UNC offers 460 undergraduate and 100 graduate courses in sustainability in 52 departments. Sustainability-related course offerings are primarily in the College of Arts and Sciences. Several graduate and professional schools, including Business, Government, Media and Journalism, Law, Public Health, and Social Work have also introduced sustainability into their curricula. The sustainability minor, introduced in 2008, offers courses in environmental science, business, public policy, and planning. Other departments with multiple sustainability options include anthropology, communications, geography, geology, and philosophy.


Center for Sustainable Enterprise

Over the past 10 years, the Center for Sustainable Enterprise has worked to integrate sustainability into the culture at the Kenan-Flagler Business School so that students are equipped to incorporate triple bottom line principles into their post-MBA careers. In 2013, 32% of the MBA class completed the Sustainable Enterprise concentration, compared to 19% just three years earlier. 82% of the graduating class took at least one Sustainable Enterprise elective. Sustainable Enterprise electives include classes such as “Innovation in Green Building,” “Corporate Social Responsibility,” and “Strategies in Sustainable Business.” In 2013, Kenan-Flagler Business School was ranked seventh globally for Sustainability in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s MBA Rankings.


City and Regional Planning

The City and Regional Planning Department offers both a Master of City and Regional Planning degree and an undergraduate minor in Urban Studies and Planning. Partnering with UNC’s Highway Safety Research Center, the department offers one of the nation’s only graduate-level planning courses in bike and pedestrian transportation. The course outlines how pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure must be integrated into transportation planning in order to create sustainable communities. Undergraduate courses include “Cities of the Future,” “Solving Urban Problems,” and “Principles of Sustainability,” among others.


Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology

The undergraduate majors in environmental science and environmental studies are administered by the Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology in the College of Arts and Sciences. The sustainability minor, introduced in 2008, is also administered by the Curriculum. The Curriculum also offers an MA, MS, and PhD in Ecology.

UNC students graduating through the Curriculum are required to complete a capstone project. The projects, administered by the Institute for the Environment, are client-based and involve interdisciplinary group work among peers. Recent capstone projects have included analysis of Jordan Lake water quality, Tar Heel Bikes performance review and spatial analysis, and an inventory of the efficiency of campus buildings.


Institute for the Environment

The Institute for the Environment was created in 2007 to strengthen research and engagement within the Carolina Environmental Program. The Institute provides experiential education by administering a network of field sites around the state and the world. These field sites allow students to complete hands-on research and work closely with faculty. One benefit of a field site is the opportunity to complete an internship, which gives students valuable experience. North Carolina programs offer extended ecological study in Manteo, Morehead City, and Highlands. In 2008, the Institute introduced a new, local Triangle field site focused on sustainability. This field site allows students to remain in Chapel Hill and take classes on campus, while still benefiting from the unique experience provided by the Institute for the Environment field sites. Field sites abroad in the United Kingdom and Thailand focus on energy policy issues, while the field site in the Galapagos Islands focuses on marine science.

In the summer of 2013, the Institute for the Environment launched the Burch Summer Study program. The program offers students a look at several European cities that are leaders in sustainability, including Freiburg, Germany; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Lund, Malmo, and Stockholm, Sweden. This six-week summer program allows students to explore the social, political, cultural, and geographic factors that influence efficiency, equity, environmental security, and quality of life.

The Institute also partners with campus architects, engineers, the Sustainability Office, and the greenhouse gas emissions specialist to offer enrichment courses on high performance buildings, sustainability, and climate change. The North Carolina Climate Literacy: Integrating Modeling & Technology Experiences (CLIMATE) Fellows Program is an interdisciplinary professional development opportunity administered by the Institute for the Environment that serves 24 teachers annually. The year-long program exposes participants to global, regional, and NC-specific data on climate change science and impacts.


UNC Institute for the Environment

Gillings School of Global Public Health

Faculty and students at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health bring an interdisciplinary perspective to studying health disparities across North Carolina and around the world. The school offers programs in epidemiology, health behavior and health education, health policy and management, maternal and child health, nutrition, and public health leadership.

Within the Gillings School, the Water Institute brings together individuals and institutions from diverse disciplines and sectors and empowers them to work together to solve the most critical global issues in water and health. Students work alongside faculty to find sustainable solutions to the growing global water crisis. The Water Institute also hosts a variety of seminars and discussions focused on educating students, faculty, and the community about the global water crisis


Physics and Astronomy

Undergraduate students in the Physics and Astronomy Department are offered courses on energy systems, resources, and trends related to sustainability issues. These include “Energy: Physical Principles and the Quest for Alternatives to Dwindling Oil and Gas,” “Our Energy and Climate Crises: Challenges and Opportunities,” and “Power Down: Preparing Your Community for the Transition from Cheap Oil.”


Physics and Astronomy

School of Government

As a training ground for current and future public administrators, the School of Government is figuring out what it takes to “go green” and is then relaying its findings to government officials across the state. An internal SOGreen campaign was initiated by graduate students in the Public Management and Leadership course in spring 2008. The group launched a public relations campaign, encouraged new behaviors, and measured progress. All green features in the building, including recycling bins, water-efficient fixtures, and energy-efficient lighting and hand dryers were labeled and identified in online floor plans.

SOGreen also focused on the procurement of food and inks, and catalyzed faculty efforts to write a green procurement policy for the School. Catered events now feature local and organic food. The Knapp-Sanders Building serves as a distribution site for a local farmer’s Community Supported Agriculture program with 15 staff and faculty participants.

The School of Government is also home to the Environmental Finance Center, a department focused on reaching local communities through the delivery of interactive applied training programs and technical assistance. The EFC at UNC is dedicated to enhancing the ability of governments and other organizations to provide environmental programs and services in fair, effective, and financially sustainable ways. Current programs focus on finding ways to incorporate environmental infrastructure into the government in a financially and socially responsible way.


School of Media and Journalism

Students in the School of Media and Journalism actively document and promote sustainability programs on campus. A new course offering in fall 2014, “Environmental Storytelling,” teaches students to convey environmental and scientific information in a way that is understandable to a mass audience.

Students report on sustainable practices and issues outside UNC. Environmental Heroes, a 22-minute program produced by students in the science documentary television course, profiled people working to protect and improve North Carolina’s environment. The documentary aired locally as part of the North Carolina Visions film festival on North Carolina Public Television.

In summer 2009, ten Carolina journalism fellows developed an experimental news website exploring energy use and its impacts on communities across the country. Powering a Nation is Carolina’s contribution to News for the 21st Century: Incubators of New Ideas, which brought together students from multiple universities to revitalize journalism schools and promote innovation in the news industry. Each year, Powering a Nation staffs a new group of students who work together on a video journalism project related to energy use.

In 2012, the student fellows with Powering a Nation presented the “100 Gallons Project,” which “explores how our most critical resource goes far beyond traditional power.” The purpose of the project is “to restore and encourage a sense of respect and wonder to our cultural view of water and to start a conversation about water problems and solutions in our country,” while also putting these issues into a global context.

In fall 2012, students taking an energy reporting class wrote and produced interactive multimedia stories covering the intersection of energy and politics in North Carolina. Story topics included smart grid education, the state legislature’s shift on environmental policy, and the future of offshore wind energy, among other topics.

In 2013, a student film project, “Living Galapagos,” focused on the impact of humans on the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador. The film won a People’s Voice Webby Award, a leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet.


School of Law

The Center for Climate, Energy, Environment & Economics (CE3), established in 2008, addresses emerging environmental law issues.  CE3 recently collaborated on a report in 2011 assessing disaster recovery planning in North Carolina. In 2013, CE3 was awarded ABA Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources Law Student Program of the Year for the 2012 Environmental Law Symposium.

A new environmental law faculty member, hired in 2009, specializes in carbon offsets and the impact of offsets on a carbon market. Students in his Carbon Trading Practice course examine the mechanisms and impacts of greenhouse gas trading systems. Beginning in 2011, a new undergraduate course “Environmental Law and Policy” was offered to students. The course is taught by a School of Law faculty member and focuses on American and international environmental regulations.



The social and economic justice minor in the sociology department fosters knowledge about human rights, economic justice, democratic participation, sustainable development, diversity, and racial, ethnic, and gender equality. Through courses and the service-learning requirement, students in the minor gain the skills to work in nonprofit organizations, local communities, or governmental organizations.


Department of Sociology