Sustainability Minor

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Students come from all over the world to connect to diverse ideas, cultures, and ways of life at The George Washington University.

Our Sustainability Minor is one impactful way that students can engage their diverse backgrounds in order to examine the critical, all-encompassing sustainability issues that affect us all — and create dynamic solutions as a result. 

But how do our students transform their passionate curiosity into an actionable force for good? Students begin their journey with Introduction to Sustainability, a team-taught course that equips students with a foundation in global sustainability principles and worldview. It’s here that students are encouraged to ask fundamental questions, learn about the major thought leaders in sustainability, and engage with the policies that are transitioning the world into a greener future. From here, the Sustainability Minor launches students of all academic backgrounds to build on their academic foundation by further examining sustainability through the lenses of ecosystems, economies, communities, and practices in subsequent classes. 

Ultimately, all this leads up to a capstone experience, which provides students with a practical application of what they’ve learned through a semester-long research, service, and/or internship project. Through impactful experiences, students learn to consider the competing perspectives of stakeholders, the unintended consequences of decisions, and how action at different levels and scales will affect people, planet, and profit. Ultimately, students will gain the tools necessary to create healthy and equitable systems for all.

So, why choose Sustainability as your minor? First, our program is formatted to fit around your major of choice. Whether you’re in engineering, business, international affairs or otherwise, our classes build upon requirements needed for your major.

Program Goals

  1. Identify the terminology, principles, and paradigms surrounding sustainability issues at various scales.
  2. Describe the roles socioeconomic, political, and environmental factors play in the perpetuation of sustainability issues.
  3. Explore the challenges and successes of sustainability initiatives, specifically determining stakeholders’ positions and interests, to develop systems-thinking approaches to sustainability solutions and resilience.
  4. Evaluate and incorporate evidence-based approaches to recognize leverage points in complex systems and bring about lasting change to become a change agent. 
  5. Research and integrate knowledge, theories, and methods learned to analyze and communicate sustainability issues, practices, and solutions to a critical problem facing society.
  6. Integrate classroom and community-based learning experiences to create and sustain a personal and professional sustainability viewpoint.

Sustainability Pillar Objectives


Sustainable Ecosystems: Earth Sciences and Public Health Pillar
  1. Describe the most important scientific, environmental, or public health issues surrounding sustainability. 
  2. Investigate underlying scientific evidence and be able to articulate why sustainability topics are important issues to resolve. 
  3. Compare various disciplinary approaches and strategies for alleviating these problems and connect these to your research. 
  4. Determine appropriate measures that consider input from key and develop a communication, education, and implementation plan.  
Sustainable Economies: Business, Markets, Technology, and Trade Pillar
  1. Define and describe the various types of market and non-market economies. 
  2. Determine the merits of different types of economies with respects to sustainable.
  3. Connect the relationship between economy and current global sustainability issues underpinning the UN's SDGs. 
  4. Examine the benefits and constraints of different sustainability strategies in the contexts of the economies they are embedded.
  5. Assess your personal role as a change-maker in everyday situation.   
Sustainable Communities: Culture, Politics, and Society Pillar
  1. Recognize different approaches to sustainable urban and rural development in diverse sociocultural contexts. 
  2. Determine factors leading to complexity such as unintended consequences in sustainable development and its interventions. 
  3. Compare socioeconomic and environmental determinants and how they will shift as sustainable development is implemented. 
  4. Appreciate and reflect on the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability and how different disciplines contribute to sustainability solutions.
Sustainable Practices: Leadership, Values, Norms and Behaviors Pillar
  1. Identify issues of sustainability within specific fields.  
  2. Examine our everyday behaviors and practices with respects to their effects on sustainability issues. 
  3. Research policies, leadership, and norms that have been found to influence behavior. 
  4. Demonstrate how different social groups are affected by sustainability issues. 
  5. Frame and share the simple sustainability practices that everyone can incorporate into their daily lives and learn how to communicate them.

Program Requirements

For current program requirements, please visit the GW Bulletin. Generally, a sustainability minor student must take SUST 1001, four courses (one in each pillar) and a capstone course for a total of 18 credits to graduate with a sustainability minor. The program has suggested courses for each pillar but the program director and manager will work with each student to design a selection of courses that will help support a student's major and future career. For students who enrolled at GW prior to Fall 2019, the old program requirements will apply. You can find the old program requirements here (DOC) or visit the archived version of the GW Bulletin here. Note, the 3-credit capstone requirement can be fulfilled through either SUST 3096 (Research in Sustainability) or SUST3097 or 3094 (Culminating Experience in Sustainability)


Declaring the Minor

To declare a minor in sustainability, students must fill out a minor declaration form from their school. Forms must be signed by Professor Michael Svoboda and then submitted to the student’s school advising office. Forms can be found here:


Before You Declare 

Before declaring a minor in sustainability, please read the following important information:

What is sustainability?

Sustainability is the balance of environmental resources, social equity and economic prosperity across the globe and across generations. The GW Sustainability Minor also uses the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations to address issues related to sustainability.

What is the minor in sustainability?

The Undergraduate Minor in Sustainability prepares students to take on the challenges of developing solutions to pressing environmental, economic, and social justice problems at the local, regional, and global scale. It introduces students to the concepts, principles, and issues that inform the sustainability paradigm. The minor integrates classroom and community-based learning and research in a program that enables students to integrate the the sustainability perspective in their future endeavors.

What will I learn from this minor?

Students who complete the requirements for a minor in sustainability will be able to do the following:

  • Apply the concepts of sustainability to issues of human welfare and social equity, the environment, and the economy
  • Adapt and apply knowledge, theories, and methods learned to analyze sustainability issues and/or practices
  • Connect and extend basic sustainability concept(s) to a critical problem facing society, using student’s involvement in the issue as the basis for analyzing the challenges and developing and solutions to the problem
What is a sustainability-related course?

GW has over 150 undergraduate courses that address one or more of the three main concerns of sustainability: the environment, economic development, and equity or social justice. Each sustainability-related course fulfills one of the three tracks of the minor. To obtain a sustainability-related designation, a course must meet one or more of the following six criteria:

  • Content related to sustainable development: creating healthy and thriving resource systems for all
  • Content related to environmental issues
  • Content related to social issues that can be applied to sustainable development such as human welfare, social equity issues or social / organizational / behavioral change
  • Content related to economic issues that can be applied to sustainable development
  • Discourse focused on the interconnection of world resources and the human condition from a long-term perspective
  • Content related to policy and communications issues that can be applied to sustainable development
Is the sustainability minor limited to students in one college or school at GW?

No! The minor is interdisciplinary and open to any undergraduate student from any school across the university. In fact, the minor encourages students to take classes beyond their own school in order to fulfill the minor.

Do I have to have an environment related major to apply for the minor?

No. We encourage students from all schools and majors to apply for the minor.  GW strongly believes that understanding sustainability will benefit all students, regardless of their majors.  At GW we also believe that all academic disciplines, including the humanities, have roles to play in achieving the goals of sustainable development. A sustainability minor can be applied to a variety of careers, including many in business, nonprofits and government jobs.  Finally, we also believe that the minor promotes citizenship and engagement on many of the world’s most critical issues, including biodiversity, human rights, poverty, climate change, and social justice.

Are there any required courses?

There are two required courses for the minor: 

  • Introduction to Sustainability (SUST 1001)
  • The Culminating Experience in Sustainability (SUST3097) or Research in Sustainability (SUST3096)
How many credits do I need to complete the minor?

The minor is 18 credits:

  • Intro to Sustainability SUST1001 (3 credits);
  • Sustainable Ecosystems: Earth Sciences and Public Health Pillar (3 credits);
  • Sustainable Economies: Business, Markets, Technology, and Trade (3 credits);
  • Sustainable Communities: Culture, Politics, and Society Pillar (3 credits);
  •  Sustainable Practices: Leadership, Values, Norms, and Behaviors (3 credits), and;
  • Capstone Course (3 credits)
    • The Culminating Experience in Sustainability SUST3097, or;
    •  Research in Sustainability (SUST3096)

All students in the minor program are required to take SUST 1001 Introduction to Sustainability, at least one course in each of the four pillars (below), and at least 3 credits in experiential learning. At least 9 credits must be unique to the minor (i.e. SUST 1001, SUST 3096 Research in Sustainability or SUST 3097 Culminating Experience in Sustainability, and one pillar course). These 9 credits cannot be double-counted to fulfill the requirements of another major and/or minor program. At least 6 credits must be at the 2000 level or above (i.e. SUST 3096 or SUST 3097 and one pillar course).

What is the Culminating Experience in Sustainability?

Students are required to complete a hands-on learning experience, preferably in their senior year. This could be sustainability-related field work, directed research, independent study, an internship, or community service. In addition, students must complete a series of reflective exercises and essays in SUST 3097, the course under which students receive academic credit for their culminating experience. Students must work with the Sustainability Minor Director to create their culminating experience, and this must be approved before the end of the add-drop period in the semester they register for SUST 3097.

Who can I contact if I have further questions?

Please contact the Sustainability Minor Advisor, Professor Michael Svoboda, who can be reached at [email protected] or 202-994-1345.

Where is the office located?

Lisner Hall 336

Can I double count courses?

At least 9 credits must be unique to the minor (i.e. SUST 1001, SUST 3096 Research in Sustainability or SUST 3097 Culminating Experience in Sustainability, and one pillar course). These 9 credits cannot be double-counted to fulfill the requirements of another major and/or minor program.

I am a junior or a senior. Can I still apply for the minor?

Yes! We can work with students of any class and help them design the best possible plan for the Sustainability Minor. We currently have minors declaring from all years. Whether this will work for you will depend on the flexibility of your schedule and whether you are able to find and complete an internship, directed research, or community service in your remaining semesters.

Is there a minimum GPA requirement to declare the minor?


What is the application process?

Schedule an appointment with the Sustainability Minor to discuss your plan of study. Make sure to bring your school’s minor/secondary field form as well as your tentative course plan for the Sustainability minor. After getting the approval and a signature from us, take the form back to your school’s advising office to declare the minor.

Where can I look for internships for my culminating experience?

Students can use several different GW resources to find internships. Opportunities are highlighted in the weekly newsletter sent out to the Sustainability Minor listserv. If you are not receiving the emails, please email Erin Carlin, Program Manager of the Sustainability Minor, to request to be added to the email list. You can also check Handshake (previously GWork) for internships offered on campus as well as off campus.  In addition, the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service can assist in finding an appropriate service organization to work with. If the right opportunity is available, it is also possible to do your culminating experience abroad; however, this must be pre-approved by the Sustainability Minor Advisor before you go abroad.

Can I apply study abroad credits to the minor?

Yes. This may include the following process:

  • You first need to get the course syllabus from your study abroad program approved by the GW department that offers the closest equivalent of that course. (For example, if you were to take a “History of Environmentalism in Australia” course, you would probably need to get this approved by GW's History Department.) Second, once a GW department has approved the course, see the Sustainability Minor Advisor before going abroad to confirm that this will be counted towards the Sustainability Minor.
  • In the event that the course you are seeking to transfer is a sustainability fieldwork or research course, you can skip Step 1 and take the syllabus directly to the Sustainability Minor Advisor for approval.
I am working on a faculty-directed research project related to sustainability. Can I apply it to the minor?

Yes. You can apply this towards your culminating experience, if it meets the approval of the Sustainability Minor Advisor.

I am taking a course that I think is related to sustainability but it's not listed in the guide and it doesn't have a course attribute in the Schedule of Classes. Can I still apply it towards the minor?

Send an email with the course syllabus to the Sustainability Minor Advisor and we will follow up directly with the professor and let you know. Our list of sustainability-related courses is updated frequently. However, this requires the approval of the faculty member teaching the course as well as the approval of the Sustainability Minor Advisor.