTS) first. Upon completion, you may apply for the MSc pathway option and complete the IA40830: Applied Sustainability Project (30 ECTS) module to earn your MSc qualification.

Applications for the UCD Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability (60 ECTS) are now open for September 2024.

HCI Pathway Funding

90-100% funding is available for full-time residents in the Republic of Ireland who meet the Human Capital Initiative (HCI) Pillar 1 funding eligibility requirements for this course. Please see the UCD Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability course page for further details on fees and funding.

Funding options are available. Please get in touch via the ‘Ask a question’ button and a member of the team will be in touch with you very shortly.


  • A minimum honours degree (Level 8) qualification. Please provide a copy of your academic transcript. If you have previously studied at UCD, please provide your UCD student number on a Word document / pdf.

  • Letter of motivation & CV

  • An English language qualification if English is not your first language.

  • *If you are currently a full time resident in the Republic of Ireland and meet the Human Capital Initiative (HCI) Pillar 1 funding eligibility requirements (view here), you may apply for a funded place to the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking in Sustainability directly via the Springboard+ website and on completion, apply for the MSc module pathway option. Applicants taking this pathway option will upload all supporting documents directly to the Springboard+ portal.

Student feedback from the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability class of 2022/23:

91% of survey respondents agreed/strongly agreed that the Programme's overall quality was excellent

92% of survey respondents agreed/strongly agreed that the Programme activities fit how they like to learn. Most students agreed/strongly agreed that they developed knowledge and competencies from the Programme (92%) and that they are meaningful and important (100%)

Students agreed/strongly agreed that the facilitators worked hard to make their studies interesting (91.7%), motivated them to do their best (91.7%), were extremely good at explaining things (91.7%), and made a real effort to understand difficulties students might be having with their work (100%).

93.3% of survey respondents found that the Programme has helped them to develop a sustainability mindset and literacy. The mindset transformation is manifested in students' (1) adoption of system thinking, (3) more biased to acting, (4) confidence and responsibility to address sustainability challenges;

84% said the Programme has significantly developed their ability and confidence to communicate and collaborate with diverse stakeholders and within multi-disciplinary teams. 

92% are more proficient and confident with applying creative thinking and tolerating differences in real-life problem-solving, thanks to the Programme.

About 84% are more knowledgeable and confident with leading changes to address sustainability challenges

94% of survey respondents improved their mastery and gained confidence in using Design Thinking to solve sustainability challenges in the future.

About 90% of respondents found that the Programme has been helpful to their career progression. 8.33% applied their learnings from the Programme to personal life or professional career daily, while 58.33% applied their learnings weekly.

Following the Programme, 42% of the surveyed graduates are employed, either gained a new full-time job (17%) or remaining in the same position (25%). 8% decided to Pursue further education or training.

Below are some testimonials from our Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability.

"This course was life changing for me. I was a change maker before doing small things when it comes to sustainability but this course has given me the connections and the skills to do bigger things and have the impact I want." Ciara O'Flaherty, 2023 Graduate 

"It was a fantastic experience. I came into this course feeling a bit lost, not quite sure what direction to go in but now I feel so confident going into a job in industry, in sustainability." Lucy Shah, 2023 Graduate 

“It's fun, it's challenging and it got me out of my comfort zone, I've seen myself grow in many ways and I couldn't recommend the course more highly." Richie Denieffe, 2023 Graduate 

“I highly recommend taking this course, no matter what background you come from, because we don't have a future if we don't make the world a more sustainable place. When you get here, the pedagogical approach is very different; stick with it, you'll love it. It will unfurl your creativity and allow you to develop design thinking and problem-solving skills that can be used in the context of sustainability and for many obstacles you may encounter in life.” Bláithín Gallagher, 2023 Graduate 

"I learned skills I could bring to the table very quickly. Almost immediately after finishing this course I was awarded a contract that I would never have had the confidence to take up if I hadn’t done the course." Jean Cox Kearns, Chief Sustainability Officer for TES – Sustainable Technology Solutions, 2021 Graduate 

“We proposed to our industry partner that they create an opening for a community liaison officer. They liked the idea and created the role. In fact, they offered me the position. I got to create the job and now I’m doing it.” Mae Ly Lim, 2021 Graduate 

This in-person programme will be delivered on the UCD campus in our state of the art learning facility, the Shackleton Lounge. 

When you begin a course with the Academy it will feel like nothing you’ve experienced in education before. It’s not just our state-of-the-art facilities that make us different.

Our teaching and learning team facilitate learning in a high-energy environment and encourage you to harness your creativity and work as part of a team. Through this process you may learn as much from your fellow students as you do from your facilitator.

“I enjoy the adventure of a co-leadership approach. As colleagues, we build on each other’s strengths. When we facilitate together in a shared space of creative flow, it’s exciting for students and facilitators alike.”

Eina McHugh, Entrepreneurial Specialist

The following entry routes are available:

MSc Design Thinking for Sustainability FT (F252)
1 Years
Full Time

* Courses will remain open until such time as all places have been filled, therefore early application is advised

If you have any questions or would like to speak with a member of the Innovation Academy team about your application, email us at or call us at 01 716 2065. We’d be happy to support you staring your education journey.

How To Apply

Step 1

Apply for the MSc via UCD SISWeb. You will need to create an account if you do not already have a UCD Connect account.

Step 2

Upload the required documents listed below.

A) Current CV and Letter of Motivation.

B) A copy of your academic transcript to show that you have a minimum of an Undergraduate Honours Bachelor’s Degree (NFQ Level 8). If you previously studied at UCD, please provide your UCD student   number on a Word document/PDF.

C) Applicants who do not have a level 8 qualification can apply through Recognition of Prior Learning.

Under UCD’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policy, consideration will be given on a case by case basis to applicants who do not hold a primary degree but who can demonstrate extensive professional experience. Typically, such applicants would have five years or more experience where their role includes managing teams, leading projects, programmes or business units.

If you are applying under RPL, please review your CV to ensure that it clearly demonstrates the following-

  • Any experience of leadership and self-direction
  • Any experience of management or entrepreneurship
  • A description of employee, budget and client responsibilities

RPL applicants should also upload two recently dated professional/employment references. These should be on headed paper or from an official email address and including the referees name, role and email address.

D) If English is not your first language, an English language qualification is required. Click HERE for full English Language Requirements for UCD.

E) Non EU applicants need to upload 2 references.