Teaching Cases in Environmental Economics and Policy

2007-08-30 22:22:36

Petr Šauer, Aleš Lisa

Teaching cases is quite well‑known powerful educational tool, which belongs to modern methods of teaching and learning. They are distinguished from case studies used for research purposes.

The paper explains what using cases in teaching a learning process means, what are the main differences between the teaching cases and research cases. It also brings short information about the teaching cases, which were produced within the project mentioned above [1]


Teaching case studies belong to modern methods of teaching and learning. Authors of this paper and editors of the publication containing teaching case studies in the field of environmental economics and policy had a chance to meet teaching cases in economics, political sciences and partly in environmental policy. They personally participated in organizing seminars on case teaching at the University of Economics in Prague, for instance within „The Case Project for Central and Eastern Europe“ (1996).

Typical teaching cases in economics is possible to find in GOMEZ-IBANEZ & KALT (1990). Cases from many fields is possible to search for in catalogs maintained at places where they have long-time experience with them. Let us mention Case Program John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University v USA (Case Program 2007) and Cascade Center for Public Service, University of Washington in Seattlu, USA.

There is literature about how to write the teaching cases and how to use them for teaching. See for instance BOEHRER (1986), GOMEZ-IBANEZ (1986), ROBYN (1986), GARVIN (2006).

The paper starts with explaining what the cases teaching is and what is the difference from cases used for research purposes. It also brings brief information about the cases, which were prepared within the above-mentioned project.

Teaching cases

To benefit from the learning potential of a teaching case, students should not know in advance the solutions adopted in real life. Therefore, there should be no statement of the decisions reached by actors of the situation described in the case. This is an important rule valid also for fictitious teaching case studies. Students should have an opportunity to react independently of the actual development of situation described in a case, and to decide regardless of solutions adopted in the described situation.

For learning purposes, it is important to give students an opportunity to confront their opinions and suggested solutions of problems described in teaching case with others in the class. The “true learning” at the university also requires an ability to apply relevant theories, concepts, and various methods of analyses. For this reason it is necessary to carefully balance the proportion of skills development and the theoretical development the teaching case can offer to the students.

Let us explain the major differences between a “standard” (research) case study and a teaching case before explaining what teaching cases means. For more information about the research case studies see FLYVBJERG (2006), LAMNEK (2005) a YIN (2002). The most important differences are compared in Table 1.

Table 1 Major differences between a case study and a teaching case study


Case study

Teaching case

Size, level of detail

Can be quite complex/extensive

Shorter, less detailed information

Problem(s) solution(s)

Included and important

Must not be explicitly included (possible solutions can be included only in teaching notes)

Balance of opinions

Might bring alternative solutions and opinions (but very often this does not hold true)

Must bring “balanced” information enabling the students to find alternative solutions

Realness of described


Must deal with real situation

The situation can be partly modified if it fits better for the teaching goal; data can be modified if the original ones are confidential

A teaching case can be used as reading material to support “standard” lectures; in this case, a teacher uses it to illustrate his/her lecture, to promote discussion at the class and often comes with a solution of the key problems contained in the case.

However, true case teaching is quite different. Students must get the text of the teaching case in advance, since preparation requires much more time than preparation for a standard class. They not only must have enough time to read the case but also to refresh methods, concepts and theories, useful or even necessary to find solutions to the problems described in the teaching case. Questions and tasks focusing on the problems can be explicitly formulated in the teaching case. But students might also be supposed to find and formulate problems, which the case is about. In the latter case, no questions are included in the teaching case.

Every student must be very well prepared for every class. The role of the teacher is not to read a lecture. His/her role is to guide the discussion to ensure that all of the important problems are proportionally discussed. He/she also permanently evaluates (for himself or herself) the quality of students’ contributions to the class discussion. This might be quite challenging especially if the course is accredited within the European Credits Transfer System where the students receive grades. For the quality of the class discussion is useful if the students sit in a roundtable room and have visible and readable name tags in front of them.

Methods, concepts and theories introduced in the cases developed

Two groups of methods, concepts and theories were considered when preparing the above-mentioned courses based on teaching cases. The “first-plan ones” is the first group of them. It means that a careful inventory was done on which methods, concepts and theories are taught in the standard courses on environmental economics and policy. On the following we put the special attention: environmental ethics, human environmental needs, values and interests, valuing nature goods, environmental externalities, methods of quantification of economic damage from environmental degradation, environmental law, state environmental policy tools, solutions to environmental problems without state intervention, macroeconomic impacts of environmental degradation and protection, economic policy tools with an impact on environmental quality, and environmental politics, environmental governance and environmental policy integration.

In the second group there are methods, concepts and theories from the other disciplines, which can help with finding solutions in our topic area: cost-benefit analyses of (public) projects, cost-effectiveness analyses of (public) projects, analyses of private (capital investment) projects, mathematical, statistical and econometric methods, probability method of thinking, public choice theory.

Problems covered by teaching case studies in the project

The teaching cases developed for the above-mentioned project cover a broad spectrum of environmental and nature resource problems. The natural resource problems were included especially if there is some relation to environmental degradation problems.

Although it is not possible to cover all of the important problems that individuals and the society face in the environmental sphere, the selection of cases brings information about all of the main environmental components, and also shows problems on local, regional, national and international levels. Many of them describe the background of very controversial public and private projects.

The topics of the teaching cases elaborated within the project are as follows:


Eutrophization of ground water in the Czech Republic – What is eutrophization of the water and what makes it an economic problem? How big the problem is for the Czech Republic? How could the problem be resolved? What is the role of regulative tools and of voluntary approaches?

Protection of a drinking water source against pollution – A water dam for accumulating quality water in the Krusne hory mountains was built in the 1960s. Since the 1980s, the water quality has decreased. Some measures how to resolve the problem were suggested. What is the economic side of the suggested measures? Who are the policy players? How could the measures be financed?

Large floods in the Czech Republic – What are the reasons for the more frequent occurrence of the recent floods? What are the damages caused by the floods? Who are the key players for undertaking some measures? What are the anti‑floods measures suggested? What are they economic and policy consequences? What is the role of public authorities?

Floods in Destna village – The case deals with regional floods in two villages located near the country’s border; these floods were caused by an increased drainage area of two local small brooks due to mining in the neighboring country. Economic benefits of the suggested measures are very high comparing to the costs of the anti‑flood projects. Is there any chance to resolve the problem?


Climate change, air quality, and energy: Case of the Czech Republic – This case involves: pessimistic versus optimistic views on the problem of climate change; sources and development of greenhouse gases in the Czech Republic; possible measures and their economic consequences; and policy tools – ecological tax reform vs. tradable pollution permits.

Reconstructions and renovation of a heating boiler in the InUtil company – What are the economic parameters of the suggested technical alternatives? How should the conflict between top managers in the company be resolved? What is the chance for the most environmentally friendly option?

Parking policy in Prague-Zizkov – What are the options to achieve balance between demand and supply of parking places in one of Prague’s downtown quarters? What are the economic and policy consequences of the alternatives? What is the role of the municipality?


Municipal waste in the town of Kotehulky – There is a long history of treatment of municipal waste in the town. There are new challenges and possible solutions under current EU and Czech legislation. What are economic consequences of the possible solutions? Who are the key players and what are their attitudes toward the problem?

Hazardous waste in village of Rajov – Unused buildings of an agricultural co-op in the village are used by the new owner for dumping hazardous waste. What are the ethical and legal consequences of the situation? What is the role of the municipality in this case?

Nature and landscape

Reconstruction and revitalization of a mining area under the Krusne Hory mountains – This case discusses brown coal strip mining in this area together with burning the coal in several large power stations which resulted into the very negative environmental situation in the region. What are the options to re-cultivate and revitalize the region? What are the economic and political consequences? How should the suggested measures be financed?

To build or not to build new dams on the Elbe river? – A new system of dams near the German border is being planned. Results of an economic analysis of the project and other arguments for and against the project, including the environmental ones, are presented in the case. Shall the dams be realized?

Birds and nature protection in the Carpland protected landscape – The case deals with conflicts between nature protection (namely protecting the fish hunting bird of cormorant) and firms producing fish in ponds. How could the problem e resolved under the current legislation?

To mine or not to mine the “black coal” in the Beskydy mountains? Quite a large amount of resources were invested in exploratory drilling to discover the quality of the black coal. The mining company would like to start mining. The mine is located in the Beskydy Mountains, which has a status of Landscape Protected Area.

Energy and its environmental consequences

Building new sources of energy in the Czech Republic – How much energy will the country need in the future? What might be the potential energy savings? Is atomic energy the future? What is the chance for alternative sources of energy? What is the role of the state?

Optimization of energy consumption in family houses – Which energy sources can be used in family houses? How can energy consumption in family houses be minimized? How can one minimize the negative impact of energies used in family houses on the environment? What is the role of state in this problem?

All the teaching case studies a based on real situations in the Czech Republic. In some cases editors and authors did some modifications and changes of the names to protect the confidentiality of some of the information. The modified cases are as follows: Floods in Destna village, Reconstructions and renovation of a heating boiler in the InUtil company, Municipal waste in the town of Kotehulky, Hazardous waste in village of Rajov, and Birds and nature protection in the Carpland protected landscape.


It is our belief that such a complex set of cases, which systematically covers the methods, concepts and theories taught in the environmental economics and policy class has a large potential to improve the quality of teaching and the learning process. Currently we are working on an e-learning version of the courses mentioned above, as well as on the course of environmental economics and policy based on teaching cases. The problems included in the developed teaching cases mostly concern the situation in the Czech Republic. For teaching the subject of environmental economics and policy it is satisfactory. However, the authors are open to collaborating on future projects in this area, and to participating in developing teaching cases covering regional or international issues.


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[1] This paper presents some of the results of the “University Capacity Building for Sustainable Development” project, supported by the European Social Fund of the EU, the Municipality of Prague, and the State Budget of the Czech Republic within JPD3 Grant No. CZ 04.3.07/