ER Credit 7 (STARS)

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2 replies [Last post]
AASHE Member
Joined: Jan 17 2011

This post is related to STARS, AASHE's Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System.

I am working to assess our courses for the sustainability related/focused courses. I'm wondering if others included biology and ecology courses in the "sustainability related" category. Our institution offers courses such as Aquatic Ecology that do briefly touch on the environmental aspects of sustainability but we are unsure if they should be counted for this credit.

Thanks for the help!

Amanda's picture
AASHE Member
Joined: Jun 7 2010


Thanks for posting this question. Many institutions have questions about which courses should count as sustainability-related or -focused. Developing a clear definition of sustainability in the curriculum (as required for Part 1 of ER credit 5: Sustainability Course Identification) may be helpful to you. STARS purposefully does not provide detailed guidance in this area to allow each institution to establish a definition that is appropriate for its context. However, the Technical Manual does provide a general definition of sustainability-related courses:

"Sustainability-related courses incorporate sustainability as a distinct course component or module or concentrate on a single sustainability principle or issue."
(Page 36 of the latest version of the STARS Technical Manual)

That said, there is a wealth of information in the STARS Reports of those institutions that have already submitted their materials. I would suggest browsing the Curriculum subcategory of a number of reports, if you are interested in how other institutions are classifying sustainability-related and -focused courses.

Margot's picture
StaffAASHE Member
Joined: Jun 12 2009

I realize that it may seem trivial but one question that should be asked is does the course description or syllabus contain the word "sustainability"? I raise that issue knowing that you can live sustainably without ever knowing the word however in academic circles language counts -- a lot!
I am concerned that we might call every course a sustainability course because (nearly) everything is related to a sustainable future. As one with a degree in biology and another in ecology, I know that simply studying the interactions of organisms and their ecosystems - indeed the whole biosphere -- does not mean one has an understanding of sustainability (at least as I understand it). Such courses for me were a great foundation for later coming to understand sustainability but they lacked the social/economic framework to truly engage one in sustainability thinking. (On the other hand the Intro to Env. Sci that I taught did explicitly discuss sustainability in several of its dimensions.) Likewise, I don't think a course in Central Asian culture constitutes a course in the social aspects of sustainability as it may ignore issues of sustainability entirely.
The difficulty in finding a clear criterion for determining what courses are in or out is probably frustrating to some of you but part of the evolution of sustainability becoming part of the curriculum. Hence, I fall back to a simplistic and perhaps narrow view that if you can't / won't / don't call it sustainability - maybe it doesn't count in the academy.