Sustainability Minor


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

Second, our program collaborates with key faculty members across the broader GW community — including a multitude of departments and disciplines across campus. We work closely with Planet Forward in the School of Media and Public Affairs, the Honey W.Nashman Center, the Food Policy Institute, and the Environmental and Energy Management Institute, just to name a few. And, we support these partners by encouraging students to enroll in their sustainability courses, which can count toward the Sustainability Minor requirements. By collaborating with a multitude of GW’s stakeholders, students’ experiences are deeply enriched through participation in research, service, events, and job-preparedness activities.

a minor with a major impact


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.

Sustainable Start: SUST 1001 – Introduction to Sustainability

The concept of sustainability is both broad and specific as it is applied to areas ranging from social systems to law, engineering, public health, and natural systems. The course considers goals, principles, and practical applications, with a multidisciplinary perspective on major environmental and social issues growing out of these concerns. SUST 1001 is a requirement for the minor. This course is offered is in both the spring and fall semesters.

1)    Define and describe sustainability in different contexts.
2)    Examine key ideas and challenges in sustainability from a multidisciplinary perspective (i.e., natural science, social science, arts, engineering) and be able to balance diverse perspectives in determining the best course of action. 
3)    Explain the legal, regulatory, economic, and societal factors that motivate and hinder the adoption of sustainable policies and practice.
4)    Apply interdisciplinary approaches to team-based problem-solving and interventions around critical issues in sustainability.
5)    Research and analyze the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the context of a city, state, country or region.  

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.

Capstone Experience

SUST 3096: Sustainability Research 

Students will work with DC-based community organizations concerned about their air quality, deploy portable air quality sensors and monitoring equipment, and assist
communities with developing action plans based on the data collected. Future iterations of this course will build upon the community relationships and monitoring network that will be initiated during the semester.
Research Objectives:
1)    Identify commonly used air quality monitoring techniques and assess neighborhood exposures.
2)    Analyze environmental data to advocate and support community action in DC.
3)    Explore and connect the links between engineering, big data, toxicology, epidemiology, exposures, populations, and community impacts.

SUST 3097: Culminating Experience 

Students commit 60 hours of work in addition to attending the Sustainability Practitioner Forums held throughout the semester. The goals of the forums are professional development and building a cohort of sustainability-driven students. Themes of the forums include: career coaching, how to start a start-up, taking the steps to build internships into a job, documentary film-making, sustainable storytelling, nonprofits role in community building, diversity and inclusion, government and private entities moving sustainability forward. Students in this course will share their story with Planet Forward.

Culminating Experience Objectives:
1)    Observe and describe how concerns of sustainability are addressed and balanced through policy, discourse, and action.
2)    Synthesize your previous academic work and apply it to your capstone endeavors. 
3)    Engage in events which further your professional portfolio. 
4)    Communicate—concisely, persuasively, and professionally—how the people and communities you work with are integrating sustainability into their fields.  
5)    Construct material conveying how your experience within your workplace or research is valuable to others. 

The Culminating Experience provides students with an opportunity to apply what they learned through their sustainability-related coursework. The culminating experience is reserved for juniors and seniors in the Sustainability Minor. Study abroad in junior or senior year may count towards the Culminating Experience but MUST be pre-approved before leaving for the study abroad semester.

SUST 3097 Culminating Experience requirements are as follows:

  • Letter or email from the student’s supervisor/faculty mentor at the organization/company/government department where the student is working for the internship/service/research. The letter needs to contain confirmation of the offer for the semester.
  • Students will attend five practitioner forums throughout the semester they are enrolled.
  • Students will write a series of reflection essays on their experience throughout the semester. The Instructor will provide prompts at the beginning of the semester.
  • Students will submit a story to Planet Forward as part of their final project. 

Students wishing to register for SUST 3097 will need fill out and submit the following:

SUST 3097: Community Engaged Research to Promote Environmental Justice

Students will design and carry out research that engages and supports DC residents from marginalized or underserved communities. During this course, students will identify, research, and interpret intersections between environmental, technological, socioeconomic, and political problems and opportunities within communities in DC. In analyzing real world problems faced by DC residents, students will apply analytical methods from the natural and social sciences, peer-reviewed research, and interdisciplinary knowledge gained through prior coursework. The goal of this community-engaged research is to develop proposals for service- learning projects, with the possibility of funding or further development through the Public Service Grant Commission grants, the Eco-Equity Challenge, the Knapp Fellowship, Climathon, the New Venture Competition, and other opportunities. This course serves as a capstone experience for the Sustainability Minor, but it is not limited to students in the minor. Students with existing service- learning or social innovation projects may use this course to support project implementation and adaptive management. 

Course Objectives:

 1) Foundations. What is environmental justice? Be able to clearly define environmental justice, examine national and local data sets to identify specific types of environmental injustice, and describe one local case study in detail. Additionally, explore your individual orientation to environmental justice and community engagement. 

2) Field Research. Research community context and needs. Examine the natural environment, culture, socioeconomic and political background, and history of a specific neighborhood. Observe and listen to the needs of community members and staff of the partner organization. Synthesize this research into a multifaceted understanding of the context relevant to each project. 

3) Design thinking. Propose an innovative service project based on stakeholder engagement, field research, literature review, and data analysis. Solutions may involve technology and should be based on students’ expertise and community needs. Work with team members and propose ways to engage the community during both the design and implementation of proposed solutions. Note: If you are part of a relevant community-engaged service-learning project that is already underway (for instance, through the Eco- Equity Challenge), work to adaptively manage your project based on what you have learned through this class. 

4) Communication. There can be great value to communities in translating technical data and concepts. Synthesize your analyses and experiences into a meaningful narrative through your proposal, presentation, and reflections. Students should be able to articulate concepts from this course for a range of audiences, including the stakeholders within the partner organization, community, and GW. 

Program Requirements

For current program requirements, please visit the GW Bulletin (effective Fall 2021). 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 (Culminating Experience in Sustainability). You can track your progress through DegreeMAP.

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 Dr. Tara Scully 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 the Director of the Sustainability Minor, Dr. Tara Scully, who can be reached at [email protected] or 202-994-5758.

Where is the office located?

Bell Hall 311

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 Dr. Tara Scully 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 Director 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 Director 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 Director 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 Director.

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 Director 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 Director.