Why Choose a Sustainability Certificate?

Perhaps the best reason for pursuing a sustainability certificate is a personal interest in learning practical skills to make a difference in the world—in your life, in your job, and in your community. Working toward a certificate offers students the opportunity to pursue interests that complement their major(s). For example, the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability encourages students to consider multiple perspectives. In doing so, this certificate provides a breadth of perspective highly applicable to complex problems, such as those we face in our communities, in our workplaces, and in our personal lives.

The Nelson Institute also offers a major and another certificate:

Environmental Studies Major

Environmental Studies Certificate

The sustainability certificate can be added to any undergraduate major except environmental studies. Students who earn a sustainability certificate may not earn the environmental studies certificate or the certificate in engineering for energy sustainability.


  • A 2.00 GPA in the certificate
  • 12 credits of coursework, including the capstone, drawn from the list below
  • A sustainability-related community service project
  • Courses taken on a pass/fail basis will not count toward the certificate.


Select 9 credits from:9
Forum on the Environment
Environmental Geology
Environmental Studies: The Social Perspective
Introduction to the Earth System
Principles of Environmental Science
Education and Public Policy (Climate Change and Sustainability Education section only)
Living in the Global Environment: An Introduction to People-Environment Geography
People, Land and Food: Comparative Study of Agriculture Systems
Challenges & Solutions in Business Sustainability
Global Warming: Science and Impacts
Sustainable and Socially Just Consumption
Renewable Energy Systems
Sustainable Approaches to System Improvement
Special Topics (Human Ecology of Food and Sustainability section only)
Living in the Global Environment: An Introduction to People-Environment Geography
Special Topics: Social Perspectives in Environmental Studies (Only selected sections)
Sustainability, Environmental and Social Risk Management
First-Year Seminar in the Social Sciences and Natural Sciences


Typically, a 3-credit capstone is also required.

ENVIR ST 600 Environmental Studies Major Capstone (Water in a Changing World)3
ENVIR ST 600 Environmental Studies Major Capstone (Capstone in Soil and Water Management)3
AGRONOMY 375 Special Topics (Systems Thinking)3
INTEREGR 601 Topics in Interdisciplinary Engineering (Interdisciplinary Design for Energy and Sustainability - IDEAS)3

A list of approved capstones for next semester is available here.


Students may request to substitute a listed course with a sustainability-related course that is currently not listed. Such a request requires that students submit a written explanation of how the substitute course meets the learning outcomes of the certificate and assists them in reaching their individual goals for taking the certificate. They must also submit a syllabus of the substitute class. The substitute request requires approval by the certificate's faculty advisor, Ann Terlaak.

Learning Outcomes

Learning outcomes for students completing the sustainability certificate include the ability to:

  • Set sustainability-related goals and develop strategies to implement these goals.
  • Be able to use and apply concepts related to sustainability:
    • Life cycle thinking
    • Long term thinking, e.g., "Shifting baselines"
    • Sustainability frameworks, e.g., "triple bottom line"
    • Embodied resources including energy and water
    • Natural capital and biodiversity
    • Multiple-stakeholder thinking capstone
    • Climate change concepts
  • Link events in time and space to perceive the connections among them
  • Analyze human decisions on the basis of their impacts on natural ecosystems
  • Apply energy, resource, demand and technology knowledge to value generation and use
  • Describe and interpret sustainability issues from local, regional and global perspectives
  • Give examples of how public policy influences decisions
  • Understand climate change, adaptation and mitigation to extent necessary to support analyses, design and policy decisions

Nelson Institute students are represented in majors across campus and in most undergraduate schools and colleges. Sustainability certificate students should utilize the career office for their home school as appropriate. All students, not just Letters & Science students, can also benefit from the L&S Career Services office.