Getting Schooled in Sustainability

By Emilce Sanchez, Academic Initiatives Intern

You can search high and search low for an interdisciplinary environmental or sustainability studies program on IU’s campus, but your search will likely end in vain. One of the only ways to pursue such an endeavor is to create your own Individualized Major or settle for a related discipline such as Environmental Management in SPEA or Biology in the College.  Since 2008 there has been a rapid 900% growth in sustainability programs hosted by higher education institutions across the U.S. [1] Many schools at least offer minors and certificates in sustainability studies, except IU. This is not to say that IU Bloomington does not have its share of programs related to environmental sustainability because it does, but in 2008 only 8 undergraduate and 6 graduate academic programs focused primarily on environmental sustainability. [2]

You may be asking why this is a problem. Two reasons why IUB should invest in a central sustainability program are to 1) improve coordination amongst competing resources (i.e. faculty, students, financial) and to 2) fulfill the vision of all graduates critically thinking about the interdisciplinary impact sustainability can have on our future.


While the Office of Sustainability is working to promote approximately 83 sustainability-related and focused courses this spring, a plan to develop a faculty network worthy of this expanding initiative is currently under way. IU’s Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning has been designated the (unofficial) administrative program manager because of its previous work with interdisciplinary initiatives. Although little is certain, a formal proposal to create a new, interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program in Environmental & Sustainability Studies (ES&S), as a joint program of the College of Arts & Sciences and the School for Public and Environmental Affairs is among those ideas gaining traction. Grants and fellowships are a few other topics on the agenda. The numerous discussions that must take place in order to launch such a comprehensive program will take place in the coming months between university faculty, staff, and students.  If you wish to be part of these discussions please contact the Office of Sustainability.

IU’s sustainability initiatives have come a long way since the Campus Sustainability Report first identified key areas of concern, but much work remains in the realm of academia. Our strong foundation in sustainability-related fields provides a compelling case for pushing forward on the interdisciplinary sustainability program. And in our search for significance, exceptional examples of sustainability programs can be found at: Arizona State University with their School of Sustainability, Michigan State University with over 760 courses with a sustainability component, and Michigan Technological University which offers generous tenure-track faculty positions for those interested in sustainability.

Peer institutions are making admirable progress in the areas of sustainability and IU has a critical part to play. For those of you who think the program initiative came too late, or if you are considering sustainability as an academic track, there is still time to take part in the discussion and see how your voice can shape the beginning of a mid-west green-thumb university.

[1] IU Task Force on Sustainability. (2008). Campus Sustainability Report. Indiana University Bloomington.

[2] Vincent, S. (n.d.). Trends in Interdisciplinary Environmental and Sustainability Education.

(N. C. Environment, Ed.) Los Angeles, CA, USA: AASHE 2012 Conference.


2 thoughts on “Getting Schooled in Sustainability

  1. I am interested in joining discussions about the ES and S program.



    Jennifer Meta Robinson, Ph.D. Dept. of Communication and Culture Indiana University 800 East Third Street Bloomington, Indiana 47405-1223 812-855-4607

  2. Relatively new to IU, I have just started to engage with this process and I can attest to the fact that the Office of Sustainability is open to input and participation. In a way, this is a huge task, at a late date, but I see a huge up-side, also. Because the tide in sustainability has turned towards transdisciplinary programs and approaches, IU has a chance to bring important innovations to the field through team teaching and teaching across traditional disciplinary boundaries.


    Earon Davis, JD, MPH
    Adjunct Lecturer, School of Public Health

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