The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Sustainability Spotlight: Green Course Guide

flowers in book

It’s that time of the year again … spring course registration! This comes with a bittersweetness for me, as it will be the last time as an undergraduate that I get to deliberate for days which classes I want to take during the next semester. As a BDIC student, this is perhaps a more exciting process than for some, as it involves much more freedom of choice, which is both empowering and intimidating. 

For those who are interested in taking a class on sustainability, this guide is for you. There is an astonishingly diverse array of sustainability-related courses offered on campus, and from these, I have compiled a short list of some of my favorites that will be offered during the spring 2020 semester. These courses range from 100-level to 500-level, with class sizes ranging from five to 150 students, covering topics from urban sustainability to wind energy to global supply chains, and everything in between. Check out the Sustainability Department’s list of sustainability classes for a more comprehensive run-down of what’s being offered next semester.  

1. NRC 185: Sustainable Living: Solutions for the 21st Century (GenEd: SI) – 4 credits

This was one of the first sustainability-centric classes that I had the opportunity to take during my second semester at UMass. It is an overview course that also goes into depth while looking at issues such as overconsumption, biodiversity loss, and environmental injustice. You will have the opportunity to delve into these topics by creating infographics, delivering presentations to a large audience (an invaluable skill!), and working with a team of peers to complete a civic engagement project working with a local organization of your choice. 

The professor of this course, Lena Fletcher, is one of the most engaged and honest people I’ve had the opportunity to learn from. I came away from this class with a renewed sense of empowerment in addressing these issues with solutions based in policy, education, and grassroots organizing. 

2. STOCKSCH 387: Global Food Systems – 3 credits

From local initiatives to international supply chains, this class highlights the people and processes involved in nearly every step of our food systems. Through case studies, guest lecturers, and field trips, this course provides an inside look at where our food comes from. For me, one of the most fascinating parts of this course was taking a field trip to C&S Wholesale Grocers in Hatfield, Massachusetts. This corporation is one of the largest in the world that is responsible for acquiring food products and then distributing them to consumers. Being able to see what goes on in one of their warehouses was eye-opening: Did you know that most of the bananas we eat are picked weeks before they are ripe, then sit in ethylene gas-filled “banana-ripening rooms” for several days until they turn the not-quite-yellow color we see on supermarket shelves? 

Beyond the material covered in class, Professor Renee Ciulla has an incredible wealth of knowledge and resources that she is excited to share with students who want to know more about specific challenges and solutions pertaining to our food systems. 

3. SPP 397N: Natural Resource Policy & Administration – 3 credits

Have you heard of the Love Canal tragedy? What about the collapse of the Atlantic Northwest cod fishery? These are two of the many fascinating case studies covered in depth in this course that takes a look at the factors that influence the creation and enforcement of public policy. You will learn about how natural resources are managed by looking at historic examples (including both successes and shortcomings of governance) while creating a semester-long analysis of a policy of your choice. 

4. REGIONPL 580: Sustainable Cities – 3 credits

In 2014, over half of the global population resided in an urban area. Today that number continues to grow, meaning that cities must develop in ways that ensure social, economic, and environmental sustainability. This class uses case studies of different urban centers around the world to highlight how the design and layout of their transportation, waste systems, housing, green space, water distribution, and food systems contribute to their livability. 

5. ENVIRSCI 297F: Environmental Communication (Eco-Rep) – 2 credits

Have you ever taken a course with only four or five other students where your "professor" is also a student? If not, this is your chance! Eco-Rep is a peer-facilitated, discussion-based class that meets once a week in a dorm classroom. Every week, you’ll cover a different topic ranging from environmental justice to renewable energy to the “fast fashion” industry. This relatively informal setting encourages conversation, and the exchange of perspectives surrounding each issue is insightful and eye-opening. 

I am grateful for the Eco-Rep program for providing an alternative classroom setting to discuss sustainability issues, and I’ve enjoyed Eco-Rep so much that I took it twice (as the topics covered change every semester). After doing so, you can become a facilitator yourself, providing an opportunity to dip your toe into environmental education by planning and leading each week’s class. 

For those who will be choosing spring semester classes soon, keep in mind that you have more options than you may realize! Try fulfilling a GenEd or major requirement with a class that has a sustainability focus, or consider pursuing other opportunities such as sustainability fellowships offered through the Sustainability Department.