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Program Overview 

The sustainability challenges we confront are marked by extreme complexity, urgency, conflicting demands, and often a paucity of resources or political will to address them. Transforming these challenges into powerful opportunities requires a new kind of leader –one who can design the practices and cultivate the partnerships essential to building that future.

The School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences offers current Stanford University undergraduates the opportunity to apply for a one-year coterminal Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in Sustainability Science and Practice. This interdisciplinary degree program will equip students with the knowledge, mindsets and practical skills needed to understand and intervene in complex systems to advancesustainability –securinghuman well-being around the world and across generations.

Core Curricular Elements

The Sustainability Science and Practice program (“SUST” for short) integrates theoretical and conceptual knowledge with practical skills and tools, enabling students to develop coreknowledge and competencies acrossthethree core curricular elements described below.

Element 1: Understanding Complex Social-Environmental Systems

This element includes a framework for understanding and managing complex systems –systems that include ecological, resource and environmental, technological, economic and financial, and other social components.  Using a systems perspective, students evaluate status andtrends within each of five capital assets that fundamentally underpin human wellbeing around the world:

  • Social Capital: Laws, norms, rules, customs, institutions, and trust
  • Natural Capital: Ecosystems, climate, natural resources, and environmental concerns
  • Human Capital: The size, demographics, culture, healthand educationof a given population
  • Manufactured Capital: Technologies, buildings and infrastructure
  • Knowledge Capital: Research and development, experiential and traditional knowledge

Element 2: Understanding Decision Making and Developing Strategies for Change

This element draws on conceptual frameworks and case study analysis to explore the implementation and evaluation of strategies and business models that align individual and organizational behavior and decision-making with sustainability goals. Students examine multi-attribute decision-making and psychological and behavioral aspects of decision-making. They explore the roles of actors in business, government and civil society who influencesocial-environmental systems, and examine and practice leadership orientations and skills essential to building resilience and leading change.

Element 3: Designing Innovations with Impact at Scale

This element includes a framework and methodology of practice for innovation in the context of complex and systemic challenges. The innovation approach combines perspectives and theories from different disciplines, including design thinking, systems thinking, social cognitive theory, behavioral economics, technology strategy, and business model innovation.  This innovation approach helps students understand the most important system dynamics, envision future states, develop systems-based theories of change, make judicious decisions about where to intervene in complex systems, and generate creative interventions to bring about changes at the intervention points.

Sustainability Leadership Practicum

To integrate and internalize core lessons from the SUST curriculum, each student will complete a 120-hour Practicum project of their own design, collaborating on a complex sustainability challenge with an outside partner and working through the types of constraints often faced by decision makers and leaders.