SAIS Sustainable Development

This teaching resource is made available on the Hallway in collaboration with Professor Shalini Vajjhala of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Energy, Resources, and Environment Program. All cases in this series were developed as part of an independently designed course entitled Case Studies in Sustainable Development. Special thanks to Chad Reed, Andrew Sprott, and Mwangi Chege for their research and teaching assistance.

This series is dedicated to the memory of Professor David Jhirad, a champion of innovation in sustainable development education and practice.

Reframing Development Decisions and Trade-offs

Sustainable development encompasses everything. The term was first used in the 1987 Brundtland Commission Report to describe “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Since then three pillars—economic development, social development, and environmental protection—have featured prominently in various international negotiations and agreements. Although thousands of studies and projects have been implemented since the term was first coined, the process of making and implementing sustainable development decisions on the ground remains abstract and messy. Most real-world examples are multi-disciplinary, multi-sector, and multi-actor anecdotes describing leaders and decision makers overcoming limited authority and resources. There are always uncertainties and rarely win-win-win outcomes. Success is often only clear in hindsight.

Yet, these types of decisions are increasingly the norm. Policy-makers and corporate leaders are looking for new ways to improve development outcomes, enhance resource efficiency, promote supply chain integrity, and meet environmental goals—all at once. These are not technical problems, but leadership challenges. 

The cases in this series are specifically designed to offer a diverse set of real-world examples to help current and future leaders work through detailed economic, environmental, and social trade-offs at the core of all sustainable development decisions. These cases are working models of situations and decisions that are framed to challenge traditional development plans and precedents in fields including energy, water, transport, forestry, and planning, among many other public and private sector issues. 

Generating innovative options, balancing multiple objectives, and aligning diverse stakeholder interests are all important traits and skills of sustainable development leadership. Taken together, these cases are intended to help build these skills by enabling readers to walk in the shoes of decision makers from around the world.

About this Series

This course and series were developed following the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in response to the global call for new Sustainable Development Goals to complement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015. Regardless of what goals emerge in coming decades, translating global agendas to tangible economic, social, and environmental outcomes on the ground will require a new generation of leaders and problem-solvers. There is no one source of sustainable development expertise or authority. Economic issues are no longer the sole domain of finance ministers nor are environment issues contained exclusively within environment agencies. Decision makers at all levels will need practical examples and models to move beyond anecdote to develop effective policy instruments and on-the-ground development practices. This series aims to help bridge this gap.

Cases in the Series 


Rare Circumstances: Medupi and Multilateral Coal Finance in an Age of Sustainable Development

This case explores South Africa’s 2008 electricity crisis and the World Bank’s controversial 2010 decision to help finance the construction of one of the world’s largest coal-fired power stations in the country. 


The Challenging Road to Sustainable Waste Management in Metro Manila: The Case of Payatas          

The case explores the history and transformation of the Payatas landfill in Quezon City, Metro Manila. The municipal government is facing the expiration of the landfill’s license and is looking for alternatives for waste disposal, while taking into account the needs of the local community and the environment.


Which Way Does the Wind Blow? Wind Power Investment and Development in Mexican Cross-Border Communities    

This case study explores the various dimensions and challenges of developing Baja California state’s first wind farm and illustrates the energy dilemma faced by a region experiencing high electricity costs due to climate, detachment from the national grid, and an incompatible national energy regulatory structure. The case addresses multiple pillars of sustainability.


The Curitiba Solution?       

This case explores the Brazilian city of Curitiba in its pursuit of sustainability through urban planning and development, referencing flood management control, recycling programs, and bus rapid transit specifically


The Singapore Smart Strategy - Deploying Smart Grids through Intelligent Energy Systems (IES)      

This case focuses on the Singaporean government’s strategy for implementing smart grid technology as a means to further empower its energy dependent modern economy.


City From Scratch, Gujarat International Finance Tech-City: A Public-Private Partnership      

Mr Modi, Indian PM candidate, leads the development of GIFT, a smart city and global finance hub with high quality of life and green infrastructure. Success for the GIFT PPP means balancing private and public interests.  Built from scratch, GIFT must attract industry and people to be sustainable.


The Regional Environmental Center: A Case Study in Regional Solutions to Cross-Boundary Water Issues 

This case is designed to highlight the role of the REC in addressing cross-boundary water issues in two specific projects and to discuss the reasons why the organization has taken the role of intermediary and secretariat, as opposed to taking on more of an action-oriented role. 


Replication of Sustainable Cities 

This case study examines the structure of an organizational network as a way to create cities resilient to climate change. It take a look at the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network and presents different methods used to create network sustainability specifically how the network planned to replicate its work from city to city and from country to country. This replication process is essential to ACCCRN's model of success and depends on organizations functioning at the local, country, and regional levels.


Baltimore: A Case Study in Sustainable Economic Development     

This case addresses issues of economic development for urban renewal in the post-industrial city of Baltimore. It focuses on commercial real estate development as one policy tool and stimulates readers to develop their own conclusions about its success.


Modern Muslim Movement: The Jakarta Monorail      

This case is designed to illustrate the challenges associated with urban infrastructure development as they relate to the transportation sector and public-private partnerships (PPPs). 


Public Transit in Abidjan: SOTRA’s Post-Conflict Crisis      

This case explores the incentives guiding a P3 transit company in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire after the government (its primary stakeholders) collapses. As a main tool for post-conflict recovery, the company attempts to address growing needs around public transit as well as its own financial setbacks. 


Unconventional Growth: Addressing Urban Development Challenges in a 21st Century Boomtown  

Technological advances in hydrofracturing have spurred an oil drilling frenzy around the town of Willston, ND. The community has seen it all before: oil executives arrive, drill, make promises about community development, but leave the town with nothing in the end. Will this boom be different?


Finding a Viable Solution to Haiti’s Energy Crisis       

This case examines the development challenges facing Haiti’s energy industry in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.  A top policymaker considers environmental, social, and economic factors to determine whether liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports could solve the country’s electricity problems. 


Getting Around Quito         

Quito’s rapid income and population growth over the past several years has forced its mayor to address the problem of how its citizens efficiently commute throughout the city. The existing public transportation system can no longer accommodate the city’s growing population. As a result, Quito’s mayor is building the city’s first metro system, an ambitious project, which is not only constrained by economics, but also by the city’s physical characteristic, surrounded by the Andes.


Dhaka Down the Drain: Water and Flood Management in Dhaka     

This case study addresses issues related to water, sanitation, institutional capacity building, and storm water drainage. It analyzes efforts by the World Bank and DWASA to improve storm water drainage, institutional performance, and sewerage systems in Dhaka.


Qatarstrophe or Success? The 2022 World Cup in Qatar      

This case study explores the various dimensions and challenges surrounding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The case emphasizes multiple pillars of sustainability. 


The Colombo Port Expansion Project: Can a rising tide lift all boats?        

This case urges the reader to consider the links between the competing priorities of sustainable development, infrastructure, and globalization using the Colombo Port Expansion Project (CPEP) as an example.


In New Delhi, No Place to ‘Go’      

This case study focuses on the rollout of an ambitious bio-toilet initiative by the CEO of one of New Delhi’s civic bodies to tackle the problem of poor sanitation in the city’s slums. Many competing and complex factors come into play when attempting to develop new infrastructure at scale.


The Yellow Dragon and the Great Green Wall: Combating Desertification in Northern China

This case looks at sustainability and suitability of large-scale ‘green’ tree planting efforts in combating desertification, sandstorms, and air quality issues in urban China. Case focuses on progress in Zhangbei County to examine local implementation of national environmental projects.


Jakarta Under Water: Keeping Riverside Communities and the Rest of the City Dry 

This case study explores flood management in Jakarta and its implications on the affected communities. The case highlights issues related to the role of key decision makers, hard and soft infrastructure solutions, interagency coordination, and mitigating the risks of resettlement. 


São Paulo’s Water Scarcity: 45 Days ‘Til Empty           

Changes in São Paulo’s rainfall patterns and increased usage from growing urbanization have greatly stressed water availability. Historically low dam levels in the Cantareira system have prompted calls for the government to ration water, however the upcoming elections have compelled the government to pursue other demand and supply side options. With the 2014 World Cup approaching its opening in São Paulo, the government faces both local and international pressure to alleviate its scarcity issues permanently, with a few financial and political costs as possible.


Regularization of Illegal Electricity Consumers: Non-Technical Loss Rates in Rio de Janeiro

This case provides an overview of the challenges facing the electricity sector in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and explores various strategies implemented by Rio’s main electricity provider to overcome high non-technical loss rates.


Maboneng: Place of Light. A Case Study in Urban Regeneration in Johannesburg, South Africa            

This case study uses the Maboneng Precinct, a mixed-use creative hub in downtown Johannesburg, to understand better the role of a private sector developer in urban development and to explore the concepts of urban regeneration, gentrification, and sustainability.


En Route To Cleaner Air: Urban air pollution management in Santiago, Chile     

This case examines Santiago’s effort to combat air pollution by installing catalytic converters on all consumer vehicles particle filters on its buses. These policies have successfully reduced air pollution from these sources in Santiago but have not significantly reduced air pollution as a whole.


Leaning into the Wind: Building Sustainable Wind Power in China            

This case addresses the development of the Jiuquan Wind Farm in China. Readers will make a decision on the future of Chinese wind power investment, given the technical, financial, and environmental challenges facing large-scale renewable energy. 


Cities in Flux: Urban Re-densification in Detroit and Guangzhou    

The central theme of this case study is that cities facing drastically distinct development challenges may still pursue similar sustainable solutions. In pursuing the same objective of re-densification, the cities are considering similar strategies: rezoning and redefined land use, enhanced public transportation, and green urban infrastructure, to name a few. This case ends by prompting students to consider these strategies: which are the most important for achieving re-densification? 


Kigali, Rwanda: Urban Agriculture for Food Security? 

Rwanda has seen remarkable economic growth. However, food security remains a challenge in its rapidly modernizing capital city, Kigali. This case explores if an urban agriculture program can address the complex drivers of food insecurity in Kigali. 


Defining Sustainability in the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy 

In this case, the definition of sustainable is based on how the energy is produced and does not consider public or environmental prosperity. Through this we see that just because something carries the label of sustainable development, it doesn’t make it a good thing— it can make many relevant actors worse off than they were before. This case brings the reader to consider how varied motivations for implementing a sustainable development project may not always be environmental protection.


The Urban Forest in Washington D.C.: On Target or Missing the Mark?    

This case is focused on the urban forest in Washington D.C. It examines the evolving understanding on the role that trees play in cities and discusses the administration’s target of expanding the city’s urban forest canopy to 40% by 2032.

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