Just like there are doctors to heal the sick, so too are there professionals, academics and government personnel to fix the Earth. At least this is the angle that Dr. Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, takes when describing what graduates with sustainability degrees are prepared to accomplish.
Addressing pressing issues such as climate change, land degradation and a growing population with a finite resource base is increasingly being met with formal, academic training at institutions of higher education.
With an emphasis on trans- and interdisciplinary research and teaching, schools such as Stony Brook, Colorado State University, the University of Washington, Arizona State University, the University of Pennsylvania and others are incorporating sustainability into subjects such as business, architecture, biological science, social science and more.
Some universities are even creating stand-alone schools related to sustainability. Additionally, According to the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) most recent count, 66 sustainability-oriented academic programs were created in 2008.
In decades past, one class related to environmental science may have sufficed. Yet recent shifts in industry and student interest are driving forward entire programs related to sustainability across academic disciplines and economic sectors.
Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of AASHE, tells Inside Higher Ed that it is no small feat to set up academic programs and schools related to sustainability. "It’s not like there are hundreds of schools doing it," she added. "But it does seem to be increasingly common."
The academic knowledge base of sustainability will likely continue to be needed and expanded as more “green collar” jobs emerge.
With the noticeable increase in academic programs related to sustainability, universities increasingly appear up to the task of educating the next generation of leaders so that they might tackle the pertinent environmental, social and economic issues of our age.
Simply put, sustainability considers the “triple bottom line”— the social, environmental and economic impacts of the decisions we make. Another theme in sustainability is to use and manage resources so as to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.