Sustainability offers a path toward slowing, stopping, and potentially reversing climate change, making the world a better place now and in the future. So, what exactly is sustainability? It’s avoiding the depletion of our natural resources to help maintain an ecological balance. Some examples are making paper from sources other than trees and switching to solar power rather than depending on fossil fuel-burning power plants.
Suppose you want to make sustainability a larger part of your life. In that case, you can earn a sustainability degree and land a job in this important sector focusing on improving the environment. Below we explain what a sustainability degree is, what areas of study there are, how sustainability ties in with various other sciences, and more to help you decide if a sustainability degree is a good option for you.
Is Sustainability a Field of Study?
Yes, sustainability is a field of study, however, it’s an interdisciplinary field covering many majors and minors. For example, Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies program offers five majors, six minors, and a graduate certificate. Plus, students can continue into graduate programs in law, politics, business, food studies, and more.
What Area of Study Is Sustainability?
Sustainability degrees fall into a relatively broad range of areas of study. These areas of study can include engineering, environmental sciences, architecture, business, public policy, and technology. It’s so broad because achieving true sustainability involves getting many moving pieces to work. For example, to develop renewable energy options and support their adoption, we need environmental scientists to study the potential real-world impact and make recommendations, engineers to design the renewable energy options, business people to lay out the supply chain and market them, architects to work them into building designs, and policymakers to develop laws that promote their adoption.
Because it’s a multidisciplinary field, almost anyone who wants to earn a sustainability degree can find an area of focus that fits their lifestyle and personality.
What Are the 4 Pillars of Sustainability?
Sustainability is a fast-growing field that aims to make the world a better, healthier place by integrating social science, environmental science, and civil engineering. Sustainable practices aim to prevent resource depletion and retain a stable ecological balance, which can play a role in slowing and reversing climate change.
Global sustainability has four main pillars: human sustainability, social sustainability, economic sustainability, and environmental sustainability. You can tweak your sustainability degree to focus on any one of the four pillars.
Let’s delve deeper into the four pillars of sustainability and explore some of the bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs you can choose from within each pillar.
Human sustainability ensures that all humans have access to health and education systems, nutrition, knowledge, and skills. This pillar helps improve and sustain the economic well-being of the masses. This also extends to businesses, since they are to view themselves as a part of society and engage in business practices that support human sustainability.
Some examples of graduate and undergraduate degree options and certificate programs focusing on human sustainability include:
Sustainable food systems
Food policy and sustainability
Social sustainability seeks to maintain and improve society through cohesion, reciprocity, and honesty, and by establishing the importance of human relationships. This can be accomplished through laws and the sharing of information and ideas about equality and rights. This is all to preserve the Earth for future generations and to acknowledge that our actions impact others worldwide.
Some social sustainability degree majors you can choose from include:
Global human development
Sustainable urban planning
Environmental studies or advocacy for social justice and sustainability
Holocaust and genocide studies
We all want an economically stable world. However, we can’t go gangbusters on economic stability and ignore the impact attaining stability has on the social, environmental, and cultural aspects of our society. This is where economic sustainability comes in. Its goal is to attain long-term economic growth without negatively impacting social, environmental, and cultural aspects — locally or globally.
Economic sustainability degree options you can choose from include:
Business for social impact and sustainability
Environmental policy and sustainable management
Environmental sustainability comes in many forms, but an all-encompassing definition is that it seeks to conserve natural resources and protect global ecosystems in order to support the current and future health and well-being of our planet. Environmental sustainability degrees are understandably broad, but some examples of majors that can lead to sustainability careers include:
Environmental and sustainability studies
Earth, society, and environmental sustainability
Sustainability and the built environment
What Do You Study in Sustainability?
Because sustainability is such a far-reaching topic, there are simply too many courses and electives to list. Each school and higher education program will have its own courses to help you prepare for your sustainability degree. Some courses you may encounter include:
Environmental history: This is the study of major interactions between human populations and the natural world. You’ll learn about natural resources and the social conflicts over them, how humans have modified the environment, and the recent environmentalism movement.
Introduction to geographic information systems (GIS): In this course, you’ll learn the basics of GIS software and how to use it. This will help you to visualize and present information to decision-makers in organizations.
Conservation biology: This form of biology is concerned with how biological principles and conservation theories can be put into action to preserve endangered and threatened plants and animals.
Sustainable communities: In this course, you’ll learn strategies to encourage sustainable development within communities.
Natural resource management: The focus here is on the interdependence between the land, water, and air and how critical biodiversity and environmental stewardship are. You’ll also study current environmental policies and the challenges large-scale resource use and management pose.
What Branch of Science Is Sustainability?
When you earn a sustainability degree, you will likely have a bachelor of science or master of science degree. However, sustainability doesn’t fall into one science area specifically. Instead, it is multidisciplinary, meaning it covers multiple sciences. This has led to the determination that sustainability science is an emerging science branch.
So, what branch of science is sustainability? Simple! It’s in the sustainability science branch.
Is Sustainability Part of Engineering?
A resounding “Yes!” Sustainability is a critical part of engineering. No matter what engineering sector you’re in — mechanical, civil, or another — sustainability plays an increasingly important role.
According to Colorado University Boulder Engineering Management Program Instructor Anne Wrobetz, engineering has long had an impact on the environment, but people worldwide are now “starting to recognize that we also might have some sort of responsibility in the engineering projects we are taking on and how they impact the wider environment.“
Whether it’s a software engineer designing a new program to make power plants more efficient or an electrical engineer designing a recyclable electric vehicle battery pack, this all comes back to sustainability.
Is Sustainability Part of Ecology?
Ecology studies how living organisms — humans included — interact with each other and their environments. It’s also the study of using natural resources in a way that leaves the environment healthy now and for the future. By those definitions, sustainability is a huge part of ecology.
In fact, a whole subset of sustainability is dedicated to it, ecological sustainability. This sector of sustainability involves everything connected to the Earth’s ecosystems, such as climate, water, land, and air.
What Are the 5 Major Fields of Environmental Science?
It’s important for someone studying sustainability to be aware of the five environmental sciences: atmospheric science, ecology, environmental chemistry, geoscience, and the social sciences. However, keep in mind that there are more specific disciplines within these five major fields. Let’s review each of these fields and what they cover:
Atmospheric science: This science mostly covers global warming and how it affects the world. Scientists in this field use computer models to demonstrate atmospheric circulation, how chemicals react in it, and animals’ contribution to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Ecology: This is a broad science that looks at how the environment or an aspect of the environment influences various species.
Environmental chemistry: This in-depth science examines how chemicals impact plants and the environment. It also examines how chemicals are transported through the environment.
Geoscience: This planetary science examines the chemical and physical constitution of Earth and the atmosphere.
Social sciences: The social sciences explore the inner workings of society, such as economic growth, causes of unemployment, what people desire in life, and more.
What Are the 3 Branches of Science?
Under the massive “science” umbrella are three main branches of science. The branches are physical science, earth science, and life science — and issues of sustainability affect all of these. Here’s what each of these three branches covers.
Physical science studies energy and nonliving, inanimate objects and their governing laws. Physical scientists examine structures, properties, and changes of matter. Some subsets of physical science that play a role in sustainability include:
Earth science focuses mainly on the planet and its physical makeup. Scientists in this field examine the land, oceans, weather, and atmosphere and how they influence one another. They also research how humans can protect the planet. Some subsets of Earth science that play a role in sustainability include:
Life science is the study of all organic things and living organisms. Life scientists will study plants, animals, and humans in an attempt to better understand them and their place in the world. Some life science subsets that play a role in sustainability include:
Earn a Sustainability Degree — or Just Live a Sustainable Life
Earning a sustainability degree is a great way to directly impact the world and play a role in reversing climate change. You can also work toward this goal by living a sustainable life. One way to do this is by reducing your carbon footprint through carbon offsets.
Terrapass offers carbon reductions as a way to neutralize all the different sorts of carbon we produce daily as we live our lives, whether you’re driving or traveling on a plane or just powering your home. Terrapass also offers plenty of options to help businesses reduce their carbon footprint.
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