Winter term sustainability courses, ah-ha moments, and avoiding the #epicfail

“What are your sustainability courses?” 

Seems like a simple question. It's certainly one that I get asked a lot. And yet few students know that this little question strikes terror in the hearts of many administrators. Flashbacks of three-hour meetings and visions of herding cats come rushing in as you mumble, “Uhhh, we’re still trying to figure that out.” The student stares back at you already tweeting in their mind: #cantbelieveit #epicfail. 

Why is the sustainability course question such a hard one to answer?

Part of it has to do with how you define sustainability. On one hand, a school can have a very specific set of requirements that results in a small list of courses that qualify. Or on the other, it could allow for multiple interpretations, which usually means a longer list. Depending on the school, either way could make the President or Dean happy.

That's the other rub. There's a touch of politics involved since numbers = scores = ratings. Generally more is better, but it depends on which institutional ranking system you’re looking at. So where's the happy place?

It's a special place that a group of faculty, staff, and I tried to find. Integrity and flexibility. Not perfect, but good. We went back to the basics: The building blocks of sustainability, the three E's—environment, economy, equity. But it's not the "E's" themselves that are special. It's the intersections, the connections, the ah-ha moments that enable us to solve complex, wicked problems. So we came up with this:

It's pretty straightforward. The course topic has to address at least two of the three E's to be considered sustainability-related, and all three of them to be sustainability-focused. 

When I presented this at this year's Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference—the title of the session was “So, You Think That’s a Sustainability Course?!?”—I was nervous. Was it too simple? Did I just set myself up for more #epicfail tweets? You can't imagine my relief when I saw heads nodding and heard people agreeing. My favorite comment though was from a woman who came up to me and said that yeah, her school did something similar. "But you're from Portland!" she exclaimed. "You should be doing something more. Something unique and more creative."

Challenge accepted. In the mean time, here are the sustainability courses we’ve identified for winter term. A full list of sustainability courses is available here. Know of a course that should be on this list? Send me a note. 

Sustainability-focused classes, winter term:

Urban Streams, GEOG 447/547

Environment and History, HST 339U

Introduction International Studies, INTL 201

Sustainable Operations Management, ISQA 511

Global Health, PHE 444U

Environmental Ethics, PHL 310U

Politics and the Environment, PS 319

Science: Power-Knowledge, SCI 361U

Environmental Sociology, SOC 465

Sustainability, UNST 125

Environmental Sustainability, UNST 224

Knowledge, Rationality, and Value, UNST 239

Popular Culture. UNST 254

Capstone: Documenting Sustainable Development, UNST 421

Capstone: Grantwriting for Sustainability, UNST 421

Capstone: Sustainable Living, UNST 421

Urban Planning: Environmental ISS, USP 313U

Green Economics/Sustainable Development, USP 490/590

Site Planning, USP 524

Green Buildings I, USP 529

Reshaping the Metropolis, USP 595

Cities in the Global Political Economy, USP 616

Sustainability-related classes, winter term:

Resource Management, GEOG 445/545

History of American Cities, HST 337U

Research in Environmental History: The Nature of American Cities, HST 407B/507B

Environmental Health, PHE 443U

Business Ethics, PHL 309U

Globalization, SOC 320

Gender and Work, SOC 427/527

Social Inequality, SOC 684

Race and Social Justice, UNST 102

Human/Nature, UNST 118

Design and Society, UNST 122

Leading Social Change, UNST 242

Capstone: Community Psychology, UNST 421

Capstone: Native American Grant Writing, UNST 421

Capstone: Womens Prison Gardens, UNST 421

Introduction to Urban Planning, USP 311U

Urban Housing and Development, USP 312U

History of American Cities, USP 385U

Environmental Planning Methods, USP 512

Women, Activism, and Social Change, WS 307

Ecofeminist Spirituality, WS 377U


Beth Lloyd-Pool is the Institute for Sustainable Solutions program director.