Skip to Content
What you will learn with a degree in sustainability

What you will learn with a degree in sustainability

What you will learn with a degree in sustainability

Core sustainability competencies

The knowledge, abilities and skills you will learn from your School of Sustainability degree include:



Systems Thinking

Systems thinking means analyzing how things relate to and affect one another in a holistic way. Systems thinking focuses on the way that a system’s parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.

Graduates from our program will be able to

  1. Explain the structure, behavior and functionality of systems (e.g. water, energy, cities and ecosystems), including the interconnections among environmental, social and economic sub-systems.
  2. Discuss complex features of systems relating to sustainability, including diversity, redundancy, tipping points/thresholds, non-linearity, externalities, resilience, vulnerability, emergence and agency.
  3. Define physical, social and symbolic/analytical system boundaries and explain different ways of bounding problems and systems for sustainability problem-solving (problem framing) across multiple scales.
  4. Examine sustainability challenges as decision challenges, including how stakeholder interests, values, needs and influences become key drivers in problems and systems.
  5. Select, modify, combine and apply appropriate systems thinking methods (e.g. modeling, network analysis, robustness analysis) for analyzing systems, identifying problems that pertain to sustainability, and developing solutions.
  6. Critically reflect on one’s own ways of systems thinking in the context of different ways of acquiring knowledge, including different scientific methods and traditional knowledge systems.

Future Thinking

Futures thinking means envisioning desirable and possible futures. Futures thinking requires anticipating the potential consequences — both positive and negative — of human activity, and managing that activity to progress toward a more sustainable future.

Graduates from our program will be able to

  1. Explain sustainability-related concepts of the future, such as short-term versus long-term trends, uncertainty, path dependency, likelihood, plausibility, consistency and desirability.
  2. Describe and evaluate key historical and cross-cultural ideas of the future and recognize that different groups have different ideas about the future.
  3. Select, modify, combine and apply appropriate futures thinking sustainability methods by constructing scenarios, developing simulations and envisioning future states.
  4. Articulate and critically reflect on future consequences of actions and interventions across different scales.
  5. Critically reflect on one’s own thinking about the future in the context of one’s own background and values.

Values Thinking

Values thinking means understanding how culture, tradition and values influence decisions. Values thinking recognizes that different people have different values, and that understanding each other’s values can help break through barriers of prejudice, politics and culture.

Graduates from our program will be able to:

  1. Explain normative concepts, including goals, values, ethics, equity and justice, and recognize that human thoughts and actions are based on values.
  2. In terms of normative concepts, explain, justify, and apply sustainability principles, including socio–ecological system integrity, livelihood sufficiency and opportunity, and intergenerational equity.
  3. Recognize and explain differences in normative values between individuals, groups and cultures, and understand how these differences guide their behavior and impact sustainability visions.
  4. Identify how normative principles guide the decisions and behavior of individuals, groups, organizations and cultures.
  5. Select, modify, combine and apply appropriate normative methods for identifying problems while assessing and evaluating systems or actions and envisioning desirable future states.
  6. Navigate and negotiate value conflicts or dilemmas that may arise in sustainability projects, and critically reflect on one’s own norms, values and preferences compared to those of others.

Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking means developing a plan to achieve a particular vision. When working toward a sustainable future, strategic thinking prioritizes progress toward long-term goals, rather than reacting to problems with short-term fixes.

Graduates from our program will be able to:

  1. Explain concepts of strategic thinking, such as leverage points, transition agendas, feasibility, stakeholder alliances and resistance.
  2. Describe how strategic thinking can successfully be applied to sustainability problems and how sustainability can be incorporated into strategic concepts.
  3. Measure the effectiveness of strategies against sustainability goals and targets on individual and organizational levels.
  4. Select, modify, combine and apply appropriate strategic thinking tools and methods (e.g. risk assessments, transition management, gap analysis and SWOT analysis) for constructing strategies and interventions leading to sustainable solutions.
  5. Critically reflect on one’s own approach to strategic thinking regarding effectiveness, alliances and sustainability.

Collaborative Competency

Collaborative competency means working effectively with others to achieve a goal. Especially when combined with values thinking, collaborative competency is a powerful tool to find the most productive way to communicate with others and develop strategies and solutions.

Graduates from our program will be able to:

  1. Explain best practices of interpersonal communication and collaboration, teamwork, and project engagement.
  2. Demonstrate team skills including conflict resolution, negotiation, compromise, trust building and professional conduct.
  3. Analyze an audience in order to appropriately translate complex sustainability issues and convey effective messages using various communication platforms.
  4. Facilitate outcome-oriented stakeholder engagement by employing empathy and respecting values, beliefs, and norms of others in order to build fruitful collaborations.
  5. Demonstrate leadership skills both as a team leader and team member by overcoming barriers to collaboration, motivating team members, resolving conflicts, and ensuring the well-being of oneself and one’s team.
  6. Demonstrate professional behavior as a team member and in stakeholder engagements by providing and receiving constructive feedback, coping with unanticipated challenges and high stress levels, and navigating disagreement and misunderstandings.
  7. Critically reflect on one’s own communication and collaboration preferences and approaches.