Ecological Processes, Environmental Impacts and Transition Toward Sustainability

essential information

  • Academic Year: 2023/2024, second semester
  • Students: Graduate students in “Transformative Sustainability”, Bocconi University & Politecnico di Milano
  • SSD: BIO/07 Ecologia
  • Credits: 6 (PoliMI code 058333), in two modules of 3 credits each (this is 058331)
  • Classes by Giovanni LonatiRenato Casagrandi


The activities of the course are scheduled on

  • Tuesdays, from 14.30 to 15.15 in room LM.1
  • Tuesdays, from 15.30 to 17.15 in room L.0.2


office hours

Typically on Thursday afternoon (14.00-16.00). All meetings require an appointment: in case of need, please write an e-mail to the instructor, no later than one week before the requested meeting.

course topics

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.


Each of the two instructors will provide material related to the module he coordinates either on this site (Prof. Casagrandi) or on WeBeep (Prof. Lonati).. A book of reference for this modul that will be useful and used (in part) is the following: Gatto and Casagrandi (2022), Ecosystem Conservation and Management, Springer.


In the official syllabus we read

There will not be any difference in terms of assessment methods for the attending and the non-attending students. 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.

More precisely, the evaluation of the exam goes as follows.

The exam is typically taken in written form. Typically here means that, in very special cases (for example, in exam sessions where very few students participate), the instructors can decide to interview the student(s) rather than to provide them with a written test. The written exam is a closed book test (i.e., no books, slides, notes, tablets, cell phones…). It consists of questions regarding the materials presented and discussed in class, and/or simple problems similar to those seen during the exercise sessions of the course. The part of exam for each of the two modules (EcoPro and EvnImp) has the approximate duration of one hour and a half, and it has a maximum grade of 33. In order to pass the whole exam, it is needed that a student reaches:

  • a grade for the part of each Module not considered to be “insufficient” by its instructor (that is, the grade must either be sufficient or very slightly insufficient), and
  • a grade resulting from the average between the two module-related grades that is equal or higher than 18 pts.

At each session, it is possible for the student to attend the part of exam related to one of the two modules or to both parts. In that second case, after the first part of the exam (related to Module 1), there will be a 15 minutes break before the second part of the exam (Module 2). In order to inform the instructors about which part of the exam will be taken, while registering to the exam session via the PoliMI webportal (ServiziOnLine) in due time (i.e. some days before the exam session), the system will directly ask students what are they planning to do at the exam session. Four options will be made possible, that is (i) to take the exam only for Module 1 (EcoPro), (ii) to take the exam only for Module 2 (EnvImp), (iii) to take the exam for both Modules 1 and 2, or (iv) to register a successful score as resulting from one of the previous call. The score obtained for the exam of each of the Modules in each exam session, if sufficient or sligthly insufficient (see above), will remain valid until (a) the student participates to a subsequent exam call for that Module or (b) a new academic year starts. As for (a), the attendence to an exam session for a Module is sufficient to cancel the previously acquired grade for that Module.

As for participation and grading of Module 1 (EcoPro), there is a way to increase the grade by actively participating during classes. In fact, when a student makes a particularly brilliant/useful comment, asks a class-changing question (you will see), provides a counterintuitive, yet correct solution of an exercise or opens a deep-thinking/challenging doubt… in sum, when a student contributes in a particularly relevant way to the class to significantly improve the content/message of a lecture/meeting, the instructor reserves the unilateral right of awarding the student with a bonus point, i.e. a point that will be added to the final grade of the exam (after rounding). A maximum of two bonus points (strawberries) can be awarded per person within the semester. To obtain such an award point, the student is required to fill out this form on the day of the lecture.


exams agenda

The exams are scheduled as follows:

  • First call (appello): Thursday, June 13 2024 at 11.30 AM
  • Second appello: Wednesday, July 3 2024 at 11.30 AM
  • Third appello: Thursday, September 5 2024 at 11.30 AM