Sustainable World

Becky Ball,
Arizona State University at the West Campus


Sustainable World introduces students to the field of sustainability and explores the fundamental question of how human and natural systems interact. Sustainable World focuses more on how the environment functions, but also addresses how humans interact with the environment: how we shape the environment and how it shapes us. Using real world issues and problems, students learn about the fundamental Earth systems on which we depend.

Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Public four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course for Sustainability majors, Business majors concentrating in Sustainability, as well as nonmajors. There are no pre-requisites. For the section I teach, it is approx. 50% business majors concentrating in Sustainability and 50% students from other majors that may or may not relate to sustainability and environmental science. Students in the Sustainability major or concentration go on to take other sustainability courses.

Course Content:

Sustainable World covers earth science topics that are relevant to sustainability, including biogeochemical cycles, the water cycle, energy flow, ecosystem science, geology and geologic natural resources, as well as how these relate to social and environmental justice, politics, and economics. The course is a mixture of lectures, discussion groups, and case study analyses. Students learn the basics of all of these topics in order to make informed decisions about sustainability solutions.

Course Goals:

Students should be able to explain earth system processes and how we shape them (and are shaped by them).
Students should be able to use this information to make decisions related to sustainability problems.
Students should be able to critically analyze what they hear in the media based on their understanding of earth system processes.
Students should be able to formulate realistic and effective solutions to sustainability problems.
Students should improve their writing skills, ability to work effectively in groups, and oral communication

Course Features:

For each new broad topic covered, students complete case study analyses where they use the scientific knowledge they gain in class to offer solutions to a real-world problem. This is culminated by a capstone project where students identify a sustainability problem for the city of Phoenix and write an Implementation Plan posing a solution to this problem. Their final assignment is a presentation and written proposal for this solution.

Course Philosophy:

Sustainability is about more than just the scientific knowledge, therefore a 100% lecture style course would not be appropriate. Most of the students taking this class are not science majors (and many "hate" or "are scared of" science), so this allows them to interact with the material and discuss how it relates to their major.


Through case studies, class discussions, and exams, students are assessed on their ability to use the scientific knowledge they have learned to offer realistic solutions to problems. They are graded on their understanding of the scientific material, their ability to critically analyze information, and their engagement in finding solutions that are realistic and feasible.


Syllabus for Sustainable World (Acrobat (PDF) 168kB Apr26 13)

Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Miller & Spoolman - Living in the Environment
It was the text being used when I took over this section of the course. Of the texts I've reviewed, it's the one that contains the broadest amount of scientific topics with a good mix of hard science and social science.