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Environmental Assessment Course

Suzanne Savanick, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College. Based on a Greening the Campus environmental studies colloquium course taught at Carleton College in 1991.

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


The classic campus-based project is an environmental or sustainability assessment, often referred to as an environmental audit. This course, taught at Carleton in 2001, describes how this type of project can be undertaken. In this scenario, a student, campus environmental group or class researches aspects the environmental impact of the school.

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Learning Goals

Students will understand how the campus is linked with the larger environment. Students will learn how to collect data by interviewing and researching, analyze findings, and make recommendations. Students will also learn how to present their findings to campus decision-makers.

Context for Use

This project works best as a term-long project. It can be done by an individual student or by groups of students working in teams.

The coure taught was a required course for environmental studies students. It was one credit, but the evaluations recommended having it as a three credit (typical course credit) course. The students were from several disciplines, but mostly all in their junior year of study.

Teaching Materials

Carleton College's Greening the Campus Course Syllabus (Microsoft Word 27kB Jul13 05) Campus Case Analysis Worksheet (Microsoft Word 31kB Jul14 05)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This course used the following procedure:
  • Brainstorm campus links to environmental issues on the campus:
    • A simple exercise that works in both small and large classes is to have the instructor ask the students what the environmental issues are on campus.
    • Usually students will come up with topics such as waste disposal, water use, energy use, transportation, landscaping.
    • In another variation of this same brainstorming exercize, have the students brainstorm answers to the question, "What are the campus links to global environmental issues such as: global warming, biodiversity loss, acid rain, water pollution?"
  • Have students pick topics or subtopics for individual or group research
  • Have/Needs Assessment (Birnbaum, 2004) : Have students discuss:
    • What they know about their topic?
    • What they need to know about their topic?
  • Develop Research Plan
    • Have students assign tasks to group members
    • What are the intermediary steps of the project?
    • Include deadlines and timelines for project completion.
  • Class check on progress . One half of the way through the course, have student report on their activities to date. For individual student projects, have students meet with faculty each week to report.
  • Report of Findings Facilities management personnel was invited to the class presentations. If taught again, we would make sure that the class met at a time that decison-makers would attend. We would also have students write an executive summary to give to facilities management.


References and Resources

Penn State Environmental Indicators Report is an example of a large, comprehensive environmental assessment project.

Other useful references:

National Wildlife Federation's Campus Ecology Program ( This site may be offline. ) offers technical assistance to campus students, staff and faculty on campus-based sustainability projects. They also have an extensive listing of projects at other colleges and universities.

University Leaders for a Sustainable Future (ULSF) : assists colleges and universities with sustainability issues. ULSF the secretariat for the Tallois Declaration, a campus sustainability declaration signed by hundreds of college and university presidents.