Development, implementation and evaluation of public policy is critical to sustainability. In the United States, state and federal laws and regulations help monitor and enforce pollution prevention and clean up, making sure that the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat and the products we use are safe to us and our environment. Public policy helps ensure that every entity does its fair share, offering guidance and support, as well as incentives for sustainable practices and penalties for breaking laws.
Sustainable public policy degrees focus on the development of public policy at the local, state, regional, national or international level to advance environmental, economic and social/cultural sustainability. Those interested in this field can pursue degrees in environmental management, public policy or political science with a concentration in sustainability. Graduates of sustainable public policy programs are qualified to get involved in local, state and federal policy planning and regulation development, a well as international sustainability agreements and decision-making. They address issues such as climate change and adaptation, air pollution, water quality, stormwater, sustainable agriculture and fisheries, endangered species, brownfield clean up, land use and zoning planning and conflict resolution.
Popular Sustainable Public Policy Degrees
Popular sustainable public policy degrees include:
- Bachelor of Science in sustainability or environmental management and policy
- Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus, concentration or minor in sustainability
- Master of Science in environmental studies or sustainability
- Master of Urban Planning
- Master of Public Administration in environmental science and policy
- Graduate Certificate in sustainability management
Sustainable Public Policy Prerequisites and Curriculum
Prerequisites for undergraduate degrees in sustainable public policy typically include a high school diploma or GED, as well as successful completion of courses in basic sciences (like Earth science), mathematics, social sciences (like history and social studies) and English at the high school level. Prerequisites for sustainable public policy graduate degrees usually include an undergraduate degree in related discipline, such as a bachelor’s degree in political science, economics or environmental studies or sciences.
As part of their undergraduate degree program of study, students can expect to take courses in:
- Introductory environmental sciences (such as environmental biology, environmental chemistry and environmental studies).
- Introductory public policy and political science (such as macroeconomics, microeconomics, American government, international affairs, law and public policy, urban structure and policy, sociology, nonprofit management and leadership, government finance, ethics and communications/public speaking).
- Mathematics (such as statistics and research design and methods).
- Interdisciplinary public policy and sustainability courses (such as U.S. and international environmental policy and law, environmental management, environmental economics and environmental budgeting and planning).
Undergraduate students may also take courses in areas like sustainable agriculture, business management, engineering, philosophy and history. Many undergraduate programs require a final capstone experience, honors thesis or other culminating experience that allows students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world issues. Public policy/international affairs programs also typically have a foreign language requirement.
Students in graduate degree programs in sustainable public policy can expect to take courses in:
- Advanced public policy and political science (such as foundations and theories of pubic administration, organization and management in public and nonprofit sectors, administrative law, policy and program evaluation, financial management and budgeting and leadership theory and practice).
- Research methods and design (such as statistical analysis and qualitative and quantitative research).
- Sustainability courses (such as environmental economics, national and international environmental law and public policy analysis, comparative environmental politics, business and the environment).
These programs also often require comprehensive examinations, as well as a master’s project or thesis or a doctoral dissertation centered on original research in sustainability and public policy. Good examples of graduate sustainable public policy programs include those offered by the University of New Hampshire, Clarkson University and Duke University.
Careers for Sustainable Public Policy Graduates
With a degree in sustainable public policy, graduates may become city sustainability managers, environmental policy analysts, corporate sustainability coordinators, managers of sustainability nonprofits, research analysts, compliance auditors or legislative analysts. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not gather data on sustainability public policy careers, they do explain, “depending on their research specialty, workers who analyze policy might be counted as political scientists, economists, sociologists, lawyers, urban and regional planners, or natural scientists, among other titles.” The average annual salary of political scientists (who usually have a master’s or doctorate degree) is $102,000, while urban and regional planners earn about $65,230 annually.