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Sustainability Courses  |  AASHE Sustainability Definitions

Featured Sustainability Courses

A selected list of courses typically available are given below. The list is not comprehensive. Please check the Ohio University course catalog by term for actual course offerings.

Civil Engineering

CE 4540/5540:  Sustainable Construction

Investigations into green building construction practices and sustainability including use of novel or recycled materials, energy management and efficiency, water use/re-use, and indoor air quality.

College of Arts & Sciences 

ANTH 3510: Political Anthropology

Anthropological exploration of various political systems; cross-cultural examination of political leadership, political power, and conflict. Emphasis on non-Western, non-industrialized societies.


ENG 3100J:  Writing About Environmental Sustainability

Our readings, film screenings, discussions (oral and online), research and composing will be focused on relations between people and the environment, primarily but not exclusively, in our regional environment. We will explore mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, the natural history of the region's forests, industrial food systems and "locavore" (agri)culture. Our approach will be "ecological" in the sense of attempting to understand our complex interrelationships with the natural and artificial systems we rely on and of which we are a part. We will take a similar approach to environmental rhetoric and use rhetorical analysis as the main means of mapping connections among informative, persuasive, and creative discourse on these topics.

Environmental and Plant Biology

PBIO 1000:  Plants and the Global Environment

Students examine the importance of plants in providing global resources for humans and the impact of human activity on the sustainability of these resources. We evaluate the value of laws and policies in protecting plant resources and mitigating climate change. Non-science majors course.

Environmental Studies

ES 4832/5832:  Sustainability Implementation Practicum 

This course involves students in a critical analysis of the Ohio University Sustainability Plan and community-based projects that support the Office of Sustainability's mission. Students are engaged in the exploration of contemporary environmental initiatives, leadership, professionalism and local issues. Implementation of effective projects and feasibility studies to advance institutional sustainability efforts provides students the opportunity to make meaningful changes within their campus and community. This course’s focus allows students the opportunity to better define sustainability and the role it plays in their lives, enhance skills that encourage sustainable behaviors and make positive contributions to their health, the natural environment and the local community. 

ES 4900:  Special Topics in Environmental Studies “Debating Sustainability"

Designed as an undergraduate seminar on contemporary environmental issues.

ES 6815:  Community-Based Sustainability

Students study concepts of environmental sustainability and the balance of social, environmental, and economic impacts of human activity. Students discuss and analyze contemporary environmental problems and their relationship to socio-cultural and economic systems. Students examine global and regional environmental legacy and current issues and consider the scientific basis for policy options. Students learn about the Appalachian region in the context of environmental issues and engage with community organizations.


GEOG 3330: Appalachia: Land and People

Topical and regional survey of Appalachia with emphasis on settlement and expansion, land ownership and speculation, society and culture, and the impacts of natural resource extraction.

GEOG 2400:  Environmental Geography 

Geographic survey of environmental changes caused by human activities. Focus on resource availability and use, pollution of air, water, and biosphere, energy problems, interactions of humans with plant and animal communities, climate change, and sustainability planning. 

GEOG 4520/5520:  Environment and Sustainability Planning

An introduction to how urban planning tools can be used to support the natural environment and promote local and regional sustainability. Outlines strategies for meeting important biodiversity, water resources, hazard mitigation, working landscape, waste management, and air quality goals. Connects environmental planning with supportive topics such as environmental policy and governance, sustainability and climate action planning, environmental justice, and environmental assessment.

GEOG 1350: Natural Disasters

Analysis of threats associated with living on a dynamic planet. Focus on the origins and physical natures of hazardous geological events. Taught using case studies of actual disasters. Intended to convey how we can minimize our vulnerability to disasters by applying lessons learned from past earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, landslides, and sinkhole collapses. Intended for science and nonscience majors seeking a basic understanding of geology and how it affects the human race.

GEOG 4560:  The Just and Sustainable City

A critical examination of the role of nature and political economy in the sustainable development of urban environments in the context of social and environmental justice. Topics studied include the relationship between urbanism and nature, environmental justice, compact versus sprawling development, slums in developing world cities, urban agriculture as a solution to urban hunger, toxic lawn ecologies, uneven urban forests and parks, vulnerability to urban climate changes, brownfield redevelopment and the specter of gentrification, and the role of animals in the city, among other topics. These topics are studied in both developed and developing world contexts. Students taking this course will also be asked to evaluate urban sustainability initiatives related to these topics with concepts of social and environmental justice in mind.


NUTR 1100:  Introduction to Food Systems 

Components of the food system and all processes that maintain our food supply, including growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consuming, and disposing of food/food packages. Interaction of the food system with social, political, economic and natural environments. Sustainability of the food system. Impact of the food system on nutritional well-being. 

Political Science

POLS 4840/5840:  The Politics of Sustainability

Political questions are interwoven throughout the discourse and practice of sustainability. Is there a difference between sustainability and sustainable development? Is environmental sustainability the paramount goal, or should natural capital be sacrificed to pursue economic prosperity and social equity? Analyzes the inherent ambiguities of the three dimensions of sustainability--environmental, economic and social sustainability--and the political challenges associated with achieving sustainability at the local, national and global scales.

Recreation and Sport Pedagogy

REC 3550/5550:  Principles of EcoTourism

Introduce students to both theory and practical applications of concepts surrounding ecotourism and sustainable development. An understanding of the benefits and weaknesses of ecotourism as a sustainable development approach is the focus of the course. Theory, practice, history, terminology and issues of ecotourism planning and management are examined. Additionally, the motives and behaviors of tourists, natural resources as attractions and destinations, social and resource responsibility and establishing policies and principles for sustainability are discussed.


SOC 3090C:  Sociology of Appalachia

Appalachia, a region examined by sociologists for more than 100 years, continues to be a subject of study for academics seeking to demystify the region and foster positive change for its people and the land. The politics of the region, the persistence of poverty, and the development and sustainability of the economy, environment, and society are main themes in Appalachian studies that the course explores from a sociological perspective. Additional topics relevant to the sociology of Appalachia may include but are not limited to social movements and social media, transitional economies, and the dynamics of Appalachian culture and identity.

Ohio University offers a multitude of courses and degrees on sustainability. To find classes that may be available throughout your college experience, check out these links:

Sustainability Course Listings

AASHE Sustainability Definitions

Please read below or download this document to read the definitions of "sustainability-inclusive" courses, "sustainability-focused" courses or learning outcomes and "sustainability research" according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). 

Definition of Sustainability challenge from AASHE STARS

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. Today most uses of and references to sustainability emphasize the concept’s simultaneous economic, environmental, and social dimensions. For example, businesses talk about the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits (or, alternately, human capital, natural capital, and financial capital).

Definition of Sustainability Academic Courses from AASHE STARS:

A course may be sustainability-focused or sustainability-inclusive; no course should be identified as both.

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

To count as sustainability-inclusive, the course description or rationale provided in the course inventory must indicate that the course incorporates a unit or module on sustainability or a sustainability challenge, includes one or more sustainability-focused activities, or integrates sustainability challenges, issues, and concepts throughout the course.

Definition of Sustainability Learning Outcomes from AASHE STARS:

Consistent with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (​UNESCO), student learning outcomes are defined as:

Statements of what a learner is expected to know, understand, and be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning as well as the specific intellectual and practical skills gained and demonstrated by the successful completion of a unit, course, or programme. Learning outcomes, together with assessment criteria, specify the minimum requirements for the award of credit, while grading is based on attainment above or below the minimum requirements for the award of credit. Learning outcomes are distinct from the aims of learning in that they are concerned with the achievements of the learner rather than with the overall intentions of the teacher.

Thus, sustainability learning outcomes are statements that outline the specific sustainability knowledge and skills that a student is expected to have gained and demonstrated by the successful completion of a unit, course, or program. Mission, vision, and values statements do not qualify.

Sustainability-focused learning outcomes are student learning outcomes that explicitly address the concept of sustainability. A learning outcome does not necessarily have to include the term “sustainability” to count as sustainability-focused as long as there is an explicit focus on the interdependence of ecological systems and social/economic systems. Specific examples include (but are not limited to):

  • Students will be able to define sustainability and identify major sustainability challenges.
  • Students will have an understanding of the carrying capacity of ecosystems as related to providing for human needs.
  • Students will be able to apply concepts of sustainable development to address sustainability challenges in a global context.
  • Students will identify, act on, and evaluate their professional and personal actions with the knowledge and appreciation of interconnections among economic, environmental, and social perspectives.

Sustainability-supportive learning outcomes are student learning outcomes that​ ​​include specific intellectual and practical skills (and/or attitudes and values) that are critical for addressing sustainability challenges, but do not explicitly address the concept of sustainability (e.g., systems and holistic thinking, change agent skills, interdisciplinary capacities, social and ethical responsibility). Specific examples include (but are not limited to):

  • Students will be able to demonstrate an understanding of the nature of systems.
  • Students will have an understanding of their social responsibility as future professionals and citizens.
  • Students will be able to accommodate individual differences in their decisions and actions and be able to negotiate across these differences.
  • Students will be able to analyze power, structures of inequality, and social systems that govern individual and communal life.
  • Students will be able to recognize the global implications of their actions.


Definition of Sustainability Research from AASHE STARS

Sustainability research is research and scholarship that explicitly addresses the concept of sustainability, furthers our understanding of the interdependence of ecological and social/economic systems, or has a primary and explicit focus on a major sustainability challenge.