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. Students who earn a sustainability certificate may not earn the environmental studies certificate or the certificate in engineering for energy sustainability.


Undergraduate students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Madison may apply for the sustainability certificate if they meet two criteria:  (1) completion of one of the approved courses for the certificate with a grade of B or better and (2) are not earning the environmental studies certificate, or the certificate in engineering for energy sustainability.


Interested? Eligible as described above? If so, fill out this application form. Be ready to upload an unofficial copy of your transcript and to answer two short essay questions (fewer than 500 words). The first question asks "Pick an experience from your own life, and explain how it has influenced your interest in sustainability." The second question asks "If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and why?" You might find it helpful to draft your responses beforehand.


  • A 3.00 GPA in all coursework that counts toward the certificate
  • 12 credits of coursework total, 3 credits from each of the four main categories
  • A sustainability-related community service project
  • Courses taken on a pass/fail basis will not count toward the certificate.

Environmental Dimension

Select minimum of 3 credits3
ENVIR ST/​SOIL SCI  101 Forum on the Environment1-2
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN/​GEOSCI  102 Climate and Climate Change3
ENVIR ST/​GEOSCI  106 Environmental Geology3
ENVIR ST 117 GreenHouse Roots Seminar1
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  120 Introduction to the Earth System3
ENVIR ST/​ILS  126 Principles of Environmental Science4
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  127 Physical Systems of the Environment5
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN  171 Global Change: Atmospheric Issues and Problems2-3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  309 People, Land and Food: Comparative Study of Agriculture Systems3
ENVIR ST/​ATM OCN/​GEOG  332 Global Warming: Science and Impacts3

SOCIAL Dimension

Select minimum of 3 credits3
ENVIR ST 112 Environmental Studies: Social Science Perspectives3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  139 Global Environmental Issues3
GNS/​ENVIR ST  210 Cultures of Sustainability: Central, Eastern, and Northern Europe3
C&E SOC/​F&W ECOL/​SOC  248 Environment, Natural Resources, and Society3
GEOG/​ENVIR ST  337 Nature, Power and Society3
ENVIR ST 349 Climate Change Governance3
CNSR SCI 360 Sustainable and Socially Just Consumption3
ENVIR ST/​GEOG  439 US Environmental Policy and Regulation3-4
ENVIR ST/​PHILOS  441 Environmental Ethics3-4
SOC/​C&E SOC/​ENVIR ST  540 Sociology of International Development, Environment, and Sustainability3
C&E SOC/​SOC  541 Environmental Stewardship and Social Justice3


Select minimum of 3 credits3
A A E/​ENVIR ST  244 The Environment and the Global Economy4
A A E 246 Climate Change Economics and Policy3
ENVIR ST/​M H R  310 Challenges & Solutions in Business Sustainability3
A A E/​ECON/​ENVIR ST  343 Environmental Economics3-4
OTM 370 Sustainable Approaches to System Improvement3
CIV ENGR/​G L E  421 Environmental Sustainability Engineering3
R M I 650 Sustainability, Environmental and Social Risk Management3
REAL EST 651 Green - Sustainable Development3


Select minimum of 3 credits3
AGRONOMY 375 Special Topics (Systems Thinking only)1-4
ENVIR ST 402 Special Topics: Social Perspectives in Environmental Studies (Systems Thinking only)1-4
CIV ENGR 494 Civil and Environmental Engineering Decision Making3
ENVIR ST 506 Modeling and Analysis of Environmental Systems3


May use maximum of 3 credits to substitute for 3 credits from one of the four categories above; requires special permission
ED POL 150 Education and Public Policy (Climate Change and Sustainability Education only)3
HORT/​PL PATH  261 Sustainable Turfgrass Use and Management2
ENVIR ST/​BSE  367 Renewable Energy Systems3
HORT 375 Special Topics (A Growing Dilemma: The Future of Food only)1-4
ENVIR ST 402 Special Topics: Social Perspectives in Environmental Studies (Green Urbanism only)1-4
CURRIC/​C&E SOC/​ENVIR ST  405 Education for Sustainable Communities3
INTER-AG/​AGRONOMY/​DY SCI  471 Food Production Systems and Sustainability3
DY SCI/​AN SCI/​FOOD SCI/​SOIL SCI  472 Animal Agriculture and Global Sustainable Development1
GEOG 475 Topics in Geography (Green Urbanism only)1-4
INTEREGR 601 Topics in Interdisciplinary Engineering (Interdisciplinary Design for Energy and Sustainability only)1-3


Under special circumstances, students can ask to use a maximum of 3 credits from the Miscellaneous category to substitute a maximum of 3 credits from one of the four main categories. Such a request is granted on an individual basis and requires that the student explains how the substitute class assists the student in optimizing individual goals for taking the certificate in light of the student's current major and later professional aspirations.  The request requires approval by the certificate's faculty advisor in coordination with the certificate's oversight committee.  

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.


This undergraduate certificate must be completed concurrently with the student’s undergraduate degree. Students cannot delay degree completion to complete the certificate.

  1. Students will be able to identify, critically analyze, and propose solutions to the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability.
  2. Students will be able to engage in systems thinking and practice so as to address the interrelationships among the three dimensions of sustainability.
  3. Students will develop the capacity for an engaged life in which theory, practice, and reflection are integrated in the pursuit of a more sustainable world.

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 SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science.