7 sustainable courses at the world’s most sustainable universities | Top Universities

7 sustainable courses at the world’s most sustainable universities

By Aisha Khan

Updated December 7, 2023 Updated December 7, 2023

A brand-new ranking, the QS World University Rankings: Sustainability, assesses the world’s top universities against environmental and social sustainability metrics, placing more focus on the outward impact a university is making (e.g. alumni outcomes) than on operational measures such as water consumption.  

One of the key sub-indicators that measures environmental impact is ‘sustainable education’ which is partly evaluated on the availability of courses that specifically teach climate change or subjects related to sustainability.  

We’ve looked at courses from top-ranked institutions to give you an idea of what sustainable education looks like at the world’s most sustainable universities.  

Advanced Sustainable Design, The University of Edinburgh 

University of Edinburgh

The MSc in Advanced Sustainable Design covers all aspects of built environment sustainable design, from the scale of building systems to entire regions.  

The University of Edinburgh ranks fourth globally in the rankings as well as being the UK’s most sustainable university, reinforcing its position as an institution that is committed to driving forward sustainable development.  

After exploring the theoretical underpinnings of sustainable design in the first semester, students will develop their own strategies based around adaptation, infrastructure, resilience and environmental response through an immersive design project.  

Previous students have used expertise gained on the course to set up their own practises and consultancies with a focus on sustainable design, in addition to going on to doctoral study to meet global demand for expert knowledge in the area.  

Master of Health Practice, The University of Auckland 

University of Auckland

New Zealand’s top university for sustainability offers a wide range of courses relating to each one of the UN’s 17 SDGs, which is particularly useful if you’re looking to study multiple areas of sustainable impact. 

As an example, the Master of Health Practice concentrates on SDG 10 (reducing inequalities within and among countries). Students can choose to specialise in Pacific Health, examining health issues faced specifically by the Pacific population in New Zealand and the wider region. 

A core objective of the course is to increase knowledge and understanding of the issues around Pacific health and barriers such as access to services. 

Examples of modules available on the course include Foundations of Māori Health, Mental Health Development: Theory and Principles and Health Promotion in Pacific Community Development.  

Sustainable Process Engineering, The University of British Columbia  

University of British Columbia

Ranked third globally, the University of British Columbia provides undergraduate and postgraduate degrees relating to sustainability in the areas of applied science, arts, education, forestry, land and food systems, law, and science.  

The Master of Engineering Leadership in Sustainable Process Engineering is aimed at engineers who want to develop and commercialise products that are sustainable by design, safeguard the environment and make the best of existing resources.  

Modules such as Sustainable Bioproducts Processing deepen understanding of the technology for deriving fuels. The programme also includes a ‘venture laboratory’, where students will work with UBC researchers to translate innovations to the marketplace. 

Aside from the technical knowledge gained, the other half of the degree is made up of business courses from the UBC Sauder School of Business, giving students a solid foundation in business strategy, innovation and organisational leadership.  

Environmental Policy and Management, The University of California, Davis 

University of California, Davis

Offered as a minor, major and a separate postgraduate degree, studying environmental policy and management at the University of California, Davis entails applying environmental science to real-world policy and management issues. 

The programme’s Policy Clinic is an integral part of the curriculum, giving students experience working on a project team to address a current policy issue or natural resources management need for a real client. 

For example, a past student project involved collaboration with the California Assembly examining extreme heat policy engagement. Upon analysing their data and research, students made policy recommendations for each grant administering agency and presented their findings in front of several Assembly members.  

Graduates work in all levels of government and public agencies concerned with air and water quality management, environmental planning and consulting firms.  

Youth and Community Leadership, The University of Canterbury 

University of Canterbury

New Zealand’s second-oldest university ranks 11th for ‘sustainable education’ with a variety of subjects related to sustainability: disaster risk and resilience, forestry science, renewable energy, and teacher education pathways. 

Another way to study social impact in more detail is through the Bachelor of Youth and Community Leadership, designed to meet a growing need for innovative leaders who take on national and global challenges that youth and other communities are encountering. 

Students can expect to develop professional leadership and entrepreneurial skills on issues such as youth work and development, human rights, equality, social entrepreneurship, and humanitarian work. 

There are plenty of opportunities to connect with the wider community by volunteering with Te Hunga Tūao (Student Volunteer Army) and working with Te Mātāpuna Mātātahi (Children’s University). 

Following a particular course pathway focused on youth work and development the degree will grant students professional membership with Korowai Tupu - the professional association for youth work in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

Sea and Society, The University of Gothenburg 

Gothenburg city

The master’s programme in Sea and Society facilitates the exchange and creation of knowledge about the sustainable use of the sea and its resources. An important outcome of the course is to help students respond to increasingly complex challenges resulting from humans’ impact on the oceans. 

A diverse array of guest lecturers are welcomed from institutions such as the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute and the Maritime Museum. 

Examples of electives include Marine Aquaculture, Remote Sensing and Physical Oceanography, and there are further options to participate in field trips to Kristineberg Marine Research Station and Tjärnö Marine Laboratory. 

Gothenburg’s coastal waters have the highest diversity of marine species than anywhere else in Sweden with many active researchers who teach at the university - meaning you’ll gain a solid foundation of marine issues that are unique to Sweden.  

Peace and Conflict Studies, The University of Waterloo 

University of Waterloo

Recognising conflict as an inescapable part of the human experience and a potential vehicle for positive change at local, national, and international levels, this master’s degree (MPACS) empowers students with the knowledge and skills to contribute to nonviolent peacebuilding.  

The University of Waterloo is one of Canada’s highest-ranked universities for sustainability and ranks joint 42nd globally.  

The MPCAS programme consists of five core courses and five electives in topics such as sustainable cities, water and security, economics for sustainable development, and culture, religion, and peacebuilding. Optional experiential learning opportunities include an internship placement and conflict skills workshops.  

Common career paths for graduates are conflict management, community development, mediation and restorative justice, human rights work, research and advocacy, and social change entrepreneurs. 

This article was originally published in October 2022 . It was last updated in December 2023

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