University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Sustainability Education

Since its beginning in 2006, the Sustainability Studies Minor has attracted over 500 students from more than fifty different majors and seven colleges.  The Minor involves faculty from seven colleges at the University of Minnesota. Now the Minor is increasingly recognized as an innovative effort in sustainability education.

The program was created by the Ecosystem Science and Sustainability Initiative (ESSI), formed in 2004 with the generous support of the Archibald Bush Foundation. This collaboration drew together dozens of faculty from colleges and departments across the Twin Cities campus to develop and implement sustainability programs in undergraduate education, interdisciplinary research and outreach to teachers, journalists, and community members.

ESSI was a joint effort of several dedicated and innovative leaders: Anne Kapuscinski of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife & Conservation Biology, Peter Reich of the Department of Forest Resources, David Tilman of the Department of Ecology, Evolution & Behavior, and Kris Johnson, the ESSI Coordinator. ESSI developed a Curriculum Committee for the Minor, featuring members from departments and units across campus.

ESSI sponsored work

In the fall of 2008, the newly launched Institute on the Environment (IonE) became the administrative home for the Sustainability Studies Minor.  In the summer of 2009, IonE proviced space and administrative support for the Sustainability Minor, the Sustainability Education Coordinator, and part-time undergraduate office assistants.  The communications expertise at IonE allowed the Sustainability Minor to improve its website and to develop new printed materials.  The teaching and journalism projects formerly associated with ESSI continued within appropriate departments and through on-going faculty research.

In spring of 2010, the Sustainability Minor added an internship class, now taught every semester, and approved study abroad credits for the Sustainability Studies Minor.  In fall 2010, a one-time, sustainability, study abroad course gave students a first-hand seat at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico and back home, a carbon policy course provided an up-to-date understanding of  climate change negotiations at regional, national and international scales.

Co-curricular offerings such as speakers, topical forums (on energy, waste reduction or local foods) and films build community among students and faculty.  A student advisory board provides student guidance and suggestions for the Sustainability Studies Minor.

The Sustainability Studies Minor has gained recognition in several areas:


Featured in an article in The Chronicle for Higher Education and highlighted in the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Bulletin


Highlighted as #28 in The Metro magazine’s “Top 100” best things about the Twin Cities


Highlighted by the president of AASHE as a model for other universities at the Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability (UMACS) Conference

Referred to by the University of Minnesota system-wide Sustainability Goals and Outcomes Committee as a model for other campuses

The Sustainability Education website is administered by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.

The University of Minnesota offers sustainability courses in most of its colleges and campuses around the state. These courses encompass biophysical sciences, social sciences, humanities, arts, design, engineering, business, and health. The Sustainability Studies minor is one of several interdisciplinary programs through which such diverse courses come together.