MSc Design Thinking for Sustainability

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Key facts


The MSc Design Thinking for Sustainability is a UCD accredited programme and a Level 9 MSc (90 ECTS).


In-person at UCD. All classes take place from 9:30am to 1:30pm with self-directed individual or team project work in the afternoons. See ‘Course Structure‘ below for the 2024/25 timetable.


12 months, full time

Entry Requirements

  • A minimum honours degree (Level 8) qualification
  • Letter of motivation & CV
  • An English language qualification if English is not your first language
  • Non EU applicants will need to upload 2 references

Fees and Funding

€9750 (EU students) €19,500 (non-EU students)

Bursaries and MSc pathway options are available for eligible students. Please speak to a recruitment advisor by contacting innovation.academy@ucd.ie

Information Events

19 June: In-Person Taster Morning at UCD

Join us on Wednesday, June 19th, for a taster morning from 10 am – 12 pm, in the Shackleton Lounge and enjoy a bite-sized taste of this full-time Level 9 program.

Register Here

2024 Brochure

Download the 2024 brochure here or you can view it online here.


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

Everything students learn is put into practice with real world projects and challenges. By the end of this MSc students are ready to reposition their career for the emerging green economy.

Who is it for?

The MSc programme is for learners from a variety of backgrounds. The MSc deliberately cultivates diverse classes so that students learn from their peers as well as our expert facilitators.

Participants in the Graduate Diploma programme have included:

  • Recent university graduates
  • Mid-career professionals seeking a career pivot
  • Entrepreneurs considering a sustainability related enterprise
  • Executives on a career break seeking to augment their existing experience with sustainability knowledge and skills
  • Why choose us
  • Learning outcomes
  • How to apply
  • Assessment, fees and funding
  • Pathway option
  • Career opportunities

UCD Innovation Academy sits at the cutting-edge of education in Ireland, and the world. 

We’ve been challenging students to see the world differently since 2010, when we became one of the first universities to offer experiential learning experiences. 

Our team has been innovating ever since, shaping and refining our courses with input from some of the world’s best. Thousands of students have passed through the Academy, and each one has played their part in making our courses better and better. We have countless examples of our alumni accelerating their careers and changing the world from within organisations or as entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs. 

UCD Innovation Academy is a part of UCD, ranked among the top 1% of higher education institutions in the world. We’re Ireland’s global university with 9,500 international students and a rich ecosystem to support our international community. UCD is ranked Ireland’s best university for graduate employability. Professor Sir Mark Welland​, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge acting as our External Examiner. 


Students at UCD Innovation Academy have access to the latest technology to support their creativity. The IA MakerSpace provides a playground for innovation, testing, and prototyping to bring your ideas to life. UCD Greenacre is UCD’s new experiential sustainability hub, located on an acre of UCD’s woodland campus in Belfield. A first of its kind in Ireland, it offers immersive, hands-on sustainability experiences for students to explore, experiment and learn how to take meaningful actions for a sustainable planet.

UCD Innovation Academy leverages its convening power in our programmes, regularly bringing together diverse stakeholders from across enterprise, policy and the third sector, and offering our students a richer learning experience as a result.

University College Dublin has been named in the top 50 in the QS World University Rankings for Sustainability, achieving the highest result in Ireland and ranking 24th in Europe.

UCD has a long-standing commitment to sustainability, and played a direct role in the development of the SDGs through the advocacy of Professor Patrick Paul Walsh, UCD School of Politics and International Relations.

Here at the Innovation Academy we have everything you need for a learning experience you’ll never forget.

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.

Please note that applications are reviewed and places offered on a rolling basis until the course is full. We encourage you to apply early to secure a place on the programme.

If you have any questions or would like to speak with a member of the Innovation Academy team about your application, email us at innovation.academy@ucd.ie 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.


The MSc is a Pass / Fail programme.

Your success throughout this course will be assessed through a number of presentations, team projects, and your individual reflections and self-evaluation. 

With the help of the Academy’s educators, guest speakers and your fellow learners, you’ll receive constructive feedback to improve throughout the course.

Module after module, your learning will build iteratively as you progress through the course. You’ll carry forward the insights, mindset, and skills you’ve learned into the central module, ‘Design for User-Centric, Sustainable Solutions’. Here you’ll have the opportunity to apply everything you have learnt throughout the rest of the course. 

Learners will receive a pass/fail grade for each of the eight modules, and an overall grade (Pass/ Fail) for the MSc qualification.

Assessment of IA40830 Applied Sustainability Project the final module of the MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability comprises of three parts:

35% – An individual reflective essay submitted at the end of the module.

30% – Final pitch/presentation

Presentation of work undertaken, results and recommendations presented to a panel of relevant experts including representatives from the partner organisation, experts from within the wider UCD community and UCD Innovation Academy.

30% – Project Report

A report to be submitted at the end of the project outlining the response to a real world organisation’s sustainability challenge, need and / or opportunity. The format of this report is flexible given the varying approaches students may want or need to adopt, however the output will be commensurate with the scope and complexity required.

As the course involves continuous assessment, students must attend all class sessions.


€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


Limited bursaries are available for eligible students. Please speak to a recruitment advisor by contacting innovation.academy@ucd.ie

Pathway 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.

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

“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

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.

Survey Findings from 2020-2021 Graduate Diploma Class:

  • 71% of respondents were employed, and 9% pursued further study or training. 7% were job seekers.
  •  Among those who were employed:
  • Most were working in Ireland (90%).
  • 60% worked under a permanent contract; 17.5% worked under a fixed-term contract, either lasting more than 12 months (10%) or shorter than 12 months (7.5%). 
  • In relation to occupation, 25% worked as associate professional (legal/business) or technical (science/IT). 52% worked at a more senior level as professionals; 10% held a manager or director position (e.g., chief executive, senior functional manager/proprietor).
  • Employers include different industries including consultancy, accountancy, education, innovation, creative culture and arts; sustainable construction. 
  • Graduates found employment in sustainability-related roles such as Sustainability Analyst, Sustainability Events and Festivals Lead, Sustainability Specialist.

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.