There are many exciting ways to incorporate the study of sustainability into the curriculum. Most faculty members simply revise existing assignments or lesson plans to incorporate a sustainability component. Some faculty members invent new courses on the role of sustainability in their disciplines. Discover inspiration here for your course design, student projects, and grants for teaching and research.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability focuses on the integration of environmental health, social wellbeing, and economic prosperity.
Environmental- land, air, water, climate, materials, energy, habit, ecosystems, biodiversity
Social - human rights, health and wellbeing, cultural diversity, peace and conflict, justice, education, governance and policy, art and culture, technology, news, lifestyles, faith and beliefs
Economic- jobs, business, growth, money, efficiency, consumption, wealth and poverty, working conditions
Here are some examples of questions that integrate the environmental, social, and economic aspects of sustainability:
|1. What are the psychological benefits||for low-income children||of time spent in nature?|
|2. If we enact carbon taxes,||what are the costs and benefits||for combating climate change?|
|3. How did 19th century American photographers||boost tourism||through depictions of California's landscape?|
|4. How can we protect electronics workers||by designing electronics that can be disassembled more efficiently||and that use less toxic materials?|
|5. Can a Christian ethics||of stewardship||adequately protect the environment?|
Twenty-Four Ways to Add a Sustainability Component to Your Class
- Integrate sustainability-related problems into your introductory math, computer science, and engineering classes, and natural science labs.
- Assign a business-related case study or class exercise from the Aspen Institute Center for Business Education. Or download AASHE’s plug-and-play sustainable business courseware, designed to integrate with all aspects of the business curriculum (SCU faculty are eligible for the AASHE member discount).
- Have your students research how social entrepreneurs are addressing sustainability challenges, starting with the work of SCU’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship.
- For a course about organizations, management, institutions, or education, have students analyze SCU’s Sustainability Strategic Plan. What are its main strategies for enlisting stakeholders to enact change throughout the university?
- Have your second language students translate famous texts about sustainability, especially from the cultures in which the language is used. Or have them translate a page of the SCU Center for Sustainability website or solutions to climate change.
- Have your art and art history students analyze how artists’ (or their own) choice of materials and subject matter is motivated by their vision of nature, culture, and the funding or market for their art.
- Ask your literature students to analyze poems and novels about sustainability -- by Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, or Langston Hughes, for example. Have your writing students analyze and produce examples of non-fiction, professional, and creative writing on sustainability (poetry slam, anyone?) Inspire your dance, theatre, and music students to choreograph, perform, and compose works on sustainability themes.
- Challenge students in any discipline to find a recent news article related to your course and analyze how it reflects common ways in which the news media cover sustainability. Does the article address all three dimensions of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social? Or compare and contrast coverage of the same issue in a mainstream news outlet and an environmental news outlet (such as Grist or the Environmental News Network).
- Ask your students to calculate their carbon footprint, using the Nature Conservancy’s Carbon Footprint Calculator or the SCU Markkula Center’s calculator, and then have them explore policy options for addressing climate change in California using the Cool Climate Network’s Carbon Footprint Planning Tools and Scenarios. What are the underlying assumptions of these calculators and modeling tools? Which climate mitigation strategies could students contribute to most effectively?
- Have students analyze (or compare) comprehensive plans for achieving sustainability, such as Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Project Drawdown’s global climate solutions, Second Nature’s university Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments, the Real Food Challenge, or the GoodElectronics/ICRT Chemical Challenge to the Electronics Industry. What roles for your discipline are envisioned in these plans?
- Draw on the SCU Markkula Center teaching module on Laudato Si’ or its environmental ethics short course and other resources for lesson plans and assignments on ethics and sustainability -- not just in courses on ethics and religious studies but also on the natural sciences, business, or technology.
- Have your students use environmental justice screening and mapping tools -- such as the EPA’s EJScreen or CA EPA’s CAlEnviroScreen -- to identify which communities are most exposed to hazards, especially by income and race.
- Assign case studies of environmental justice controversies from the global EJ Atlas. Or have your students research and write their own case studies.
- Ask the SCU Center for Sustainability to take your class on a campus sustainability tour. As a response, have students write or make a video about the sustainability of a campus space where they spend a lot of time or that is especially meaningful to them.
- Assign projects to students from the Center for Sustainability’s Living Lab database, which contains many project ideas that will help our campus become climate-neutral and zero-waste.
- Assign videos from The Story of Stuff Project and ask students to write reflections on the impacts of products students use or will design in your course. Or have them do a more formal life-cycle analysis of the product’s impact.
- Arrange a class visit to the Forge Garden, a unique outdoor classroom for experiential and reflective learning about the natural sciences, psychology, religious studies, philosophy -- any course that relates to the natural world. Have students run experiments, reflect on the food system and their own eating habits, practice reflective thinking or observational writing, find artistic inspiration, and so on.
- As a final project in a course in engineering, business, or environmental studies and sciences, have students research and present a proposal to SCU’s Campus Sustainability Investment Fund, which supports campus projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Have students prepare a presentation about how human consumption patterns affect an animal species or a habitat. Encourage students to research relevant federal and state policies, such as the Endangered Species Act.
- Offer students extra credit to attend one of the many campus talks, screenings, performances or events on sustainability and write a reflection in which they apply a concept from your course to the experience.
- Have students create sustainability-themed pieces for SCU student media, including writing, recording, or filming profiles of community members, faculty, staff, projects, or issues.
- Have your students research and prepare a class presentation on current sustainable practices in your field, such as green building, green chemistry, and so on.
- Assign your education or child studies students to design developmentally-appropriate lesson plans on any of the ideas proposed here. Find inspiring resources, research, grants, and professional development on the website of the North American Association for Environmental Education.
- Search the AASHE web site for syllabi and teaching materials, or for student research project ideas, in your discipline. (SCU is a member of AASHE, so you can use your SCU email to create a free account). Ask an SCU subject librarian to identify sustainability-related films and other resources relevant to your field in our library holdings.
Funding and Grants
SCU awards grants of up to $10,000 to support faculty research and creative activity and foster new scholarly projects in the areas of sustainability and environmental justice.
The fund is an educational tool to provide hands-on learning and involve our campus community in driving sustainable change at SCU and supports student-, faculty-, and staff-initiated campus-based projects that move SCU toward climate neutrality by reducing campus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
SCU’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics Hackworth grants for faculty members provide up to $5000 to support research on applied ethics. Hackworth grants for students offer up to $2500 for research and projects on applied ethics.
This Fellowship, a program of SCU’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, explores the ethical dimensions of sustainability.
Encourage your undergraduate juniors to apply for this fellowship offered by SCU’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, which supports action research with a social entrepreneur organization abroad.
Encourage your undergraduate students to apply for this fellowship offered by SCU’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education, which supports summer community-based learning experiences about social justice with non-profit organizations locally, domestically, or abroad.
Encourage your students to apply for an immersion trip to learn about issues such as immigration, homelessness, and sustainable community development. Offered by SCU’s Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education.
Student Project Ideas with a Sustainable Focus
- Have students critically examine several school’s STARS reports.
- In which areas do universities excel in sustainability? How can SCU improve? How should SCU prioritize to achieve an even better STARS rating?
- Find a project in the campus living lab database
- The Forge Garden located at the corner of Benson and Sherman Streets is an ideal location for a lecture on natural processes or sustainable business and agriculture.
- Take a walk around campus with students to point out sustainable choices the administration at SCU has made.
- A discussion of LEED-designed buildings or conscientious purchasing in Benson Memorial Center would help students see their campus in a new way.
- Integrate a submission process for a proposal to the Campus Sustainability Investment Fund
PowerPoint presentations and outlines designed for a post-secondary audience that educate about consumption and pollution topics such as ozone depletion and resource extraction, as well as a very thorough guide to environmental laws.
This website uses photos, theater, stories, and sound to paint a vivid picture of the environmental toxins that "the other California" lives with every day. Teaching tools introduce environmental justice content into college classes in a wide variety of disciplines.
Sustainable Table is a tool for teaching the environmental implications of our diets, has an especially good 360 degree tour of a factory farm and other interactive guides about meat production that students will enjoy exploring.
Links to websites offering pedagogical guides, workshop ideas for students, and other practical advice from a diverse set of environmental organizations guides to help make campuses more sustainable.
Teaching Business Sustainability
Offers teaching materials and current events articles organized by discipline, industry, topic and region; additionally, Case Place has scholarly articles, books, case studies, course syllabi, teaching modules and helpful links to other websites.
A ranking of global MBA programs describing how well each program teaches environmentalism as a best practice in business and how programs foster social, ethical and environmental stewardship; on the site you may access coursework, course syllabi and faculty research projects from over 100 institutions.
Resources for Sustainability in Higher Education
SCU is a member of AASHE, a professional organization that recently awarded SCU a Silver Rating for the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System. The site offers many ideas regarding how to incorporate sustainability into all facets of higher education.
An association of university leaders which supports sustainable research, teaching, operations and outreach; offers links towards other resources and publications offering practical tips like how to save money by going green.
Second Nature, a non-profit organization that provides technical assistance to help universities become more sustainable.