Sustainability Degree

Why a Sustainability Degree?

Sustainability DegreeSustainability is a relatively new discipline within the environmental and business fields. Sustainability at its simplest terms combines economics, business, social (human environment) and environmental science. The goal of sustainability is to find a balanced approach that minimizes risks to these areas in order to maintain or enhance the quality of life in the future. It can also been defined as the study to minimize and mitigate environmental impacts caused by human actions. Environmental Sustainability is just a slightly redundant term for true sustainability, as everything relies on the environment. In order to major in “Environmental Sustainability” it is imperative to select a program offering ecology and environmental classes.

Job Prospects with a Degree in Sustainability

The International Society of Sustainable Professionals (ISSP) was formed in 2007 and has over 700 members worldwide. These members have developed careers in just about every sector including industry, manufacturing, retail, technology, biotechnology, utilities, consultants, non-profit organizations and public agencies. It would be difficult to find a field that does not embody the tenets of sustainability. Consumers are increasingly incorporating the sustainability of a product prior to choosing a product to purchase. Technology has opened the entire supply chain to tracking and study for not just efficiency but effectiveness. Environmental, corporate and financial regulations are evolving and becoming increasingly intertwined. Sustainability will continue to grow in order to meet these unique needs.

Sustainability is truly interdisciplinary and can be found under the umbrella of such disciplines as planning, agriculture, business, law, engineering, technology, environmental sciences, environmental studies and biology. Sustainability can be further broken down into specialties such as business operations, agriculture and government operations. One area of sustainability that tends to be consistent across the disciplines is the identification and awareness of the associated environmental and human health impacts along the supply chain from raw materials to the final product. The study of how policy or regulatory requirements affect the environment, human health and economy is also under the field of sustainability. The ultimate goal of sustainability is to enable an atmosphere for economic growth without adversely affecting the environment or human population.

Titles within the sustainability field are wide and varied. Some common titles include sustainability coordinator, sustainability manager, sustainability director, chief sustainability officer, LEED professional, environmental specialist, environmental scientist, chemist, urban planner, transportation specialist, project manager, environmental manager, procurement officer, policy analyst, business analyst, environmental lawyer, environmental engineer, supply chain manager and health, safety specialist.

Learn more about the various sustainability career fields.

Undergraduate Degrees in Sustainability

Most of the top environmental colleges offer degrees in sustainability or focuses on sustainable principles. There are a total of 6 collegiate options including 4 degrees and 2 certificates. A sustainability focused degree is available at the Associates, Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral levels. There are also undergraduate non-degree certificates and graduate non-degree certificates offered. The higher level degrees offer greater flexibility and growth in a sustainable career. Some disciplines require a doctoral degree in order to be competitive in the field. Many schools offer a dual degree option for a combined Bachelor's and Master's degree. Certificates are a great way to show mastery of a subject when one already holds a degree. They also offer an opportunity that is relatively risk free to determine if this field is right for you. Another risk-free option is the ability to audit college courses. Auditing is usually at a lower cost because you will not receive official college credit but will expose you to the subject matter, level of effort required and provide a sense of the teaching styles among the professors.

According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), there are:

  • At least 33 schools within the United States that offer a 2 year Associates degree that has a sustainability focus. Of these, 15 have sustainability as a major and 18 offer a minor in sustainability.
  • Approximately 421 colleges within the United States offer sustainability focused bachelor's degrees. This includes both Bachelors of Arts (BA) and Bachelors of Science (BS) degree programs. At least 98 of these colleges have a major or specific concentration in sustainability.
  • Over 463 United States colleges offer Master's degrees with a focus in sustainability. At least 145 offer a major or concentration in sustainability.
  • At least 103 colleges within the United States offer sustainability focused Doctoral degree. At least 8 list sustainability as a major or concentration.
  • A total of 136 schools offer a sustainability focused graduate certificate and 61 of these are under the discipline of sustainability. At least 51 United States colleges offer sustainability focused undergraduate certificates with half focusing specifically on sustainability.

There is some consistency regarding the common coursework between the degree and certificate options. All require a combination of business/economics, natural sciences and social sciences. Undergraduate and graduate coursework includes ethics, sustainable business, energy systems, chemistry, sociology and biology. Arizona State University (ASU) provides a good explanation of the difference in focus between a Bachelors of Art (BA) and Bachelors of Science (BS). Their Bachelors of Art (BA) degree focuses on “sustainability of environmental resources and social institutions” while their Bachelors of Science (BS) degree focuses on “sustainable use of environmental resources.” Certificate coursework includes sustainable business, technology, energy systems, policy and sociology.

Is Sustainability Graduate School for you?

Important points to consider are the length of time for degree completion and the amount of financial aid available to offset the costs. A master's degree generally requires 1 to 3 years to complete and a doctoral degree can take greater than 5 years to complete.

Sustainability is a wide field that is rapidly undergoing change as it grows. As such, make sure you choose a school that offers a concentration that is of interest to you and provides future career growth. If you plan to pursue a doctoral program, choosing a master's degree with research or thesis options would be of benefit. If you need to enter the workforce as quickly as possible, consider starting with the associates degree and continuing with a dual bachelor and master's degree program. Certificates are a great option if you already have a degree and would like to focus on this new field.

Online Sustainability Programs

Online programs have an advantage of providing access to students whose employment make attending traditional classes difficult, students who are not within driving distance to the campus and students who need the flexibility to attend courses when it fits their schedule. Sustainability as its own discipline is relatively new and most degree programs are offered in a traditional or combined traditional and online environment. However, some colleges have begun offering online sustainability degrees and the amounts of online programs are anticipated to grow in the future. An example of an online graduate degree program has been provided below.

Master's Degree in Sustainable Management

Those wanting to advance their education in sustainable management but require maximum flexibility are typically drawn to an online Master's Degree in Sustainable Management. Many schools offer both in-person and online options, giving students the choice to complete their degree according to their own unique circumstances. These programs offer graduate level courses that help bridge the gap between scientific process and social implementation and action. The goal is to prepare environmental advocates for systemic change and progress. Common courses in the M.S. program include:

  • Cultural and Historical Foundations of Sustainability
  • The Natural Environment
  • Applied Research and the Triple Bottom Line
  • Policy, Law, and the Ethics of Sustainability
  • Statistical Methods in Sustainability
  • Economics for Sustainable Development

Some programs allow you to go down a science and engineering track within the degree, or a social science and business track, depending on what job route you are interested in. Most programs contain a mix of the two. The majority of students who choose this degree path are those who have completed a Bachelor's degree and want to advance past the entry- to mid-level management positions in construction, business, operations, and other environmental sectors that they currently hold. Graduates of this program go on to careers in business services, manufacturing, trade and transportation, and environmental health and safety. Some of the specific career titles a Master's in Sustainable Management can lead to include Energy Analyst, Director of Global Environmental Affairs, Green Marketing Consultant, Sustainable Design Specialist, and Environmental Policy Analyst, just to name a few.

Schools in the country offering this program include:

Education Costs

Important points to consider are the length of time for degree completion and the amount of financial aid available to offset the costs. The cost associated with sustainability degrees and certificates range from $5000 a year to over $30,000 a year depending on the school and degree being sought. Financial aid is available for sustainable degree programs for those that qualify.

Importance of Accreditation

Ensure the school is accredited because most employers look at accreditation in addition to the actual degree obtained. This is also your protection that the school has had their coursework and objectives reviewed and approved by a neutral authority that provides credibility for the degrees. Accreditation also ensures consistency regarding the common coursework between the degree and certificate options.

Spotlight Schools & Programs

Below are a few schools that offer sustainability focused degrees.

Associates Degree in Sustainability

Lane Community College in Eugene, OR

Degree: Associate of Science Sustainability Coordinator
Program Focus: Sustainability Studies and Science
Study Options: Traditional
School website: http://www.lanecc.edu/sustainability/sustainability-coordinator

Program Overview: This degree will provide a solid foundation for students to begin their careers in the sustainability field or enter into a Bachelor's degree program.

Course Requirements: This degree requires 93 credits, which consist of 43 foundation and core credits and 50 credits towards electives and career technical education.

Admission Requirements: The admission requirements include transcripts from high school or GED, placement testing and meeting with an advisor.

Tuition: The anticipated tuition costs are $11,332.50 including books and miscellaneous fees (e.g. lab, technology, etc).

Bachelor's Degree in Sustainability

Arizona State University

Degree: Bachelor of Science in Sustainability
Program Focus: Sustainability Studies and Science
Study Options: Traditional and Online
Program Overview: This program focuses on teaching a solid foundation in sustainability and includes linking concepts to real-world problems.

University of South Dakota in Vermillion, SD

Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability
Program Focus: Sustainability Studies and Science
Study Options: Traditional and Online
School website: http://www.usd.edu/arts-and-sciences/sustainability/index.cfm

Program Overview: The program offers a solid foundation for students to understand current issues within the sustainability field and the problem solving skills to address them.

Ability to Choose Concentration: Yes with 2 choices between natural sciences or social sciences.

Course Requirements: This degree requires 120 credits, which consist of 53 core credits and 67 credits towards electives, minor and major.

Admission Requirements: The admission requirements include one of the three options - achieve an ACT composite score of 21 or above (SAT 990), grade point average of at least 2.6 (4.0 scale) or rank in the upper 50 percent of their high school class.

Tuition: The anticipated tuition costs are $32,549 per year not including books and miscellaneous fees (e.g. lab, technology, etc).

Master's Degree in Sustainability

Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, CT

Degree: Masters of Arts in Biological Sciences (Global Sustainability)
Program Focus: Sustainability Studies and Science
Study Options: Traditional and Online
School website: http://web.ccsu.edu/catalog/masterdegreeprograms/

Course Requirements: This degree requires 30 credits towards the major.

Admission Requirements: The admission requirements include providing collegiate transcripts, narrative (personal) statement, 3 letters of recommendation (evaluation) and application for admission. GRE scores are recommended but not required.

Tuition: The anticipated resident tuition costs are $26,000 per year including room and board but not books. Some miscellaneous fees (e.g. lab, technology, etc) may not be included.

Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah, NJ

Degree: Masters of Arts in Sustainability Studies
Program Focus: Sustainability Studies and Science
Study Options: Traditional and Online
School website: http://web.ccsu.edu/catalog/masterdegreeprograms/

Program Overview: Combines natural sciences, social sciences and business in order for students to be able to identify problems and offer solutions to advance the field of sustainability.

Ability to Choose Concentration: Yes.

Course Requirements: This degree consist of 9 courses towards the major. At least 18 courses are offered in the major of sustainability.

Admission Requirements: The admission requirements include providing collegiate transcripts, narrative (personal) statement, 2 letters of recommendation, resume and application for admission. An interview is available but not mandatory. GRE scores are not required but are accepted if submitted.

Tuition: The anticipated resident tuition costs are $2,250 per year not including books, room and board, or miscellaneous fees (e.g. lab, technology, etc).

Doctoral (PhD) Degree in Sustainability

Columbia University in New York, NY

Degree: Doctoral Degree in Sustainable Development
Program Focus: Urban Studies and Planning
Study Options: Traditional
School website: https://sipa.columbia.edu/academics/programs/phd-in-sustainable-development

Program Overview: The focus of this program is to provide the skills necessary for students to pursue policy and research opportunities within the sustainability field.

Ability to Choose Concentration: Yes. There are up to 6 areas of concentration available.

Course Requirements: A total of 60 credits are required, including 10 core courses and 6 elective courses. A minimum 3.00 (B) average is required for the core classes. Students are required to participate in integrative seminars, complete a thesis with an oral exam, present and defend a dissertation. Students are expected to actively complete a research and teaching requirement.

Admission Requirements: Students must successfully complete an undergraduate degree program with a solid foundation in economics, mathematics and science. Applicants must also have high scores on the GRE.

Tuition: The anticipated resident tuition costs are $19,344 per year not including books or miscellaneous fees (e.g. lab, technology, etc). Full-tuition fellowships including stipends and health insurance are available for all admitted students who are not already sponsored by their governments, employers, or a foundation.