Sustainability degrees focus on the intersection of environmental, social/cultural and economic systems through the lenses of the sciences, social sciences and humanities. The study of sustainability includes not only environmental sciences and social sciences, but also the study of social and cultural systems, from history to anthropology to philosophy to cultural diversity.
You can visit the following pages on our site for comprehensive listings of the schools that offer each type of degrees program:
- Environmental Engineering Degrees
- Environmental Science Degrees
- Online Sustainability Degrees
- Sustainable Architecture & Design Degrees
- Sustainable Business Degrees
- Sustainable Public Policy Degrees
- Sustainable Technology Degrees
While many community, undergraduate and graduate colleges and universities offer academic degree programs focused on the environmental aspects of sustainability (especially environmental science and social sciences), a growing number of schools are expanding these programs or creating new programs that focus on sustainability itself. Examples of these programs include:
- Associate of Applied Science in sustainable development
- Bachelor of Arts in sustainability
- Bachelor of Science in sustainability
- Master of Arts in sustainability
- Master of Science in sustainability
- Doctor of Philosophy in sustainability
Many undergraduate and graduate colleges and universities also offer minors or certificates in sustainability.
Sustainability Degree Prerequisites and Curriculum
Prerequisites for associate and bachelor’s degrees typically include a high school diploma or GED with well-rounded coursework in basic sciences like biology, basic mathematics like algebra, English, writing and social studies. Prerequisites for graduate degrees typically include an undergraduate degree in a discipline related to the discipline of the anticipated graduate degree (e.g., an undergraduate degree in sustainability, environmental studies or natural resources might be required for a master’s degree program in sustainability).
However, since sustainability is a new field requiring knowledge from multiple disciplines, students can often apply nearly any undergraduate degree to graduate studies in sustainability, as long as their undergraduate degree included coursework in areas related to the disciplines they wish to study at the graduate level. For example, an undergraduate English major could be admitted to a science-focused sustainability graduate program so long as the student has taken some environmental sciences courses at the undergraduate level.
Arizona State University (ASU), home of the first school of sustainability in the United States, provides good examples of the coursework that’s required of undergraduate and graduate students in sustainability programs. Students in ASU’s Bachelor of Science in sustainability program must take at least one introductory course in sustainability along with courses in mathematics (such as applied math, calculus and statistics), systems thinking and sustainability problem solving, equity and justice, natural sciences (such as chemistry, biology and climatology) as well as sustainability courses focused on areas including technology, business, energy, international development, food and agriculture, society and sociology, policy and governance.
Students in ASU’s Master of Arts in sustainability take core courses in perspectives in sustainability, research design and methods for sustainability, social-ecological-technical systems, proposal writing and sustainability research. Electives and a final thesis or scientific paper are also required.
Doctoral programs typically require students to develop a unique, individualized course of study with their faculty adviser and a committee of faculty or outside experts who hold doctorates in the student’s desired area of environmental science research. Programs build upon a student’s prior undergraduate or graduate degree coursework (a prerequisite of most doctoral programs) and entail specialized coursework leading to research. Most doctoral programs require the student to pass comprehensive exams set by their committee and/or department and to conduct a doctoral dissertation of original research in their chosen area of study. For example, the ASU Doctor of Philosophy in sustainability “engages scientists and leaders in research to investigate the urgent sustainability challenges of this century. The flexible, interdisciplinary nature of the program allows students to focus on problems of interest to them, drawing upon relevant knowledge from a variety of disciplines.”
Graduates with a degree in sustainability may work for companies, governmental agencies, nonprofits or institutions of education, teaching, conducting research or developing policy, practices or technology to help their employers solve real-world sustainability problems, from climate change to poverty to access to healthy, local food. Since sustainability is a broad area covering many disciplines, students who study sustainability may be business leaders, policymakers, scientists, professors, directors or program managers; and, they may work to address many issues, from energy to sustainable food to human rights and beyond. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not yet collect median wage and salary information for sustainability professionals, career paths include management, the sciences, engineering and business, with salaries in related fields ranging $166,910 for a chief executive to $46,030 for an occupational health and safety technician (as of 2012).
What can you do with a sustainability degree? Learn about sustainability careers.