Infuse Sustainability Thinking into your Studies

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Why Does it Matter? Making a Case for Sustainability

In this fast-paced, ever-changing world, environmental sustainability is essential. The concept of sustainability is complex. As the world's population grows, Earth's finite resources must be stretched further to meet the increased needs. In addition, with a greater number of people to support, issues related to ensuring an adequate food supply, preparedness for and clean-up following natural hazards, access to clean water, responsible extraction and distribution of energy and mineral resources, and public health become increasingly difficult to address. Adding to the complexity are advances in technology and communication, which not only increase awareness of these issues, but can also be used as tools for responding to these issues. Further, global connections between economies, political entities, and societies, as well as the increased ease of travel tie the world together as it never had before.

Sustainability Programs

Sustainability issues require an inter- and multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving that extends beyond the traditional sciences. Stakeholders involved could include scientists, statisticians, politicians, public health officials, and the general public, among others, and as such, it is important to build working relationships with strong communication connections among the different groups. The Earth and society are complex systems and as such require a multi-faceted approach to looking at and tackling sustainability issues such as those dealing with food, water, and energy. Prepare yourself for the workforce by equipping yourself with attributes employers are looking for, such as interdisciplinary skills and knowledge, quantitative and computer skills, and soft skills such as effectively communicating with experts across disciplines.

Explore how Different Disciplines Approach Sustainability

Sustainability issues transcend disciplinary divides and each discipline tends to approach these issues in particular ways using a variety of tools and problem-solving strategies. As such, sustainability topics are covered in a range of disciplines and departments. Seek out courses at your institution that have a focus on sustainability - you may be surprised how many departments have related courses. Some institutions designate a particular suffix code to identify sustainability-related courses in the course catalog - this may be a good place to start. Some of the departments that may offer sustainability-related courses and/or program tracks include:

  • Agriculture
    Example careers can involve: farming/food production, agritourism, research, food science, nutrition research (learn about the agriculture-sustainability connection more from the USDA's Natural Agricultural Library)
  • Biology and Ecology
    Example careers can involve: environmental management and conservation, forestry, fisheries and wildlife
  • Chemistry
    Example careers can involve: energy development; carbon sequestration; designing less-toxic chemicals for common products; environmental clean up and remediation (learn more about the chemistry-sustainability connection from the American Chemical Society)
  • Communications
    Example careers can involve: journalism; incident command center; public relations
  • Computer Science
    Example careers can involve: design and development of instrumentation; database and datacenter development and management; programmer for modeling or scenario-building software or GIS
  • Earth Sciences
    Example careers: hydrology; geoengineering; energy exploration; resource management
  • Economics and Business
    Example careers can involve: sustainability consulting; environmental/ecological/natural resource economics; green marketing; sustainability auditing.
  • Engineering
    Example careers can involve: civil engineering (e.g. design of buildings and infrastructure); bioengineering (e.g. development of biofuels; food production; pest control); renewable energy technologies
  • Health Sciences
    Example careers can involve: food science; microbiology; toxicology; health care provider
  • International Studies
    Example careers can involve: international development; international environmental policy and planning; international law; international economics
  • Physics
    Example careers can involve: renewable energy technologies, technology, and security; environmental monitoring; research scientist; design/product/nuclear/software/project engineer
  • Political Science
    Example careers can involve: environmental law; policy-making
  • Public Administration
    Example careers can involve: environmental policy-making; budget analysis; accounting or auditing; urban/regional planning
  • Sociology
    Example careers can involve: environmental justice; environmental education
  • Urban Studies and Planning
    Example careers can involve: urban planning, including zoning, transportation, preparing for/responding to natural hazards

Learn more about how different disciplines approach sustainability by exploring the Disciplinary Perspectives: Teaching Sustainability in... web page from the SISL project.

Find a Program of Study that Can Prepare you for a Sustainability Career

Some institutions have programs with a focus on sustainability and preparing students for a career in sustainability. The AASHE Academic Programs Database offers a searchable collection of more than a thousand sustainability-focused academic programs at more than 400 institutions across the US as well as international institutions (see map). The programs are searchable by degree/certificate type or by discipline.

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