Sustainability Studies

Sustainability Studies at RWU is all about seeking solutions to the Earth’s most pressing problems. By combining ideas from a variety of disciplines -- from science and humanities to business, engineering and architecture -- you’ll develop a deeper understanding of the complex relationships among environmental, social and economic issues that will help guide your decision-making in your career and as a 21st century citizen.

Do you care about increasing the well-being of people and their communities, and creating healthy economies and environments? Do you want to understand what major challenges face humans in the future and how we can all confront and overcome them? Sustainability Studies is for you!

Sustainability Studies at RWU is for any student interested in helping make the world a better place.

If you care about helping people, engaging in your community, and conserving biodiversity, then you already care about Sustainability Studies. Declaring a major, minor or core concentration in Sustainability Studies will deepen your understanding of complex socio-economic-environmental systems and help you develop the skills needed to help improve them.

Working toward sustainability requires expertise from people from all backgrounds. Learning more about issues of sustainability, and how to live a more sustainable life, will help all of us as individuals and citizens save resources and money while we improve our personal happiness and well-being.

Sustainability Studies at RWU is an interdisciplinary program focused on finding solutions to the complex problems humans face on local and global scales, including pollution, resource management, social equity, long-term economic stability, biodiversity loss, and climate change. The Sustainability Studies major will prepare you for diverse careers in sustainability-related fields and give you the knowledge and skills needed to create healthy and resilient communities.

Career Outlook 

Sustainability Studies graduates find success as:

  • Sustainability analyst
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) coordinator
  • Environmental educator
  • Sustainable development project manager
  • Environmental communications specialist
  • Science journalist
  • Environmental policy advocate

Dynamic, Real-World Learning

Three people working together in a community garden at RWUWith a focus on experiential learning at RWU, Sustainability Studies students can:

  • Learn sustainable construction methods and systems and pursue project-based work in sustainable building projects.
  • Working on important sustainability issues, ranging from water quality to habitat conservation to sustainable design projects.
  • Design, build, and install informational signs that educate the broader RWU community and visitors about local biodiversity.
  • Study abroad in Vietnam during Winter Intersession and conduct fieldwork in the Cu Lao Cham-Hoi An Biosphere Reserve to monitor the ecosystem and ensure that local phosphate levels are within acceptable standards.

Great Internship Opportunities

Sustainability Studies majors gain real-world experience through internships, which often lead to full-time employment. RWU students intern with diverse nonprofit, governmental, and business organizations including:

  • The Audubon Society of Rhode Island
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Newport Collaborative Architects
  • Narragansett Bay Estuary Program
  • Local, state, and federal resource management and environmental protection agencies

Degree Requirements


In addition to SUST 101, 301 and 401, students must take two electives from the list below following these requirements:

  • one course must be at the 200-level or above
  • both courses could not be used to fulfill requirements for the student’s major (e.g., have the same program designation or are required for the major)
  • both courses do not come from prohibited Core Concentration programs as based on the student’s major following the list of restrictions on pp. 124-125 of the University catalog (see restrictions listed below).

Electives for the SUST CC

ANTH 222 Environmental Anthropology*
ARCH 101 Introduction to Architecture
ARCH 321 Site and Environment
AAH 423 Nature and Art
BIO 104 Biology II and Lab
BIO 231 Bioethics*
BIO 332 Fisheries Science*

BIO 240 Concepts of Ecology#
BIO 312 Conservation Biology#
BIO 345 Aquaculture and Lab#
CHEM 201 Environmental Chemistry I and Lab*
CHEM 202 Environmental Chemistry II and Lab*
CNST 540 Sustainable Construction
ECON 320 Resource and Environmental Economics*
ENG 110 Serpents, Swords, Symbols & Sustainability
ENGR 320 Environmental Engineering*
ENGR 340 Sustainable Energy Systems*
ENGR 405 Air Pollution and Control*
ENGR 407 Solid and Hazardous Waste Management*
HIST 354 United States Environmental History*
HP 150 Introduction to Historic Preservation
NATSC 103 Earth System Science and Lab
NATSC 203 Humans, Environmental Change and Sustainability#
NATSC 204 Oceanography
NATSC 301 Marine Resource Management#
PLS 200 Environmental Law
POLSC 383 Environmental Politics & Policy
SUST 430 Special Topics in Sustainability Studies#

#These courses have pre-requisite requirements that can also be taken as an elective for the Sustainability Studies Core Concentration.

*These courses have pre-requisite requirements that do not fulfill requirements for completion of the Sustainability Studies Core Concentration. Some pre-requisites may be waived with the instructor’s permission.

Elective restrictions for the SUST CC by major

Accounting majors may not use ECON 320 as an elective.
American Studies majors may not use HIST 354 or POLSC 383 as electives.
Anthropology + Sociology majors may not use ANTH 222 as an elective.
Architecture majors may not use any ARCH courses as electives.
Art and Architectural History majors may not use AAH 423 as an elective.
Biology majors may not use any BIO, CHEM or NATSC courses as electives.
Biochemistry majors may not use any BIO, CHEM or NATSC courses as electives.
Chemistry majors may not use any BIO, CHEM or NATSC courses as electives.
Computer Information Systems majors may not use ECON 320 as an elective.
Computer Science majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Construction Management majors may not use CNST 540 as an elective.
Creative Writing majors may not use ENG 110 as an elective.
Criminal Justice majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Dance Performance majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Economics majors may not use ECON 320 as an elective.
Elementary Education majors may not take the Sustainability Studies core concentration.
Engineering majors may not use any ENGR courses as electives.
English Literature majors may not use ENG 110 as an elective.
Environmental Science majors may not use any BIO, CHEM, or NATSC courses as electives, or ENGR courses, ANTH 222 or PLS 200  if those are used to fulfll requirements for the environmental science major.
Finance majors may not use ECON 320 as an elective.
Modern Language majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Global Communications majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Graphic Design majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Historic Preservation majors may not use HP 150 as an elective.
History majors may not use HIST 354 or POLSC 383 as electives.
International Business majors may not use ECON 320 as an elective.
International Relations majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Legal Studies majors may not use PLS 200 as an elective.
Media Communications majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Management majors may not use ECON 320 as an elective.
Marine Biology majors may not use any BIO, CHEM or NATSC courses as electives.
Marketing majors may not use ECON 320 as an elective.
Mathematics majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Music majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Philosophy majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Political Science majors may not use HIST 354 or POLSC 383 as electives.
Psychology majors may not use ANTH 222 as an elective.
Theater majors may use any courses from the list as electives.
Visual Arts Studies majors may use any courses from the list as electives.

Sustainability Studies is a transdisciplinary field that seeks to understand the complexity of our world through interrelationships among environmental, economic, and sociocultural systems.

RWU faculty have compiled this list of recommended resources to help you engage further in your sustainability studies.

Enjoy, learn, and take action!



News Websites


Organizations, local to global


First-year students start with foundational courses in Sustainability Studies, and then choose to specialize in one of the following five tracks:

Ecology & Environmental Management
This track focuses on interrelations among organisms and their environments, and how humans affect, are affected by, and can manage ecosystems for desired outcomes. Students take courses in ecology, conduct fieldwork, and learn about environmental monitoring and management.

Ecological Design
Focusing on design and building approaches that reduce the adverse environmental impacts of development and construction, this track combines courses in Architecture and Construction Management with the foundational sustainability curriculum.

Science and Technology Communication
Students in this track will learn how to effectively communicate complex ideas related to science and technology in sustainability, practicing written and multimedia storytelling and bridging the gap between technical and lay audiences.

Transformative Leadership Development and Organizational Change
This track will prepare students for careers as change agents in many types of private, public, and nonprofit organizations. Courses in public policy, management, marketing, and communication are some of the key areas of study.

Individualized Studies
With guidance from and approval by Sustainability Studies faculty, students may design an individualized major.

A person cleans trash on the beach

Learning Outcomes

After completing a Sustainability Studies major, core concentration or minor, students will have the interdisciplinary knowledge to think clearly and critically about the complexity of problems facing humans from local to global scales including pollution, resource management, social equality, long-term economic stability, biodiversity loss, and climate change, among many other issues.

With a rich, interdisciplinary vocabulary and systems-centered worldview, students will be able to communicate across disciplines and more effectively work as part of teams engaged in seeking solutions to problems of sustainability within the business sector, government and non-governmental agencies, the public policy realm, and environmental organizations, among other institutions. The acquisition of a broader, synthetic understanding of complex contemporary sustainability-related issues will allow RWU graduates to contribute more effectively in their future careers and as public citizens to help create a more sustainable future for humanity and other species on Earth.

A Leader In Sustainability

Sustainable Futures is one of five strategic priorities in RWU's Strategic Action Plan

"We strive to develop sustainable futures through the responsible stewardship of our people and resources, and in so doing, cultivate an enduring institution and sustainable legacy for Roger Williams University"

- Excellence By Design: Roger Williams University Strategic Action Plan, 2021

RWU received a STARS Bronze rating in recognition of our sustainability achievements from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in 2023. 

Why Study Sustainability?

Alicia Wilson"I have been passionate about the issues of sustainability since high school and was intent on integrating the subject into my college studies. The minor complements my marine biology degree  and I was even more pleased to use Sustainability Studies as a core concentration, confirming its true interdisciplinary nature. The knowledge and tools learned in the SUST courses will help me in my future career and lead me to a more sustainable lifestyle."

                                      - Alicia Wilson, Marine Biology, Class of 2015


 Caitlin Shanahan"Sustainability studies exists to open our eyes to the Earth's dwindling limited resources that are available to us. Things we use every day could disappear if we do not pay attention to how much we are using and work to conserve them. This is a time-limited project; either we take steps now or suffer the consequences later. Learning about sustainability also opens our eyes to ways to fix the environmental damage we have caused and prevent more resource-related problems." 

-Caitlin Shanahan, Marine Biology, Class of 2017


Connor Szczpanek"Sustainability is the way of securing our future; without increasing sustainable practices we will suffer from an environment that is detrimental to our health. It is up to us to take action and make our way of living more sustainable, no matter the sacrifice. For example, we must engineer our buildings to be more sustainable now to reduce problems for future generations."

-Connor Szczepanek, Construction Management, Class of 2015



If you have questions or for more information about the Sustainability Studies program, please contact Steven M. Esons, or Allen Hance,

Or one of the members of the Sustainability Studies Advisory Committee:
Paul Bender, Writing Studies
Loren Byrne, Biology and Environmental Science
Jason Oliver, Marketing
Paola Prado, Journalism
Charles Thomas, Engineering 
Leonard Yui, Architecture
Wendy Godek, Politics and International Relations
Ray Huling, Sustainability Studies
Pamela Judge, Engineering
Katrina Norvell, Public Administration
Jennifer Pearce, Physics and Food Science
Marcella Recher, Sustainability Studies
Lydia Silva, Sustainability Studies