Earn your BS in Sustainability Science

Are you interested in building a more sustainable world for future generations? The National Academy of Science defines sustainability science as "an emerging field dealing with the interactions between natural and social systems, and with how those interactions affect the challenge of sustainability: meeting the needs of the present and future generations while substantially reducing poverty and conserving the planets life support systems." Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that defining what such a world should look like and developing strategies to create such a world is the "central challenge of our times"–a challenge that encapsulates many of the most pressing threats facing humans an the planet. Climate change, access to sufficient water, clean water, and healthy air, safe and reliable energy, long-term economic wellbeing, equity, responsibility to other species, and conflict over limited resources are all central to the concept of sustainability. 

A sustainable world is, in the most general sense, one in which key environmental, social, and economic systems remain vital and productive through time. Through a sustainability lens, managers recognize and seek to support the interdependency of these systems, as well as the need for equity and respect among diverse cultures and regions. Sustainability science is, therefore, the study of complex interacting processes that operate across time and space and directly impact the long-term well-being of humankind. Studying this challenging science prepares students to enter a world that increasingly recognizes and prioritizes sustainable outcomes.

Program outcomes

The sustainability science BS major at the University of Iowa is built on an integrative curriculum, with coursework in the social, natural, and analytical disciplines, thereby providing students with the knowledge and skills needed to help build a more sustainable future in Iowa, the United States, and around the world.

Sustainability science graduates will be able to: 

  • Address complex problems emerging from growing populations and increasingly stressed resources 
  • Understand the complex processes that connect humans to natural systems
  • Communicate the importance of sustainability science and management to leaders and the public
  • Analyze the potential impact of decisions given competing information, perceptions, and goals
  • Adapt and flourish in a rapidly changing world in order to work toward a better tomorrow

The sustainability science program cultivates students who are forward thinking, able to envision a future with equity, high environmental quality, and economic opportunity, and are equipped to work towards that future. 


The Bachelor of Science with a major in sustainability science requires a minimum of 120 semester hours, including at least 68-71 semester hours of work for the major. Students must maintain a GPA of at least 2.00 for the major and in all UI courses for the major. They also must complete the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences GE CLAS Core. Transfer students must earn a minimum of 40 semester hours for the major in residence at the University of Iowa. 

The BS with a major in sustainability science requires the following work: 

Course typeSemester hours
Core courses28-30
Analytical tools courses14
Communication course2-3
Equity/ethics/equality course3
Research/internship experience3
Total hours68-71

Core courses introduce students to key elements of sustainability science.

Sustainability science
Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
Both of these:
SUST:2013/GEOG:2013Introduction to Sustainability3
GEOG:3340Ecosystem Services: Human Dependence on Natural Systems 3
One of these:
GEOG:4200/SUST:4200Sustainability as a System Science3
CBE:4410/CEE:4107Sustainable Systems3
Natural systems
Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
One of these:
CHEM:1070General Chemistry I 3
CHEM:1110Principles of Chemistry I4
One of these:
EES:1085/ENVS:1085Fundamentals of Environmental Science4
GEOG:1020The Global Environment3
One of these:
GEOG:4470Ecological Climatology3
Human Systems
Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
Both of these:
GEOG:2110/GHS:2110Eight Billion and Counting: Introduction to Population Dynamics3
GEOG:3800Environmental Economics and Policy3
One of these:
GEOG:4770/GHS:4770Environmental Justice3
POLI:2417Comparative Environmental Policy3
Sustainability Sciences seminar
This course:
A sustainability science seminar course (consult advisor)

These courses address solid analytical skills needed to address sustainability problems.

Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
All of these:
GEOG:2050Foundations of GIS4
STAT:3200/IGPI:3200/ISE:3760Applied Linear Regression3
STAT:2010Statistical Methods and Computing3
One of these:
CS:1210Computer Science I: Fundamentals4
CS:2110Programming for Informatics4
MATH:1460Calculus for the Biological Sciences4
MATH:1380Calculus and Matrix Algebra for Business4

Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
At least one of these:
CNW:2730The Art and Craft of Science Writing3
CNW:2740The Art and Craft of Writing about the Environment3
CNW:3664Writing About Science3
JMC:1800Environmental Communication3
JMC:3185Topics in Understanding Media3
POLI:3107Writing in Political Science: Writing for "Science" and for "Politics"3
WRIT:2600Science Communication I: Fundamentals of Science Communication2
WRIT:2601Science Communication II: Science Outreach and Engagement2

Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
At least one of these:
GEOG:4770/GHS:4770Environmental Justice3
PHIL:2402Introduction to Ethics3
SOC:1022/SSW:1022Social Justice and Social Welfare in the United States3
SOC:1219/HIST:1219Big Ideas: Equality, Opportunity, and Public Policy in America3

Elective coursework ensures that students gain depth in their areas of interest or they may continue to build a broad platform on which to build subsequent academic or professional careers. They may choose to take 12 semester hours in one of the following focal areas or develop their own plan of study. Students must consult with their advisor as they develop and fine-tune their plan of study. 

Students cannot use an elective course to satisfy more than one requirement.

Students must select a minimum of 18 semester hours from the following, with at least 9 semester hours numbered above 3000.

Natural systems
Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
GEOG:3310Landscape Ecology3
GEOG:3315Ecosystem Ecology3
GEOG:3350Urban Ecology3
GEOG:4010Field Methods in Physical Geography3
EES:4700/ENVS:4700Evolution of Ecosystems3
ENVS:3095Field Ecology4
Iowa Lakeside Lab courses (Prefix IALL)Approved by advisor 
Human systems
Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
GEOG:3300/GHS:3300Envisioning Future Worlds: Sustainable Development and Its Alternatives3
GEOG:3780/GHS:3780/HIST:3240U.S. Energy Policy in Global Context3
GEOG:4750/URP:4750Environmental Impact Analysis3
GEOG:4770/GHS:4770Environmental Justice3
ANTH:2100Anthropology and Contemporary World Problems3
ECON:3650Policy Analysis3
ENTR:3700Sustainable Product Innovation and Management3
POLI:2417Comparative Environmental Policy3
POLI:3126Environmental Policy3
URP:3001/GEOG:3920Planning Livable Cities3
Integrated Natural and Human Systems
Course numberCourse nameSemester hours
GEOG:2930Water Resources3
GEOG:2950Environmental Conservation3
GEOG:3331Human Dimensions of Climate 3
GEOG:3760/GHS:3760Hazards and Society3
ANTH:2261Human Impacts on the Environment3
Analytical Methods and Decision Support
Course numberCourse nameSemester hour
GEOG:3050Introduction to Geospatial Programming3
GEOG:3500/IGPI:3500Introduction to Environmental Remote Sensing3
GEOG:3520/IGPI:3520GIS for Environmental Studies3
GEOG:3540/IGPI:3540Introduction to Geographic Visualization3
GEOG:4150/GHS:4150/IGPI:4150Health and Environment: GIS Applications3
GEOG:4580/IGPI:4580Introduction to Geographic Databases3
GEOG:4650Simulation in Environmental Geography3
CS:1110Introduction to Computer Science3
CS:1210Computer Science I: Fundamentals4
CS:2110Programming for Informatics4
CS:2230Computer Science II: Data Structures4
CS:3210Programming Languages and Tools3
CS:4720/MATH:4820Optimization Techniques3
MSCI:3005Information Systems 3
MSCI:3200Database Management3
MSCI:3800Optimization and Simulation Modeling3
MSCI:4480/CS:4480/ECE:4480Knowledge Discovery3

Students must complete a minimum of 3 semester hours for the research/internship experience requirement. They can fulfill this requirement through active participation on research with faculty, an internship at a public or private agency, or an honors thesis. Students can apply an additional 3 semester hours of research experience to their Electives requirement.

Sustainability science majors may earn a second major or minor in geography, environmental policy and planning, and environmental sciences, as well as other majors, minors, or certificates at the University of Iowa (except for the Certificate in Sustainability). Students may count a maximum of 6 semester hours completed for another major toward the sustainability science major, and they may count a maximum of 3 semester hours toward another minor. See the University of Iowa General Catalog for more information. 

Create your academic path

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Current course list

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Honors in the major

Students have the opportunity to graduate with honors in the major. Departmental honors students must maintain a cumulative University of Iowa GPA of at least 3.33 and a GPA of at least 3.33 in all work for the major. Students also must complete 6 semester hours of research/internship credit, and successfully complete an honors thesis and presentation.