UCD Graduate Diploma in Design Thinking for Sustainability

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Key facts

A short explainer


Level 9 Graduate Diploma (60 ECTS)

*Deadline for applications: 12pm 4th September 2023.

Register your interest above to receive a call back and / or apply directly now through Springboard*

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.

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 from 12th September 2023 to 17th May 2024. This course comprises 7 modules, typically encompassing 5-day module block weeks. See ‘Course Structure’ further below for module dates.

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.

Applications are now open. You can register your interest above and receive a call back and / or apply directly now through Springboardcourses.ie

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. 

The deadline for applications is 12pm 4th September 2023. 

This course is open for applications through the HEA Springboard+ website and you can begin your application here. If you require more information, please register your interest and we will be in contact with you shortly.

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.

During the course, you will meet leading academics, practitioners, activists and policy makers across all sectors, from Ireland and around the world. We envisage that graduates of this course will have a strong advantage in the emerging green economy and be equipped to progress into a wide variety of Sustainability roles across enterprise, social enterprise and government.

Whether you have a technical or non-technical background – a foundation in real-world innovation is highly valued and opens up key opportunities in sustainability across all sectors. Examples may include Sustainability Manager, Design Strategist, Innovation Manager, Environmental Officer. 



UCD Innovation Academy is delighted to partner with Accredible in the provision of digital credentials across all of our programmes. We believe lifelong learning should be encouraged and celebrated, and digital credentials will allow you to share your accomplishments on LinkedIn and other online platforms to promote among your network. 


Students who successfully complete and pass this programme will receive a digital certificate of completion. The certificate is issued online once the UCD Exam Board sits and approves your grade. UCD Exam Board sits three times a year (Autumn, Spring, Summer trimester) and approval times vary depending on the Exam Board calendar. The certificate of completion is separate to the official parchment, which arrives in hard copy at a later date.

Graduates of the programme will have: 



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



  • 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 sectors and disciplines. 



  • 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 their own role and responsibilities as an active global citizen especially in the context of sustainability 
  • An inclusive values-based approach to their life and work, appreciating the importance and benefits of diversity and equity. 
The Innovation Academy experience
Meet the team