Initial Publication Date: March 5, 2015

Infuse Sustainability Thinking into your Studies

What do we mean by
sustainability? »

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
  • Biology and Ecology
  • Chemistry
  • Communications
  • Computer Science
  • Earth Sciences
  • Economics and Business
  • Engineering
  • Health Sciences
  • International Studies
  • Physics
  • Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology
  • Urban Studies and Planning

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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