Sustainability Science B.S.

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. 

The Sustainability Science (B.S.) major at the University of Iowa is built on an integrative curriculum, with course work 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.

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. 

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.  

Sustainability Science major tracking sheet

Sustainability Science major handout



The Bachelor of Science with a major in sustainability science requires a minimum of 120 s.h., including at least 68-71 s.h. of work for the major. Students must maintain a g.p.a. 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 s.h. for the major in residence at the University of Iowa.

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 s.h. completed for another major toward the sustainability science major, and they may count a maximum of 3 s.h. toward another minor. See the University of Iowa General Catalog for more information. 

 The B.S. with a major in sustainability science requires the following work: 

Core Courses 28-30
Analytical Tools Courses 14
Communication Course 2-3
Equity/Ethics/Equality Course 3
Electives 18
Research/Internship Experience 3
Total Hours 68-71


Core Courses

Core courses introduce students to key elements of sustainability science.

Sustainability Science

Both of these:    
SUST:2013/GEOG:2013 Introduction to Sustainability 3
GEOG:3340 Ecosystem Services: Human Dependence on Natural Systems  3
One of these:    
GEOG:4200/SUST:4200 Sustainability as a System Science 3
CBE:4410/CEE:4107 Sustainable Systems 3

Natural Systems

One of these:    
CHEM:1070 General Chemistry I  3
CHEM:1110 Principles of Chemistry I 4
One of these:    
EES:1085/ENVS:1085 Fundamentals of Environmental Science 4
GEOG:1020 The Global Environment 3
One of these:    
BIOL:2673/ENVS:2673 Ecology 3
GEOG:4470 Ecological Climatology 3

Human Systems

Both of these:    
GEOG:2110/GHS:2110 Eight Billion and Counting: Introduction to Population Dynamics 3
GEOG:3800 Environmental Economics and Policy 3
One of these:    
GEOG:4770/GHS:4770 Environmental Justice 3
POLI:2417 Comparative Environmental Policy 3

Sustainability Sciences Seminar

This course:    
A sustainability science seminar course (consult advisor)   1


Analytical Tools Courses

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

All of these:    
GEOG:2050 Foundations of GIS 4
STAT:3200/IGPI:3200/ISE:3760 Applied Linear Regression 3
STAT:2010 Statistical Methods and Computing 3
One of these:    
CS:1210 Computer Science I: Fundamentals 4
CS:2110 Programming for Informatics 4
MATH:1460 Calculus for the Biological Sciences 4
MATH:1380 Calculus and Matrix Algebra for Business 4


Communication Course

At least one of these:    
CNW:2730 The Art and Craft of Science Writing 3
CNW:2740 The Art and Craft of Writing about the Environment 3
CNW:3664 Writing About Science 3
JMC:1800 Environmental Communication 3
JMC:3185 Topics in Understanding Media 3
POLI:3107 Writing in Political Science: Writing for "Science" and for "Politics" 3
WRIT:2600 Science Communication I: Fundamentals of Science Communication 2
WRIT:2601 Science Communication II: Science Outreach and Engagement 2


Equity/Ethics/Equality Course

At least one of these:    
GEOG:4770/GHS:4770 Environmental Justice 3
PHIL:2402 Introduction to Ethics 3
SOC:1022/SSW:1022 Social Justice and Social Welfare in the United States 3
SOC:1219/HIST:1219 Big Ideas: Equality, Opportunity, and Public Policy in America 3



Elective course work 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 s.h. 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 s.h. from the following, with at least 12 s.h. numbered above 3000.

Natural Systems

GEOG:2374/BIOL:2374 Biogeography 3
GEOG:3310 Landscape Ecology 3
GEOG:3315 Ecosystem Ecology 3
GEOG:3350 Urban Ecology 3
GEOG:4010 Field Methods in Physical Geography 3
BIOL:2673/ENVS:2673 Ecology 3
EES:4700/ENVS:4700 Evolution of Ecosystems 3
ENVS:3095 Field Ecology 4
Iowa Lakeside Lab courses (Prefix IALL) Approved by advisor  

Human Systems

GEOG:3300/GHS:3300 Envisioning Future Worlds: Sustainable Development and Its Alternatives 3
GEOG:3780/GHS:3780/HIST:3240 U.S. Energy Policy in Global Context 3
GEOG:4750/URP:4750 Environmental Impact Analysis 3
GEOG:4770/GHS:4770 Environmental Justice 3
ANTH:2100 Anthropology and Contemporary World Problems 3
ECON:3650 Policy Analysis 3
ENTR:3700 Sustainable Product Innovation and Management 3
POLI:2417 Comparative Environmental Policy 3
POLI:3126 Environmental Policy 3
URP:3001/GEOG:3920 Planning Livable Cities 3

Integrated Natural and Human Systems

GEOG:2930 Water Resources 3
GEOG:2950 Environmental Conservation 3
GEOG:3331 Human Dimensions of Climate  3
GEOG:3760/GHS:3760 Hazards and Society 3
ANTH:2261 Human Impacts on the Environment 3

Analytical Methods and Decision Support

GEOG:3050 Introduction to Geospatial Programming 3
GEOG:3500/IGPI:3500 Introduction to Environmental Remote Sensing 3
GEOG:3520/IGPI:3520 GIS for Environmental Studies 3
GEOG:3540/IGPI:3540 Introduction to Geographic Visualization 3
GEOG:4150/GHS:4150/IGPI:4150 Health and Environment: GIS Applications 3
GEOG:4580/IGPI:4580 Introduction to Geographic Databases 3
GEOG:4650 Simulation in Environmental Geography 3
CS:1110 Introduction to Computer Science 3
CS:1210 Computer Science I: Fundamentals 4
CS:2110 Programming for Informatics 4
CS:2230 Computer Science II: Data Structures 4
CS:3210 Programming Languages and Tools 3
CS:4720/MATH:4820 Optimization Techniques 3
MSCI:3005 Information Systems  3
MSCI:3200 Database Management 3
MSCI:3800 Optimization and Simulation Modeling 3
MSCI:4480/CS:4480/ECE:4480 Knowledge Discovery 3


Research/Internship Experience

Students must complete a minimum of 3 s.h. 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 s.h. of research experience to their Electives requirement.

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 g.p.a. of at least 3.33 and a g.p.a. of at least 3.33 in all work for the major. Students also must complete 6 s.h. of research/internship credit, and successfully complete an honors thesis and presentation.


Academic Advising

Hannah Whitcomb serves as Academic Advisor for Geographical, Sustainability Sciences, and Environmental Policy & Planning students. For advising questions, you can view Hannah Whitcomb's contact information on our Undergraduate Academic Advising page