Academic Courses

For details about the credit, including the criteria, timeframe, applicability, scoring and more, please review the full credit language:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between sustainability-focused courses (a.k.a. sustainability courses) and sustainability-inclusive courses?

To count as a sustainability course, the course title or description must indicate a primary and explicit focus on sustainability. The course title or description does not have to use the term “sustainability” to count as sustainability-focused if the primary and explicit focus of the course is on the interdependence of ecological and social/economic systems or a major sustainability challenge such as climate change.

If the course title and description do not unequivocally indicate such a focus, but it is evident from the course description or syllabus that the course incorporates sustainability challenges, issues, and concepts in a prominent way, the course may qualify as course that includes sustainability (a.k.a. sustainability-inclusive).

Note: Both types of courses earn points at the same rate. When in doubt, a course should be counted as sustainability-inclusive rather than sustainability-focused.

What information do we need to include in our course inventory?

For each course, the inventory must provide the following at minimum:

  • The course title
  • The department (or equivalent) associated with the course
  • The level of each course, either indicated descriptively (e.g., undergraduate or UG) or by guiding language (e.g.,“courses 500 and above indicate graduate level”).
  • A brief course description or rationale explaining why the course is included, i.e., that references sustainability, the interdependence of ecological and social/economic systems, or a sustainability challenge
  • An indication of whether the course qualifies as sustainability-focused or sustainability-inclusive (or equivalent terminology).

Is a particular format or file type required for the course inventory?

No. However, providing your course inventory in spreadsheet format makes it more accessible to students, reviewers, and other audiences. Spreadsheets also allow for course counts to be automatically calculated and quickly checked to ensure they align with the figures reported in the STARS Reporting Tool. AASHE makes available a course inventory template that may be helpful (see below).

Templates & Tools

Example Responses

  • California State University, Long BeachInventory goes above and beyond minimum credit criteria by also including “justification for inclusion” and whether the word “sustainability” appears.
  • Elon University – Well-organized PDF inventory that includes course counts at the end, which are consistent with what is reported under the credit.
  • Indiana University Bloomington – Course counts are clearly marked in the Excel inventory, and are consistent with what is reported under the credit.
  • Ohio University – Well-organized Excel inventory that includes course counts which are consistent with what is reported under the credit.
  • Portland State University – Well-organized inventory that shows consistency in course counts and includes a unique section on sustainability dimensions.
  • Santa Clara University – Inventory meets minimum criteria and also includes a methods section as well as rationale for inclusion for most courses.
  • University College Cork – National University of Ireland, CorkInventory meets all minimum criteria and includes a column to indicate which SDGs are covered by the course, which is unique and exemplary.
  • University of Massachusetts LowellCourse inventory is well organized, matches reported counts, and includes a reasoning column as well as course description.
  • University of Washington, Seattle – A fully comprehensive inventory from a large institution.
  • Yale UniversityCourse inventory is well organized and includes count equations to track course counts and ensure consistency in what is reported under the credit.

Common Issues Identified During Review

  • Score outlier: It is uncommon for institutions to earn full points or very close to it. If a high score is reported, please check closely for the issues below.
  • A common mistake is to count courses that address social, cultural, or economic issues (e.g., Social Work, International Relations, or Women’s Studies), but do not have a primary and explicit focus on the interdependence of ecological and social/economic systems or a major sustainability challenge, as sustainability-focused courses. Such courses may be inclusive of sustainability, but they do not qualify as sustainability-focused.
  • For each course, the inventory should include, at minimum, the title, department (or equivalent), and level of each course (i.e., undergraduate or graduate), as well as a brief course description (or rationale for why the course is being included). A common mistake is omitting some or all course descriptions.
  • The count of courses reported under the credit should be consistent with the count included in the inventory. Valid discrepancies must be clarified in the Notes field.
  • The number of academic departments reported in this credit should be consistent with the number reported in Academics and Demographics, unless departments that do not offer courses have been excluded. Such exclusions should be explained in the Notes field.

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