Sustainability Links

Sustainability Jobs


Sustainability Internships

Sustainability Courses


Study Abroad with Living Routes

The Farm School


Sustainability Studies

Recommendations for Potential BDIC Students

NOTE: if you are interested in the new Plant, Soils and Insect Sciences

Sustainable Food and Farming Major click here!

John M. Gerber, Professor of Plant Sciences and Sustainability Studies

308 Bowditch Hall; 545-5301;


Student interest in diverse areas of study relating to sustainability seems to be increasing.  BDIC students who have already taken this path helped to develop this guide.  We hope you find it useful.  While I no longer have time to advice BDIC students due the rapid growth of the Sustainable Food and Farming major, I am happy to meet to talk with you about this option.   


WHY SUSTAINABILITY STUDIES: The reasons for choosing this area of study are many.  Former BDIC Sustainability Studies students have said:


“As a citizen of the world, I am responsible for my actions and what I leave.”


“I want to work in the area of sustainability as a professional.  I want to be able to make a livelihood while doing so.”


“We need to learn how to create non-profits, businesses and communities that provide opportunities for sustainability work.”


“Sustainability is the right, radical solution to our problems.  It ties together the disciplines and the people who need to work together for holistic solutions.”


“We hold a desire to create a better world for others and ourselves.  We need to move toward a new way of sustaining the planet and      ourselves.  We need to find ways science can contribute in a positive way to a sustainable future.” 



For these reasons and more, students at UMass have decided to create their own programs of study in diverse aspects of sustainability through BDIC.  Among the areas of study are:


Transfomation Through Social, Economic, Environmental, and Personal Sustainability

Right Livelihood: Sustainable Living

Cultural Geography and Sustainable Human Habitat

Social Sustainability & Relationship to Community

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Home Design

Sustainable Living and Natural Health

Sustainable Development Through Non-governmental Organizations

Sustainability and Holistic Health

And many more…..



If you are considering majoring in some aspect of Sustainability Studies through BDIC, you might consider some of the following points.


THE CONCEPT: A generally accepted model for sustainability presents this concept as a quest toward three interrelated objectives.  These are:


environmental quality,

economic vitality, and

social equity. 


We believe students may begin thinking about sustainability from any of these perspectives.  For example, Agriculture and Environmental Studies majors often start from an environmental (or biophysical perspective).  Students majoring in Economics or Business Management may begin from an economic perspective.  Sociology and Anthropology students may approach this area of study from a social perspective.


While balancing multiple perspectives is useful, this alone will not result in a deep understanding of sustainability.   According to an April 2001 article in Science, the science and education community has not made an adequate contribution to global sustainable development.  The authors of this article call for a new area of study that is different in “structure, methods and content” from the programs of the past.  Specifically the new sustainability curriculum will need to approach problems from a holistic or integrative perspective. The view of sustainability at the center of the model includes and integrates all the other views, providing meaning and spirit to the work and is fundamental to understanding of sustainable systems.  This integrative or holistic perspective requires intentional learning that should be included in each student’s concentration proposal.


We believe this program is at the leading edge of an educational and work movement that is emerging across the nation.  Paul Hawken wrote in the January/February 2000 issue of Sierra Club Magazine:


There are in the United States today at least 30,000 nongovernmental organizations dealing with sustainability in the broad sense of the word.  In the world, there are approximately 100,000 such groups.  The sustainability movement does not agree on everything, nor should it ever.  But, remarkably, it shares a basic set of fundamental understandings about the earth and how it functions, and about the necessity of fairness and equity for all people in partaking of the earth’s lifegiving systems. This shared understanding is arising spontaneously, from different economic sectors, cultures, regions, and cohorts.” 


This global movement is being nurtured within higher education by several national and international organizations.  One of the leading organizations in this movement is the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education -


SUSTAINABILITY PEDAGOGY: We believe that learning “about” sustainability is not enough.  A critical aspect of transformative education for sustainability is the ability to integrate theory and practice in real world situations.  Students are encouraged to develop their own proposals for how to acquire experiential education.  The range of experiential opportunities is broad, from Community Service Learning in nearby communities to semester abroad experiences.  Regardless of the venue, we believe the particular experience chosen should help students integrate the concepts of economic vitality, environmental integrity, and social equity in a real-world business, family, or community setting.  We recommend students explore opportunities for internships, practica or independent studies that support their learning.  


SUSTAINABILITY WORK: Educated citizens of the 21st century need to understand the effect of decisions made by individuals, organizations, and communities on long-term global sustainability.  Of particular concern to educated adults are the impacts of climate, environment, pollution, war, culture, class, and security on these complex food and agricultural systems.  Work toward a sustainable future is found in many areas.  Among those available today are:


Policy and Advocacy – this includes work for non-profit advocacy and educational organizations, government agencies, university research centers, and personal citizen involvement in political and community change efforts.


Education and Community Engagement – this includes youth education, citizen education, non-profit educational organizations, media work, and formal teaching, as well as work directly with people and groups in community.  Examples are classroom teaching, distance learning, experiential education, community gardens, anti-hunger coalitions, environmental protection efforts etc.


Agricultural & Natural Systems Management – this includes knowledge of sustainable and organic plant and animal production systems, as well as natural resource management.  We believe the departmental majors do an excellent job in prepareing students for careers in production agriculture and natural resource management.  A BDIC major will allow students to broaden their area of study to include complex human relationships associated with agriculture and nature, on farms, in communities, in business and society.  Specifically students may study communication processes, systems analysis, decision-making, and relationship building among diverse peoples and between people and the natural world. 


For a list of jobs and internships relating to sustainability, see these links:

Sustainability Jobs (mostly food and land related)

Sustainability Internships (mostly farm and land related)





DEVELOPING A CONCENTRATION: We believe attention should be paid to all three circles in the sustainability model above, as well as the integrated region at the center that we called integrative or holistic studies.  Therefore we recommend a mix of courses from all four segments of the model.  Students interested in sustainability of environmental or biophysical systems such as agriculture, environmental studies and natural resources should emphasize this area of study.  Courses might be selected from agricultural departments, Natural Resources Conservation, Geosciences and others.  These should be complemented with social system courses such as anthropology and sociology, as well as economic system courses.  Courses that span disciplines, such as systems science and holistic studies, should complete the educational package by integrating knowledge from the critical environmental, social and economic components. 


A specific course of study should be developed in consultation with the BDIC office and a faculty sponsor.  The following resources may be useful:


General Education Requirements (for a list of Sustainability oriented Gen Ed's, see GENED)


Selected courses from each of these areas (for a list of 300 level courses, see COURSES)



©2009 John M. Gerber