A Core Curriculum for Sustainability Leadership
2. The Curriculum Design Process
2.1. Theoretical Model Development
- Identity: At the center is the New Leader’s identity, representing their mental model of themself defined in terms of their values and special purpose in achieving intergenerational well-being. It includes an ability and desire to explore and understand their own identity, as well as the identities of others.
- Perspective: The New Leader’s identity shapes their mindset and perspectives. They see the world in holistic ways through a systems lens, recognizing coupled, integrated causal relationships. Their mindset of leading transformative change and innovating in the context of extreme complexity drives them to see problems as opportunities in disguise, and to continually seek ways to drive transformative action.
- Capability: The New Leader’s capabilities represent their knowledge, skills, process sense, and ways of thinking that equip them to navigate the complexity and difficulty of sustainability challenges. They have the capability to build trust and work with diverse stakeholders in myriad contexts, bringing to bear distinctive ways of thinking and acting that result in transformative change.
- Agency: The New Leader’s agency embodies their sense of possibility, ability to act, and their capacity to spur collaboration toward a shared goal. The directionality and nature of their actions, resulting from their identity, perspective, and capability, allows them to create enabling environments for others to contribute towards achieving intergenerational well-being.
2.2. Design Journey
3. Outcomes of the Design Process
3.1. Key Stakeholder Input
- Category 1: New Leader Purpose, Knowledge, Mindsets, and Capabilities
- Committed to sustainability and intergenerational well-being.
- Grounded in ethics and possessing humility.
- Highly collaborative and inclusive.
- Builds bridges and spans siloes to partner with diverse stakeholders.
- Deep listening, empathy, and inquiry capability.
- Identity and capacity as radical change-maker, driving evolutionary and revolutionary change.
- Systems perspective and systems thinking capability.
- Understands life support systems of the planet.
- Capacity to understand change, be adaptable, embrace ambiguity and uncertainty.
- Personal resilience and capacity to build resilience across scales.
- Thinks beyond narrow roles and sees new perspectives and possibilities that others do not.
- Possesses drive and capacity for vision and innovation, rather than compliance.
- Creative confidence in face of daunting challenges, risk-taking, bias for action.
- Capacity for complex problem solving with mindset to look for root causes.
- Effective decision making, drawing on foresight and pattern recognition.
- Category 2: Curriculum and Teaching Methodology
- Derive curriculum from complex sustainability challenges and effective approaches rather than from theory or discipline.
- Integrate theoretical frameworks with deep knowledge of practice.
- Develop and teach case studies that show why certain approaches work.
- Integrate natural and social sciences, and experiential and indigenous knowledge.
- Teach “how” to think, not “what” to think.
- Change hearts and minds through curriculum; go beyond rational learning.
- Create opportunity for global exposure to understand poverty and environmental degradation first-hand.
- Integrate hands-on, applied learning in class.
- Use project-based learning and offer opportunity to “shadow” mentors.
- Category 3: Audience
- Go beyond “converted” to reach broad array of people.
- Undergraduate students from various disciplines.
- Graduate students from diverse undergraduate degrees.
- Professionals from multiple sectors.
- Mid-career leaders (perhaps more open to personal transformation).
- Later career leaders (moving from executive and management roles to board roles or shifting careers to a sustainability focus).
- Professionals who want to collaborate with university to drive change.
- Category 4: Program Structure, Strategy, and Management
- Address structural barriers that impede transdisciplinary research and collaboration at the university to provide more supportive environment for program.
- Incentivize faculty and practitioners to participate, teach, and advise.
- Transcend disciplines through program structure and delivery.
- Attract new faculty and practitioners to fill teaching gaps and fulfill learning objectives.
- Use innovative classroom teaching approaches to drive a new educational model that can have broader impact on changing norms and increasing impact of the university.
- Create a platform that supports learning and experimentation through collaboration across diverse audiences inside and outside of the university.
- Strive for continual learning: set clear goals, evaluate program, and apply learnings.
3.2. Change Leadership for Sustainability Curriculum
3.2.1. Curriculum Core Element 1
3.2.2. Curriculum Core Element 2
3.2.3. Curriculum Core Element 3
3.3. Change Leadership for Sustainability Program Principles, Values, and Audience
3.3.1. Principles and Values
- Values and Ethics: Explicitly articulate the core values and ethics of the program. Emphasize humility, curiosity, the importance of intergenerational well-being, the value of diverse forms of knowledge and experience, and the fundamental importance of ethics, social justice, equity, and environmental justice. Ensure that these values are reflected by the faculty, practitioners, and staff associated with the program, in all program events, interactions, communications, and materials, and integrated into the program’s required courses.
- Theory and Practice: Integrate theory and practice to ensure the relevance of the curriculum and the preparedness of students to lead transformational change in society. Combine theoretical frameworks with case studies to teach students ways of thinking and working that enable them to be effective in complex, dynamic settings. Ensure students have sufficient practice applying the frameworks, so they go beyond the theoretical to the applied.
- Knowledge, Mindsets, and Skills: Teach core knowledge that is essential for understanding the complex, interactive nature of social-environmental systems and the strategies that are effective in advancing sustainability. Develop mindsets that enable students to navigate uncertainty and thrive in volatile, complex settings, and cultivate skills that strengthen their capacity to lead change through collaboration and across disciplinary and cultural boundaries.
- Applied Learning: Use teaching methodologies that enable students to practice being change-makers, systems thinkers, and collaborative leaders. Strengthen student confidence and identity as visionaries and sustainability leaders through hands-on exercises in core classes, project-based learning, and a required practicum (for master’s students).
- Trans-disciplinarity: Integrate insights and approaches from multiple disciplines; and recognize and explore disciplinary biases.
- Diverse Knowledge: Integrate diverse forms of knowledge—indigenous, experiential, scientific—into the curriculum through case studies, guest speakers, and project-based learning. Actively teach about the importance of all forms of knowledge and demonstrate how inclusive problem solving contributes to holistic and sustainable solutions.
- Innovative Teaching Methods: Use innovative teaching methods to help students develop visioning skills, strengthen their creative confidence, develop their identity as sustainability leaders, and practice effecting change. Include methods such as design thinking and systems thinking workshops, reflection exercises, mindfulness practice, scenario planning, role play, collaborative projects, and interactive exercises.
3.4. Required Courses for the Sustainability Science and Practice Master’s Program
3.5. Program Implementation, Learning, and Outcomes
4.2. A Holistic Approach to Developing Change Agents: Identity, Perspective, Competency, and Agency
4.3. Future Directions
Institutional Review Board Statement
Conflicts of Interest
Appendix A. Examples of Master’s Student Practicum Projects
- Fervo Energy—Ryan Sheppard worked with a geothermal energy company, Fervo Energy, analyzing the role of geothermal in larger renewable energy systems and working with stakeholders to help decarbonize the energy sector through partnerships with governments and companies.
- NewDay Impact Investing—Laura Jacobsen and Taylor Hendrickson worked with NewDay Impact Investing, a start-up focused on enhancing corporate performance across environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. Laura conducted research on ESG investment portfolio standards and Taylor launched NewDay’s blog and the NewDay Impact Community, a social platform for impact events and shared experiences.
- Rebuilding Together Peninsula—Ricardo Sanchez Romero partnered with Rebuilding Together Peninsula, an organization looking to increase the development of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in the Bay Area. He created a bilingual survey for residents to communicate their needs and his final analysis engaged local stakeholders to better understand their capabilities to support affordable housing and well-being.
- Microsoft AI for Good—Laura Mediorreal assisted the AI for Good Team at Microsoft in building and training data systems to better identify types of ocean plastic pollution, and she proposed how AI technology can be democratized by communities outside of technology companies in order to scale their sustainability projects.
- Stanford University—Land, Building, and Real Estate—Abby Bauer worked with Stanford’s Office of Sustainability to measure university aviation emissions and develop strategies to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. She created a final proposal with actionable strategies for air travel emission reductions and appropriate carbon offset options to be considered by the Board and administration.
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Novy, J.W.; Banerjee, B.; Matson, P. A Core Curriculum for Sustainability Leadership. Sustainability 2021, 13, 10557. https://doi.org/10.3390/su131910557
Novy JW, Banerjee B, Matson P. A Core Curriculum for Sustainability Leadership. Sustainability. 2021; 13(19):10557. https://doi.org/10.3390/su131910557Chicago/Turabian Style
Novy, Julia Wells, Banny Banerjee, and Pamela Matson. 2021. "A Core Curriculum for Sustainability Leadership" Sustainability 13, no. 19: 10557. https://doi.org/10.3390/su131910557