The Sustainability Science and Practice program (SUST for short) is an interdisciplinary coterminal master's program hosted by the School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. The goal of the program is to prepare leaders to radically accelerate the transition to a sustainable and just society. As the global human population climbs toward 11 billion, consumption demands increase, and disparities in wealth and opportunity persist, society must learn to equitably meet existing human needs in ways that do not forgo possibilities for future generations. These sustainability challenges are marked by extreme complexity, urgency, conflicting demands, and often a paucity of resources or political will to address them. Transforming these challenges into powerful opportunities requires a new kind of leader— one who can both envision a prosperous future for all and who can design practices and cultivate partnerships essential to building that future. The SUST program equips students with the theoretical and conceptual knowledge and the mindsets and practical skills needed to advance sustainability, securing human well-being around the world and across generations.

The curriculum covers three main elements:

Element 1: Understanding complex social-environmental systems

Students develop a “systems perspective”, deepening their awareness of the dynamic and interrelated nature of social-environmental systems. They explore tools to measure, map, and model five capital assets — social, natural, human, manufactured, and knowledge capital — and their complex interactions in order to recognize potential feedbacks, thresholds, and unintended consequences, as well as to identify leverage points and opportunities for interventions that can have a transformative impact.

Element 2: Understanding decision making and developing strategies for change

Students examine the roles of diverse actors who influence change in social-environmental systems and explore strategies to align decision-making and behavior with sustainability. They explore mindsets and approaches of transformative leaders and examine effective strategies for advancing sustainability across sectors. Students develop skills in decision making in complex and uncertain contexts, use metrics and evaluation approaches aligned with sustainability goals, cultivate leadership orientations, and practice effective communications and storytelling approach.

Element 3: Designing innovations with impact at scale

Students develop an understanding of how to intervene in complex systems for transformative impact by exploring frameworks and tools from systems thinking, design thinking, social cognitive theory, behavioral economics, and partnership strategies. They develop practical skills in mapping complex systems and designing creative, high-leverage interventions that realign systems with the goal of intergenerational well-being.

Sustainability Leadership Practicum

To integrate and internalize core lessons from the SUST curriculum, each student completes a 120-hour practicum project of their own design, collaborating on a complex sustainability challenge with an outside partner and working through the types of constraints often faced by decision-makers and leaders. Students apply the leadership mindsets, knowledge, and skills from the curriculum to this practical experience and present their final analysis and reflections to faculty and peers.