Sustainable Development

Administrative Information

Director of Undergraduate Studies:
Ruth DeFries, 851-1647;
Jason Smerdon, 845-365-8493;
Kevin Griffin, 845-365-8371;

Program Administrator: Natalie Unwin-Kuruneri, 854-8536;

Departmental Office: The Earth Institute, Office of Academic and Research Programs, Hogan, B-Level

Committee for Sustainable Development

Steven Cohen (The Earth Institute and School of International and Public Affairs)
Peter Coleman (Psychology and Teachers College)
Patricia Culligan (Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics)
Alberto Medina (Latin American and Iberian Cultures)
Ruth DeFries (Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology)(co-chair)
Peter deMenocal (Earth and Environmental Sciences)
Joseph Graziano (Mailman School of Public Health)
Kevin Griffin (Earth and Environmental Sciences) (co-chair)

Upmanu Lall (Earth and Environmental Engineering)
Edward Lloyd - (Law School)
Michele Moody-Adams (Columbia College)
Shahid Naeem (Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology)
Stephanie Pfirman (Environmental Science, Barnard)
Robert Pollack (Biological Sciences)
Victoria Rosner (General Studies)
Elliott Sclar (Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation)
Wolfram Schlenker (Economics)
Sam Sia (Biomedical Engineering)
Sara Tjossem (School of International and Public Affairs)
Kathryn Yatrakis (Columbia College)

Sustainable development is founded on the premise that human well-being should advance without irreparable harm to ecosystems and the vital services they provide, without depleting essential resources, and without posing risks to future generations. The term "sustainable" refers to managing the world's economy in a manner consistent with the continued healthy functioning of Earth's ecosystems, oceans, atmosphere and climate. In this context, "development" refers to continued social, political and economic progress aimed at improving the wellbeing of the global community, especially for the poorest people.

The Earth Institute - in collaboration with Columbia College, the School of General Studies, the School of International and Public Affairs, and the Departments of Earth and Environmental Science; Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology; and Earth and Environmental Engineering - offers a major and a special concentration in sustainable development.

These programs are designed to: engage students in this emergent interdisciplinary discussion; provide knowledge of the theory and practice of sustainable development; stimulate a critical examination of historical and conceptual antecedents; provide experience in the complex challenges of sustainable development through direct engagement; and help them imagine alternative futures for our rapidly changing world. With help from the Earth Institute faculty, courses are specifically created to address the very real and complex issues of development as they relate to the interactions of the natural and social systems.

The major focuses heavily on the sciences and provides students with a working knowledge of issues on a range of interacting subject areas. After declaring the major, students are assigned an academic adviser from within the Earth Institute, who advises on class selection and career development. Students benefit from a support system of faculty, advisers, and program managers, and have access to the multitude of resources for internships, study abroad programs, and career development.

The special concentration is intentionally more flexible, but its structure allows students to benefit from the cross-disciplinary courses and to build the expertise to allow them to address the fundamental issue of how to move towards a trajectory of sustainability.

The sustainable development program is structured to ensure that students graduate with the skills and knowledge to enable them to advance professionally in the public, private, governmental and nonprofit sectors, and to pursue advanced degrees. Those interested in sustainable development are encouraged to participate in lectures, conferences, and other programs sponsored by the Earth Institute.