Why Sustainability is Important Regardless of Your Major


Aug 31, 2016

Engineering, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Math, Computer Science, Business, Political Science, English, Foreign Language, Communications, International Relations, Psychology, Education, Art, Music, Nursing—there are countless college majors that vary immensely, but what is one thing that all of these majors have in common? Sustainability! 

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Sustainability is an important aspect of every college major regardless of the material being studied because it is a worldwide issue that pertains to every human being. Despite popular belief that sustainability is only a focus for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students, sustainability is relevant to all who consider themselves decent human beings.

Even some STEM students question how sustainability education fits into their major. Katie Yannerell, a Penn State student and GREEN alumna, at first struggled to see how sustainability fits into her pre-med biomedical engineering major.

She reflects, “In the time period between confirming my spot in The GREEN Program for Iceland Summer 2015 and actually travelling there, I felt I had to justify why I was going on a sustainability-focused study abroad as a pre-med biomedical engineering major. However, the GREEN Program taught me that knowledge regarding sustainability is for everyone, regardless of your career goals. Every single person living on this Earth has a responsibility to protect our home and preserve it for the future. Ignorance is one of the greatest threats to our environment at the moment.” 

Fahmida Ahmed, Director of the Office of Sustainability at Stanford University, agrees with Yannerell that sustainability is for al and elaborates that, “Sustainability matters because we all care about the future. We are part of the natural world and dependent on the use of natural resources to sustain our business and activities. So whether it is about sustaining resources, sustaining the economic viability of our businesses, or sustaining our current enjoyment and relationship with the natural environment, sustainability is central to any long-term engagement. We must strive to meet the needs of today without compromising the needs of future generations.”

UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Wu Hongbo, explains why he believes sustainability is important: “If all of the world’s people lived like people in the developed countries do, then we would need three or four different globes to support the demand in terms of natural resources. So, sustainability is the word for the whole world… The way it is currently, with consumption and production, and with the ever-increasing population, the planet’s resources will not sustain unless something is done to change the way we treat our planet.” 

Clearly, sustainability is a pressing issue, not only for you and me but also for generations to come. Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: How can I, one single person, help protect the future generations of the world from the over-exhaustion of natural resources leading to eventual self-destruction? 

The answer is simple. You do not have to major in a Sustainability Program—but if you do, then go you—to make your college degree relevant to sustainability. In fact, many college majors easily relate to sustainability.

For example, any business major should care about sustainability. According to the International Institute of Sustainable Development (ISSD), business companies who implement sustainable practices “gain a competitive edge, increase their market share, and boost shareholder value.” More importantly, a business’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) focuses on “environmental protection and the wellbeing of employees, the community, and civil society in general, both now and in the future.” Therefore, a green business is not only attractive to customers but also fulfilling its CSR. 

Another example of a college major that easily relates to sustainability is Architecture. Author of GreenBiz article “Why architecture must lead on sustainable design,” Lance Hosey writes that, “Architecture is an essential arena for sustainable innovation. Buildings represent about half the annual energy and emissions in the U.S. and three-quarters of its electricity. With the built environment growing — the U.S. building stock increases by about 3 billion square feet every year — architects have a historic opportunity to transform its impact for the better.” Thus, becoming an architect is not only constructing buildings, but also actually creating sustainable design and urban planning that will progressively move cities in a greener direction. 

Even majors such as Public Health, Agriculture, and Nutrition, depend on sustainability practices. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, “The world’s population is rapidly expanding, and it is estimated there will be over 9 billion people on our planet in as little as 25 years…it is essential that food sustainability be an international priority to ensure that the rapidly expanding population will have both enough food to eat, and access to high quality, nutritious foods.” The top projects for Public Health, Agriculture, and Nutrition students will focus on sustainability and the world’s food supply. 

Essentially every major can relate to sustainability, which is at the heart of many debates among politicians and international ambassadors, the focus of pre-med students involved with health care, and the beginning for Education majors who will prepare the next generation with the knowledge to enact change. 

A few of our very own GREEN students drive home the fact that sustainability is important no matter what major or career path one chooses.

Shawn Carr, a Political Science graduate from Purdue University believes, “Sustainability is something everyone should spend time studying. More campuses are increasing efforts to promote sustainable campus lifestyles and students should make an effort to find out what they can do themselves. It is difficult, as someone who may be studying an English degree may not have the technical know how in what goes into renewable energy sources. However, people from various degree backgrounds can each bring their unique perspectives to the table and help make sustainability easier to incorporate in society as a whole.”

Carr first became interested in sustainability when he noticed the lack of attention toward environmental issues both in the media and in the classroom. He has learned throughout his studies that, “Everything we do in the future will be dependent upon the creation of policies that promote clean, efficient sustainability.”

Accounting major and Energy Studies minor at University of Notre Dame, Mike Carillo seems to have an answer to Carr’s observation of the lack of attention toward environmental issues. Carillo believes that every student should be required to take at least one sustainability course. 

He states, “People are influenced by their colleagues whether they want to be or not, and educating young adults at the high school and even collegiate level can change the world. This education in sustainability will carry into the workplace slowly and effectively if awareness is spread about how important this topic is, and how it will effect us.”

Finally, Alison Treglia, both an Environmental Engineering and Music Major at University of Delaware, shares “I’m honestly flabbergasted that sustainability isn’t a focus for everyone. I think the difficulty lies in generating awareness and trying to get people to understand the impact of non-sustainable practices if the effects aren’t immediate. There’s so many other things in the world vying for our attention that seem like a more pressing concern that focusing on long-term sustainability falls to the wayside.”

The issue is not identifying why sustainability is important, but making others aware of the growing matter and how it is relevant to them. Carr, Carrillo, and Treglia are right in the sense that education is the first step to convincing people of the importance of sustainability. After education, maybe more people will realize that no matter what they choose to do in life, sustainability will be the forefront of this generation and more to come.  

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