Overall Rating Expired
Overall Score Expired
Liaison Kyrke Gaudreau
Submission Date Aug. 20, 2011
Executive Letter Download

STARS v1.0

University of Northern British Columbia
ER-5: Sustainability Course Identification

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete Expired Ken Wilkening
Associate Professor and Chair
International Studies
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Has the institution developed a definition of sustainability in the curriculum?:

A copy of the institution's definition of sustainability in the curriculum?:

Definition of sustainability in the curriculum:
Sustainability is a concept that addresses the human relationship to the environment, a relationship that has multiple dimensions. To qualify for inclusion as part of UNBC’s sustainability curriculum, a course, program, or training must tackle the human relationship to the environment in one or more of its multiple dimensions.

Sustainability curriculum is defined as courses or programs of study or training that address the combination of human and ecological well-being; specifically, meeting human environmental needs in conjunction with other essential needs (cultural, social, political, economic, spiritual, etc.) in the present and in the future within the constraints of the life support system of planet Earth.

Sustainability curriculum includes sustainability-focused courses and sustainability-related courses.

Sustainability-focused courses:
concentrate on the concept of sustainability, including environmental and other of its multiple dimensions, or examine an issue or topic using sustainability as a lens, and, use the term “sustainability,” or “sustainable” in a sustainability-connected context in the course title or description.

Sustainability-related courses:
incorporate the concept of sustainability as a distinct course element. These courses may or may not use the term “sustainability” or “sustainable” in the course title or description.

Has the institution identified its sustainability-focused and sustainability-related course offerings?:

A brief description of the methodology the institution followed to complete the inventory:

Course identification methodology:
UNBC is approaching the process of inventorying its sustainability-focused and sustainability-related courses incrementally. The process employed for this pilot inventory did not involve contacting faculty, departments, or administrators. It involved solely examining the university’s academic calendars and scheduled courses over the 2010-2011 academic year (fall, winter, spring semestes). We were trying to determine our sustainability-related academic landscape from the perspective a student who had reference only to the academic calendars. Thus, we were postulating a hypothetical case where a student was keenly interested in sustainability but had access only to the university’s academic calendars (undergraduate and graduate). This hypothetical student was assumed to have no contact with faculty or with advising services or with outside materials. What kind of image might this student construct of the sustainability curriculum at our university?

Step 1: Determine sustainability courses in academic calendar:
The first step of our ‘academic calendar landscape method’ was to one-by-one search course titles and course descriptions as presented in the UNBC 2010-2011 undergraduate and graduate academic calendars, and ask the following questions.

Does the course address the human relationship to the environment?
• To qualify as a sustainability course, the course first and foremost must address the environment or ecosystems in some manner or another and it must address the human relationship to the environment or ecosystems.
• “Environment” and “sustainability” are commonly associated words; however, not all environmental courses can be called sustainability courses. For an environmental course to be categorized as a sustainability course, it had to convey in the title or description that it addressed in whole or part the human-nature relationship. ‘Pure’ environment courses (for example, a course devoted to soils independent of humans) were not included in our inventory.
• Thus, if a course addressed the environment or ecosystems without reference to their connection to human beings, then it does not qualify as a sustainability course. Conversely, if the course addressed non-environmental aspects such as economic development or social equity but did not include the connection between these aspects and the environment or ecosystems, then it did not qualify as a sustainability course.

Does the course use the word “sustainability” or “sustainable” in the title or course description, and, focus on the concept of sustainability?
• Course titles and descriptions were searched for the words “sustainability” or “sustainable”. Specifically, all courses listed in the academic calendar were searched for the use of the root “sustain”, and for each hit the specific word(s) used and the course content were examined.
• For a course to be categorized as sustainability-focused, we employed a strict definition—the course must use sustainability, sustainable development, sustainable communities, or some similar term in the title or course description, and, it had to concentrate on the concept of sustainability.
• If the answer to this question was “yes”, then the course was included in the list of sustainability-focused courses.

Does the course use any other key words related to our “definition of sustainability in the curriculum”?
• Course titles and descriptions were searched from other key words such as (in the environmental realm) ecology, energy, environment, land, landscapes, nature, natural resources, pollution; (in the social realm) colonialism, cultural survival, health, equality, human rights, inequality, justice; (in the economic realm) developing, development, equity, finance, inequity, Global South, poverty, Third World, trade, welfare.
• For a course to be categorized as sustainability-related, it had to include some sort of environmental term in the title or description in conjunction with a term related to at least one other dimension of sustainability.
• When an environment-related term plus another term related to another sustainability dimensions were found in the title or description, the course was evaluated for its association with sustainability.
• By this method, we could not determine if a sustainability aspect in the course title or description was a distinct element of the course or not. This identification must wait for the next iteration of our sustainability course inventory.

No efforts were made to contact faculty or to collect syllabi to verify if the categorizations using the above method were accurate. Thus, it is undoubtedly the case that courses with sustainability content were missed, that courses seemingly with sustainability content actually contain little, and that sustainability aspects, even though identified in the title or description, are not a distinct element of the course. Deeper methods of identification and verification will be used in subsequent sustainability course inventories. Again, our intention with this first-cut inventory was to survey the university’s offering from the vantage point of a student who had reference only to our academic calendars. This hypothetical student will see only course titles and descriptions.

Step 2: Determine which sustainability courses were taught in 2010-2011 academic year:
Once the above list of sustainability-focused and sustainability-related courses contained in the 2010-2011 academic calendar was compiled, it was then ascertained whether a course had been taught during the 2010-2011 academic year (fall 2010, winter 2011, spring 2011) using the university’s academic software.

To determine the total number of courses taught, a list of all courses taught was first compiled. Then some course listings not appropriate to this inventory were deleted. Such course listing included Master’s and PhD thesis courses, international exchange courses (INTX listings), and select courses in the professional programs. Multiple sections were included in both course and sustainability course totals.

Does the institution make its sustainability course inventory publicly available online?:

The website URL where the sustainability course inventory is posted:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.