ENVR 430 · Ecological Dimensions of Sustainability

Current issues. Application to agricultural, energy, and resource systems in terrestrial and aquatic contexts. Analysis of complex problems; incorporation of science into novel interdisciplinary solutions. [3-0-0] Prerequisite: One of ENVR 300, BIOL 230. Or fourth year standing in the BSCN program or other demonstrated ecology background.

Course Availability & Schedule

Learning Goals

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

1.     Synthesize understanding of natural sciences into a dozen key concepts that are necessary for understanding how ecological and social dynamics intersect in environmental problems;

2.     Evaluate conservation / sustainability strategies using a subset of the above ‘key concepts’ / processes;

3.     Identify appropriate kinds of management actions and approaches to account for ecosystem services and impacts;

4.     Synthesize characteristics of complex systems, complex adaptive systems, and multi-scalar interactions in order to identify—with examples—the implications for prediction, uncertainty, and cause-effect relationships;

5.     Analyze and express what purposeful ecological change might entail, and understand how such changes might be engineered or fostered through policy, management, or other interventions;

6.     Offer structured constructive feedback through provocative questions/suggestions and a peer-review (including based on criteria and indicators provided);

7.     Identify the elements of human cognition, behavior, and social and organizational dynamics that may enhance or impede an effort to embed ecological science in policy or practice;

8.     Communicate the strategies inherent in sustainability initiatives (e.g., footprinting schemes), and create a compelling strategy for a novel initiative;

9.     Analyze the ramifications of this complexity and adaptive nature for causal understanding (including the roles of linearity and context specificity), prediction, and management (including feedbacks and unintended consequences);

10.  Communicate effectively about how ecology and biodiversity influence diverse societal concerns, and how sustainability actions could account for these influences—for a diversity of audiences, and in verbal and written forms;

11.  Apply this understanding to analyses of case studies;


Kai Chan

Course Content

Ecology is key to many key sustainability issues (such as food security, energy production, corporate environmental responsibility, and resource management), but one might not recognize this from current management and policy approaches. In this course students will explore the (limited) uptake of ecological principles in sustainability applications; they will consider the opportunity for innovative progress towards sustainability from stronger and deeper ecological grounding, and how to support this type of progress in their careers and day-to-day lives. Toward this end, the course will review human impacts on ecosystems, the processes by which ecosystems render benefits for people (ecosystem services), the dynamics of complex adaptive ecosystems, and the ways that individuals and organizations incorporate such information into their decision-making implicitly and explicitly. Together, this course will cultivate ambassadors of sustainability science and facilitators of cross-cutting, realistic and strategic solutions for meaningful real-world progress towards sustainability.

Lecture Topics

Possible Examples:

Week 1: Sustainability and You

Week 2: Biological Conservation

Week 3: Ecosystem Services and Ecosystem-Based Management 

Week 4: Complex Adaptive Systems and Food Production

Week 5: The Human/Social/Organizational Side of Embedding Ecology in Decision-Making

Week 6: Corporate Social/Environmental Responsibility

Week 7: Footprints, Consumption, etc.

Week 8: Life-Cycle Assessment/Environmental Impact Analysis

Week 9: Seeking a social-ecological transformation for sustainability

Weeks 10-11: Presentations of final projects.

Week 12: Sustainability and You: Redux.