Embed Sustainability in your Program

This page is part of an extended set of InTeGrate resources on managing curricular reform.

Managing Curriculum Reform

Why Focus on Sustainability?
Personal and collective actions are needed to ensure the sustainable use of our natural resources and environmental systems—land, air, and water—in an ethical and responsible manner. On this page, InTeGrate lays out the rationale for why undergraduate education should include a focus on Sustainability and Earth-centered societal issues.

Teach Earth Across the Curriculum
Several of the 16 InTeGrate program models sought to spread the teaching of Earth-related material widely through their undergraduate curricula. This suite of pages synthesizes the lessons they learned about how to do that.

Embed Sustainability in your Program
Issues such as balancing energy alternatives with environmental toxification, climate change, and provisioning a growing human population while maintaining natural resources have fundamental geoscience components. This set of pages makes the case that more geoscience programs should include learning about Sustainability as well as different ways that can be accomplished.


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Jump Down To: Approaches to Incorporating Sustainability | Strengthen your Program | Resources The Case for Including Sustainability »

Approaches to Incorporating Sustainability

There are many different definitions of sustainability, but most have in common a concern for both people and their environment today, as well as the well-being of future generations. A transition to sustainability will require new knowledge, tools and approaches, knowledge linked to action, and an educated leadership and public. While no single archetype for training students to meet these common challenges exists, there are several successful models. These have traits in common, including an interdisciplinary structure inclusive of social science, engagement with real-world and cross-cutting issues, and an intentional balance between breadth and depth of disciplinary learning. In any model, the curriculum is designed to produce students who can understand the confluence of scientific, economic, and social justice issues that characterize the 'three legged stool' or 'triple bottom line' approaches of the business world.

Nexus-focused approach: Integrating multi-disciplinary knowledge and perspectives to understand and develop viable solutions for people and the environment. This approach produces T-shaped expertise with broad interdisciplinary perspectives and depth in a particular area. Programs may be based on a conceptual common core and then rely heavily on courses taught in disciplinary programs.

System-based approach: Analyzing and managing synergies and trade-offs between human well-being and the environment. This approach focuses on understanding production-consumption relationships and designing innovative economic systems or governance systems to progress towards sustainability. Programs may be problem-based, built around understanding human population dynamics and consumer decision-making paired with understanding of resilience and vulnerability in human-environment systems.

Strengthen your Program

InTeGrate Program Models

Several of the InTeGrate program models had a particular emphasis on teaching about the Earth across the curriculum. Their program pages are deep descriptions of program design, implementation, and outcomes. From these examples, you can learn ways of bringing sustainability into the geoscience curriculum, infusing learning about the Earth into non-geoscience courses, helping faculty teach outside their disciplines, and other important topics. You can also see a synthesis of lessons learned about teaching Earth across the curriculum drawn from the experiences of all the implementation teams.

California State University - ChicoGustavus Adolphus CollegeMiddle Tennessee State UniversityPenn State UniversityShippensburg UniversityStanford UniversityUniversity of Northern ColoradoUniversity of South DakotaWittenberg University
Teach Earth Across the Curriculum »
Several of the 16 InTeGrate program models sought to spread the teaching of Earth-related material widely through their undergraduate curricula. This suite of pages synthesizes the lessons they learned about how to do that.
From a synthesis of lessons learned by InTeGrate Implementation Programs

Common Structures for Interdisciplinary Programs

In 2012, InTeGrate convened a workshop on Programs that Bring Together Geoscience and Sustainability. Participants in that workshop contributed program descriptions and essays describing how their programs managed this interdisciplinary challenge. Because sustainability is multifaceted and can be embedded in a program using a variety of approaches, there is no single formula for designing a sustainability program. However, the discussions at and contributions to the workshop showcased some emerging models of program structures.


InTeGrate Course Materials

All of the courses and modules developed by InTeGrate are about teaching geoscience in the context of sustainability and societal issues. Some of the materials call out sustainability in particular.

Ocean SustainabilityA Growing Concern: Sustaining Soil Resources through Local Decision MakingWater, Agriculture, and SustainabilityWater Sustainability in CitiesRenewable Energy and Environmental Sustainability

InTeGrate Workshops and Webinars

A number of InTeGrate-sponsored workshops and webinars have gathered and shared community expertise on embedding sustainability in programs.

Example Programs

The 2012 workshop Programs that Bring Together Geoscience and Sustainability convened program leaders from across a variety of disciplines to share challenges and successful strategies for integrating sustainability perspectives and the geosciences. Each participant submitted a program description describing degree programs or concentrations that bring together geoscience and sustainability at the undergraduate level, including information on the career trajectories of graduates.


The 2012 workshop participants also contributed essays describing the philosophy and goals underpinning the design of their institution's program.

Teaching Activities

The InTeGrate community collection contains a large number of teaching activities submitted by faculty across the country that aim to connect sustainability and learning about the Earth.

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