UCD Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability

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Key facts

A short explainer


Level 9 Graduate Diploma (60 ECTS)

This full time, in-person programme will be starting in September 2024. Apply now on Springboard here

Register your interest above for a call back from a member of our Recruitment Team. 

The Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability now has a Masters pathway option. This allows learners to add a final module to their Graduate Diploma, if they choose to and at their own cost, to receive a Masters qualification. Look out for further updates on our website.


Online Information Session – Our next online information session for this programme will take place on Wednesday, 29th May 2024 from 1:00pm to 1:30pm. Register here.

How it's delivered

In person at UCD Innovation Academy.

Classes run in-person from 9.30am to 1.30pm Monday – Friday, typically in block weeks. As the programme involves continuous assessment, participants must attend all class sessions.  

In addition to classes, students can expect 25+ hours of additional effort each week – including individual & team activities, tasks, project work, and self-study. Typically students are given the time from 1.30pm to 4.30pm for this work.


8 months full-time.

Course dates

This is a full-time postgraduate course delivered over 8 months.

The course is split into 7 core modules, totalling 60 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.

Orientation day. This is a kick-off session for the programme.

Module 1: IA404310 Creative Thinking & Innovation, Mon 16 – Fri 20 Sept 2024

Module 2: IA40620 Systemic Approaches, Interdisciplinary Solutions, Mon, Tues, and Fri 23 Sept – 4 Oct and 14 – 25 Oct and 11 Nov – 13 Dec 2024

Module 3: IA40470 Entrepreneurship: Application and Mindset, Mon 7 – Fri 11 Oct 2024

Module 4: IA404350 Innovation Sprint, Mon 4 – Fri 8 Nov 2024

Module 5: IA40340 Leadership for Innovation and Creativity, Mon 20 – Fri 24 Jan 2025

Module 6: IA40610 Design for User-Centric, Sustainable Solutions, Mon and Thurs 27 Jan – 10 April 2025, showcase 3 Apr

Module 7: IA40460 Design your Purposeful Life, Mon 28 April – Fri 2 May 2025

Along with this, you can expect 20-25 hours of additional effort each week. This includes individual and team activities, reflective tasks, project work, and self-study.

Fees and Funding

€6,500 (EU and HCI funded candidates, see below) or €13,500(Non-EU)

This fee is 100% or 90% funded for eligible applicants through the Human Capital Initiative (Pillar 1). See springboardcourses.ie/eligibility for full eligibility criteria.

Frequently Asked Questions


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, and who understand these sustainability challenges. Not just from a business perspective but also scientific, regulatory, and ethical viewpoints.

Through this course you will understand key concepts such as the circular economy, decarbonisation, and just transition. You’ll become well-versed in an iterative approach to product and service design – trying, testing, and trying again. And you’ll learn how to embrace your creativity and entrepreneurial side to lead change, embed sustainability, and address complex challenges. 

Everything you’ve learned will be put 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. 

By the end of this course you’ll be ready to reposition your career for the emerging green economy.


Our funders

HCI Logo
Government of Ireland Logo HEA Logo

Who is it for?

This postgraduate conversion course is designed for recent graduates as well as early and mid-career professionals who want to start or transition into a career in the area of sustainability. It is open to participants with both technical and non-technical backgrounds. The class is likely to include a diverse range of participants, coming from science and engineering as well as business, the humanities and more – bringing a multidisciplinary, multi-sectoral approach to the complex challenges of sustainability.

You might be:

  • A recent graduate
  • Changing focus part way through your career
  • Unemployed or formerly self-employed
  • A carer or returner to work

You’ll need a minimum honours degree (Level 8) qualification.

OR applicants with 5+ years of relevant employment history can apply under UCD’s Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) policy. 

HCI Pillar 1 eligibility requirements.  

English language requirements.

Keen to start seeing the world differently?



“Particularly as someone coming straight from an undergraduate programme, the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability showed me that career paths don’t have to be linear and that I don’t have to go with the flow. It’s given me the confidence to know that how and what I think is valid and valuable — even if traditional career paths wouldn’t necessarily think so.”

“Professionally, this course has given me a level of credibility in the sustainability space that I did not previously have.”

“I feel like this course has enhanced my CV and makes me stand out more when applying for jobs.” 

“I can now apply my sustainability mindset to any field. All industries and sectors need sustainability and are interconnected with one another.”

“As my employer specifically wanted to hire people from this course when she saw it, I can’t deny that the most important impact this course gave me was my job offer at the end of it.”

The year completely changed me from a student to someone who’s ready to take on their career.

2020 Course Graduate

I see sustainability in the same space as IT 30 years ago – a rapidly emerging field that will become fundamental to business…

Sustainability Manager, Wholesale Sector

An open & collaborative environment in which to learn, reflect, grow, test new ideas and to push oneself...

2020 Graduate

All companies will have to focus on making a transition to a low carbon, resilient and sustainable...

Professor Richard Templer Director of Innovation, Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London
Read all stories

Course structure

You’ll learn from the Innovation Academy’s inspiring educators and leading guest speakers – academics, practitioners, activists and policy-makers from around the world. 

The course is delivered here in UCD Innovation Academy on a full-time basis, enabling you to immerse yourself fully in learning. You’ll work in our challenging but supportive class environment, with full access to the state-of the art IA MakerSpace and Sustainable Living Lab to bring your ideas to life.

For the ‘Design for User-Centric, Sustainable Solutions’ module, you may spend some of your time at a host organisation. 

You’ll learn by doing, collaborating with educators and your fellow innovators on practical team challenges and real-world projects.

The course is split into 7 core modules, totalling 60 ECTS. Some modules are configured as ‘block weeks’ – five days in a row. Some modules are split over multiple weeks. A full timetable will be published in due course.

Enrolment in a UCD Innovation Academy course means a commitment to active participation and engagement, which necessitates in-person attendance at all scheduled classes at UCD.

  • Why choose us?
  • Learning outcomes
  • How to apply
  • Assessment
  • Who leads this course?
  • 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. 

Students at the Academy also 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. 

As if that wasn’t enough, we’re a part of UCD, ranked among the top 1% of higher education institutions in the world. We’re Ireland’s global university and ranked Ireland’s best for graduate employability. And we currently have Professor Sir Mark Welland​, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Cambridge acting as our External Examiner. 

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



“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

This course uses an immersive, hands-on approach to learning and practising design thinking, innovation, and sustainability. You will work on real-world challenges, supported by leading experts and practitioners from academia and enterprise to develop your skills, knowledge, and mindset in order to drive change for sustainability. 

In previous classes we’ve heard from sustainability changemakers like Ali Sheridan, climate advisor, influencer and LinkedIn Top Green Voice; TD Holly Cairns and Madeline McKeever founder of Brown Envelope Seeds; Pat Kane from Reuzi; Padraic Fogarty from the Irish Wildlife Trust; Harrisson Gardner from Common Knowledge, Geraldine Brennan of the Circular Economy and Brian O Kennedy from Clearstream Solutions, among others.

Your days will combine a mixture of theory and practice in an engaging and dynamic learning environment. 

Sustainability is a rapidly growing field across all sectors of society. The knowledge and skills that learners will develop on this course will be applicable to organisations across sectors and industries from startups and SMEs, to large corporates, government and semi-state bodies and social enterprise. 

“The students have brought so much energy, creativity, and an alternative perspective to each of the projects, which is so valuable to Oxfam. We have learnt a great deal from what we feel is an inspiring ‘win – win’ partnership.” Trevor Anderson, Director of Trading Oxfam Ireland


80% would recommend the course to others

90% agreed that the quality of facilitation of the Innovation Academy team was excellent

90% highly rated the quality of external guest speakers

90% highly rated the innovation sprint in collaboration with an external host organisation

95% agreed / strongly agreed that the programme enhanced their self confidence and motivation

85% agreed / strongly agreed  they had an enhanced professional following the programme

95 % agreed / strongly agreed they felt more confident to navigate the complexities of today’s challenges in the world of work

Students who have successfully completed the Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability will: 

  • Gain an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the design thinking and related system thinking processes for creating innovative user-centric solutions to complex real-world problems across a wide variety of domains and sectors, in particular as applied to the challenges of sustainability. 
  • Develop a sustainability mindset – Gain a broad perspective of the wider context around sustainability (from environmental, business and societal perspectives) including key trends and underlying issues, an appreciation of synergies and conflicting approaches across sectors, an understanding of the systemic nature of the challenges and need for systemic solutions. 
  • Develop their ability to work effectively in a multi-disciplinary team to apply a user-centred design approach to develop and test a viable, sustainable solution for a client organisation. 
  • Develop their supporting career, communication, creative, entrepreneurial, leadership, learning agility and teamwork skills. 
  • Create a diverse network of peers from across multiple backgrounds and disciplines and meet with leading practitioners across Ireland and the world. 
  • Gain an awareness of relevant and possible career pathways and the skills and tools required to effectively navigate a way ahead. 

This full time, in-person programme will be starting in September 2024.

Register your interest above for a call back from a member of our Recruitment Team.

Applications will be reviewed and places offered on a rolling basis until the course is full.

We may call you to discuss aspects of your application and/or request further supporting documents if necessary.

Below is a summary of the application procedures and funding eligibility. 

The full document requirements are on Springboard+. Please read them carefully.  

Supporting documents

You will need to upload some supporting documents as part of your application:

  1. Current CV and Letter of Motivation.
  2. Your academic transcript to show you have a level 8 qualification. Alternatively, you can apply through Recognition of Prior Learning. See ‘Entry Requirements’ for full details.
  3. For full or part-funded places, we’ll need to see proof of your relevant employment status, as outlined in Springboard+ Eligibility Guidelines.
  4. Your passport if you are an EU, EEA, UK, or Swiss citizen. Or a Stamp 4 Visa for 3 years prior to the course start date if you are applying under a status other than ‘Unemployed in receipt of an eligible DEASP Payment’.
  5. Applicants who are employed, formerly self-employed, self-employed must demonstrates that you have been resident in an EU/EEA/Swiss/UK for three of the past five years.
  6. If English is not your first language, an English language qualification is required. Click here for full English Language Requirements for UCD.


FREE for eligible jobseekers: those who have received eligible DEASP Payments for 9 of the previous 12 months. 

FREE for returners to work and carers. 

90% subsidised (student pays €650) for recent graduates, eligible individuals in employment or self-employment, and the formerly self-employed. 

This course is supported by the HCI Pillar 1 Funding which is co-funded by the Government of Ireland and the European Social Fund as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning 2014-2020.

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 seven modules, and an overall grade for the Graduate Diploma qualification.

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

All courses at the Innovation Academy are developed and facilitated by our exceptional team of educators. 

The team boasts a wealth of experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. They are international entrepreneurs, doctors (both medical and academic), robotics experts, storytellers, conservationists, campaigners, and creatives. 

What they all have in common is their love of the innovative, learning-by-doing approach to learning and their devotion to delivering a world-class student experience. 

Read more about the people behind this course.

This Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability now has a Masters pathway option. Visit our MSc in Design Thinking for Sustainability page to learn more. 

“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 Graduate Diploma 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 programme 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 Graduate Diploma 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.

Here’s a flavour of what some of our graduates went on to do:

  • Chief Sustainability Officer
  • Community Liaison Officer
  • Social Entrepreneur
  • Educator
  • Event Production Manager
  • Operations Manager

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 Innovation Academy experience
Meet the team