Criteria for Course Inclusion

Sustainability Certificate Course Inclusion Criteria (Updated 10/18/2022):

Course inclusion criteria for the Sustainability Certificate are used to determine which courses meet program requirements. These criteria are used by the course review committee when new courses are submitted for approval and when students are applying for a substitution for an anchor or sphere requirement.

We base our inclusion of courses in the certificate on the AASHE Stars program. AASHE defines sustainability in a pluralistic and inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods, and a better world for all generations. Major sustainability challenges include (but are not limited to) climate change, global poverty and inequality, natural resource depletion, and environmental degradation.

To be considered an Anchor for the certificate, the course should meet the requirements expressed in the A definition below (Foundational courses). Courses to be considered for the Spheres should meet either the requirements for B or C below (additional description of the spheres is included below). As a baseline for the spheres, we would like to see at least 50% of the course directly focused on sustainability and clearly see sustainability in the description and course objectives.

We also use the UN Global Sustainable Development Goals to guide the selection of courses to include in the Sustainability Certificate.


To count as sustainability-focused, the course title or description must indicate a primary and explicit focus on sustainability. This includes:

A. Foundational courses with a primary and explicit focus on sustainability (e.g., Introduction to Sustainability, Sustainable Development, Sustainability Science). Thematic courses may qualify as foundational if social, environmental, and economic dimensions are addressed with sufficient balance and depth to confer foundational knowledge that is transferable to other themes or issues.

B. Courses with a primary and explicit focus on the application of sustainability within a field (e.g., Architecture for Sustainability, Green Chemistry, Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Business). As sustainability is an interdisciplinary topic, such courses generally incorporate insights from multiple disciplines.

C. Courses with a primary and explicit focus on a major sustainability challenge (e.g., Climate Change Science, Environmental Justice, Global Poverty and Development, Renewable Energy Policy). The focus of such courses might be on providing knowledge and understanding of the problems and/or the tools for solving them.

The course title or description does not have to use the term “sustainability” to count as sustainability focused if the primary and explicit focus of the course is on the interdependence of ecological and social/economic systems or a major sustainability challenge.

If the course title and description do not unequivocally indicate such a focus, but it is evident from the course description or syllabus that the course incorporates sustainability challenges, issues, and concepts in a prominent way, the course may qualify as sustainability-inclusive (see below).


Courses to be included as “Spheres” in the Sustainability Certificate will address one of three topic areas:

Courses in the ecological sustainability sphere will build upon a baseline understanding of ecology and address issues concerning ecosystem services, environmental degradation, and climate change. Courses in this area must provide a basic understanding of ecological and environmental processes, including:

  • The interdependence of species and the dynamic interrelationships within social and ecological systems
  • Systemic limits, such as carrying capacity, and the ways in which human systems can and do threaten ecological systems
  • Local biomes, watersheds, and natural history
  • Biodiversity
  • Ecosystem health
  • Ecosystem services
  • Concepts of energy, water, and waste
  • Conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems and natural resources (e.g., fish, wildlife, forests)
  • Renewable and non-renewable resources
  • Interactions of environment with public health

Ideally, classes will connect this understanding of ecological processes to human and economic systems, particularly the ways in which these systems inter-relate and impact one another.

Courses in the economic sphere include a broad set of decision-making principles, business practices, and equity principles that ensure all people can thrive now and in the future. Courses in this sphere will build upon a baseline understanding of economics and address bottom-line issues such as:

  • Circular economy
  • Benefit corporations
  • Poverty and income distribution
  • Market opportunities and failures as they relate to sustainability
  • Economic valuation of natural and human resources
  • Economic incentive instruments
  • Intergenerational equity
  • ESG (Environmental Social Governance) practices and investing
  • Costs and benefits analysis, especially including co-benefits for sustainability solutions
  • Life cycle costing/assessments
  • Concepts of capital - economic, human, natural, organizational social, and symbolic.
  • Eco-socio-technical systems
  • Renewables and intermittency
  • Economic evaluations of health and well-being associated with sustainability

Classes should connect economic principles to social and ecological realities focusing on sustainable development.

Courses in the social sustainability sphere will build upon a basic understanding of social science or humanities and will address the social aspects of sustainability, including issues of cultural diversity, social justice, equality, participation, the built environment, and community, such as:

  • Cross-cultural perspectives of sustainability
  • The relationship between poverty, social justice, health and well-being and environmental degradation
  • Intergenerational responsibility
  • Eco-efficacy and limits of new technologies and the relationship between technological and other interventions
  • Impact of the built environment on ecology and society
  • Development, social well-being and related measures of valuation (GDP, GNH, etc.)
  • Human consumption patterns
  • Normative assumptions and ethical frameworks, particularly as they relate to equity, justice, human rights, and extending the moral community 
  • Personal values within the context of a larger society and how these values are manifested in daily habits
  • Principles and application of environmental ethics
  • Environmental rhetoric and persuasive arguments that address sustainability issues
  • Environmental law and policy
  • Communications and the arts with a focus on sustainability
  • Institutional factors mediating human-environment interactions
  • Unequal power relations
  • Diverse stakeholder engagement and relevant critiques
  • Environmental psychology
  • Environmental ethics and social determinants of health
  • Indigenous forms of relationality; Indigenous self-determination; Indigenous futurisms

How to propose a course for inclusion:

If a course you teach is not currently listed as eligible for the Certificate requirements, but you believe it may qualify, please send a brief description of the course, including its place in the Certificate requirements, as well as a current syllabus to (Click here  for our approved course list.)