Sustainability in the Curriculum

At COA, our courses reflect our values and concerns for the world. As such, many classes directly address sustainability. Sierra magazine ranks U.S. colleges and universities that voluntarily respond to their "Cool Schools" survey. As part of our involvement in the report, we compiled an inventory of courses taught during the 2012–2013 school year involving sustainability.

Of 186 courses taught during this time period, 19 were classified as directly addressing sustainability, and 73 included sustainability in the curriculum. Additionally, students often incorporate projects related to sustainability into many other courses. For example, a student taking Animation could create a project explaining Fair Trade Certification, or a report in Ethnographic Fieldwork could describe a community's adaptions to climate change. Students also are encouraged to design independent and group studies, residencies, internships, and senior projects to deepen their understanding of sustainability. Complete course descriptions can be found here.

A selection of courses concerned with sustainability offered in the 2012-2013 academic year are listed below.

Courses Directly Addressing Sustainability

Acadia: Exploring the National Park Idea – Using Acadia National Park as a case study, the class examines the historical, ecological, cultural, social, legal, economic, and spiritual contexts in which national parks are formed and continue to exist in the 21st century. Explores the broader themes of wilderness preservation, attitudes toward nature, the history of conservation, and the commodification of nature.

Advanced Seminar in Ecological Economics – Focuses on economics of sustainability. Explores concepts such as biophysical constraints to economic growth, energy and resource flow analysis, system dynamics, community sustainability, and historical issues of sustainability.

Agroecology – The central goal of the course is to apply agroecological principles to develop sustainable criteria for farms.

Community Planning and Decision Making – This class centers around community-based planning for “smart”/sustainable growth.

Economic Development: Theory and Case Studies This class focuses on general economic development models as well as country specific case studies for “smart”/sustainable development/growth.

Environmental Chemistry Focus on the properties of the earth’s atmosphere and hydrosphere, of the processes that maintain them, and of threats to them. Topics include ozone depletion, urban and indoor air quality, climate change, eutrophication, acidification and contamination by organic and metallic toxins.

Environmental Law and Policy This course provides an overview of environmental law and the role of law in shaping environmental policy. Examines the nature and scope of environmental, energy, and resource problems and evaluates the various legal mechanisms available to address those problems.

Gardens and Greenhouses Covers multiple aspects—social, practical, cultural, and environmental—of organic food production.

Fixing Food Systems: Sustainable Production & Consumption This course examines food systems and efforts to make them more sustainable by increasing their positive health, environmental, and social impacts.

Food Power and Justice This course examines power and politics in the food system: which actors hold power over resources, decision-making and markets, which actors want to hold more power, and how they are contesting or defending their respective positions. Studies the role of social movements, as well as governmental and non-governmental actors, in domestic and international food systems.

Health Development This course explores the key factors shaping the health and well-being of disadvantaged populations and the socio-cultural aspect of solving these health problems. Discusses how cultural values impact health, how powerful global actors influence health policy, and how inequality and poverty affect the health of a population.

Introduction to Forestry and Stand Management Introduction to responsible/sustainable forest harvesting and management.

Introduction to Sustainability This course is a general introduction to social, environmental, and economic sustainability. Uses examples of people and organizations trying to move toward more sustainable practices in city planning, transportation, food systems, energy, business operations, housing design, consumption, waste disposal, and other areas.

Natural Resources This course focuses on various types of natural resources including water, soil, rock, mineral, and various energy resources (fossil fuels, alternatives). Students learn how each resource is extracted/refined/exploited/conserved for human use and evaluate environmental issues associated with each industry.

Physics and Mathematics of Sustainable Energy This class is an introduction to the physics, mathematics, and economics of energy consumption and sources of sustainable energy.

Practical Activism Teaches students skills to be effective activists and advocates for environmental and social change. The central issues taken on by this year’s class were the environmental impacts of bottled water.

Practicum in Environmental Diplomacy Used three case studies—biodiversity, food security, and climate change—to teach students about international environmental agreements.

South American Earth Systems This class is a case study of a locality in the northern Andes of Peru. Students study the intersection of human society and long-lived dynamic earth system process including plate tectonics, erosion, active faulting, regional climate patterns, land use, and geohazards. This course also involves an optional ten-day field trip to the region. As this region is the world's largest volume of tropical glaciers it is currently being studied by international teams of scientists to better understand past and potential implications of global/regional climate change.

Tutorial: Advanced International Environmental Law Provides an overview of the use of international law in solving transnational environmental problems and shaping international behavior. The course analyzes the effectiveness of multilateral environmental agreements, existing international environmental law frameworks addressing climate change, Arctic and Antarctic development, ozone depletion, biological diversity, forest loss, export of toxic chemicals, and issues raised by the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development and subsequent environmental fora.

Courses related to sustainability

3D Studio: Introduction to Three-Dimensional Art and Design – One assignment requires students to build a functional piece of furniture out of recycled and re-purposed materials.

African American Literature – Includes readings and discussion on the relationship between races and social classes in regard to land ownership and labor.

Architectural Design Studio – Includes a unit on green design.

Biogeography – Covers conservation of rare and endemic species as well as the management of terrestrial and aquatic habitats harboring such species. The impacts of climate change on these species and communities are also a focus.

Biology II: Form and Function – Includes a unit on impacts of climate change.

Bread, Love and, Dreams – Includes an examination of the way that place and environment is linked with dreams and the subconscious.

Business and Non-profit Basics – A central theme is green business and the triple-bottom-line.

Changing Schools, Changing Society – This course examines the theories and methods that people have used to change schools and society. It also looks at the history and psychology of change in social institutions. Essential for understanding how to bring about change in educational institutions and communities. Explores relationship between institutions and communities.

Chemistry I – Includes discussions of green chemistry and sustainable materials.

Chemistry II – Includes discussions of green chemistry and sustainable materials.

Chemistry for Consumers – Examines how life reflects properties of biomolecules and discusses chemistry of nutrition, cooking, agriculture, and medicines in a social context.

Chemistry of Foods – Includes a unit on the impacts of diet and methods of food preparation on health.

Child Education and Development – Includes a unit on the economic and social sustainability of the teaching profession, particularly as regards teacher education and certification. Also includes a unit on how to make schools themselves more green and sustainable for students and teachers.

Climate and Weather – This class explores general weather and climate patterns on global, regional, and local scales. The course covers the major forces driving global climate fluctuations - on both long (Millions of years) and short (days) timescales, including natural and anthropogenic processes.

Conservation Biology – This course examines the causes, extent, and ecological significance of the endangered species "crisis." Discusses the significance of successful introductions of exotic species into different regions and their effects on native forms, changes in land use patterns, and the science of Landscape Ecology.

Contemporary Social Movement Strategies – Includes treatments of environmental and social justice movements.

Contemporary Women's Novels – Includes readings and discussion of the relationship between women and the land in countries outside the U.S.; there are also readings and discussion pertaining to the impacts of globalization and development on indigenous peoples.

Creative Destruction: Understanding 21st Century Economies – Major attention is given to the role of multinational corporations in the global economy as well as how economic factors such as consumerism and inflation influence and affect society.

Ecology – This course examines the causes and consequences of distribution and abundance of resources and organisms. Students discuss and apply appropriate techniques used by ecologists.

Ecology and Experience – Includes a discussion of the history of ecology and its application to conservation, planning, and urban ecology.

Ecology/Natural History – Covers past land use practices on Mount Desert Island that influenced the creation of Acadia National Park and the landscape that we see before us today. Also discusses potential impacts of climate change on the local environment.

Edible Botany – Includes a focus on the conservation and management of wild relatives of our common edible plants, and their importance for nutrition and medicine.

Elements of Theatre – Includes a unit on the economic and social sustainability of the dramatic arts. The class also includes a critical examination of eco-theatre.

Entomology – Includes a unit on Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Ethics: History of a Problematic – This course looks at conflict resolution methods as a way to deal with central ethical issues of our time including a variety of environmental and social concerns.

Ethnobotany – Includes a unit on the use of traditional ecological knowledge in the management and conservation of landscapes as well as the importance of documenting historical and contemporary plant–human relationships.

Environmental Physiology – Contains a unit on thermal ecology of animals and how it will be impacted by changes in climate.

Experiential Education – Includes a unit on environmental education.

Farm Planning – Students study the information available about the Peggy Rockefeller Farms’ environment and their past use from maps, historical data and oral histories. They then design independent or team projects to begin during the next growing season. Projects that prove to be feasible, cost-effective, and economically sustainable using student labor and the farm manager's oversight will be continued.

Femininity and Masculinity Go to School: Gender, Power, & Education – Students look at ways in which social constructions of sex, gender, and sexuality impact social relations and relations to our environment. Students are invited to re-imagine those relationships to help effect a more peaceful and just world.

Geology and Humanity – Human settlement and development is intimately tied to existing natural boundaries such as geography and landforms, resource type and resource richness. This course explores historical and current examples of how human historical settlement and economic development is connected to, among other things, the presence or absence of natural resources such as soil, water, ore, plants, and so on.

Geology of Mount Desert Island – In this course students learn basic geologic principles and skills (topographic and geologic map reading, orienteering, field observation, note taking, field measurements) that are key components to understanding historical and current landscape–altering processes. The course also looks at human occupation on the Mount Desert Island in terms of potential geologic hazards, land use practices,  settlement, and industry.

Graphic Design Studio I/Visual Communication – This class carries out group design projects for environmental organizations including Maine Sea Grant Consortium and the Union River Watershed Coalition.

Graphic Design Studio II: Digital Projects – This course centers around independent work, and students consistently take on projects in sustainability, conservation, or a related area. Projects from this year's class included developing visual communication for a biodiesel project and the design of graphics to create public awareness in Mexico about genetically modified corn in tortillas.

Human Ecology Core Course – Includes units on natural history, sustainable agriculture, and the history of human ecology.

Industrial Ecology – Examines the relationships between the production of material goods and the effect this process has on humans and the environment.

International Wildlife Policy and Protected Areas – Focuses on the framework of treaties and other international mechanisms set up to protect species and the system of protected areas established around the world to protect habitat. It examines several seminal wildlife treaties such as the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, CITES, migratory bird treaties, and protocols to the Antarctic Treaty.

Introduction to Arts and Design – Includes a unit on green design, focusing on urban planning and smart growth.

Introduction to GIS I – Students learn basic GIS skills which are essential for work in green planning and conservation. Student projects in this class include those with a sustainability theme.

Introduction to Global Politics – Includes a unit on the the political impacts of climate change.

Introduction to Oceanography – Reviews impacts of climate change and acidification on marine flora and fauna.

Literature, Science, and Spirituality – Consists of readings and discussion on how science and technology have developed over the past several hundred years, profoundly impacting human/nature relationships.

Marine Biology – Includes discussion of effects of climate change and ocean acidification on marine life.

Marine Ecology – Includes discussion of effects of climate change and ocean acidification on marine life.

Marine Mammal Biology I – Includes module on interactions between marine mammals and humans using fisheries and ship strikes as examples. Examines methods to protect marine mammals and promote sustainable human activities.

Media and Society: Readings in Mass Communication – Includes a unit on environmental communication and media ecologies.

Molecular Evolutionary Genetics – Includes work on the use of genetic markers in the conservation of vulnerable populations. This is an increasingly important technique in conservation biology.

National Park Practicum: Designing the ANP Nature Center – This class, offered in collaboration with Acadia National Park, was an interdisciplinary term of intensive study, research, and collaboration to design and create climate change communication exhibits and messaging for the park's nature center.

Play Production Workshop – The central assignment of this do-it-yourself course is to construct a small creative collective that can produce a play using only re-used and recycled materials. The production itself is an exercise in sustainability: How lean and sustainable can it be?

Political Persuasion and Messaging Fundamentals – Includes a unit looking at how contemporary political candidates communicate environmental and sustainability issues in their political advertisements.

Practical Skills in Community Development – Includes the theory and practice of community development, drawing on the instructor’s experience with sustainable community development in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Mount Desert Island Tomorrow, and others.

Soils – Critically examined current (un)sustainable practices around soils and explored management options for healthier, more sustainable soil.

Technical Writing – Include a group class project in which students write an analysis of alternatives for rebuilding the Acadia National Park headquarters. Students took into account environmental, social, and economic factors.

The Cold War: Early Years – Looks at the formation of international institutions that now play a key role in (un)sustainability worldwide, such as the World Bank, the UN, and the IMF. The course considers how these institutions have roots in a cold war mentality, and why that is important when considering them today.

The Draft Horse – Includes discussion of draft horse use on farms and in society through historical, current, and future lenses, including the sustainability of their current and future use.

The Science of Comedy – Looked at comedy as a vehicle for social change and justice. Included an assignment where students had to create and deliver a performance that uses comedy as to advocate for social change.

Trees and Shrubs of MDI – Covers the conservation and management of rare plant species and communities. Also looks at how plants may respond to climate change-associated stressors.

Tutorial: City/Country II: Amer. Lit. Landscapes 1900-1960 – Examines literature that considers the human relationship to country and city in terms of resources, labor, and economics.

Tutorial: Economics of Cooperation, Networks and Trust – Focuses on major ways of understanding cooperation—individual optimization, strategic optimization, institutions, and embedded social relationships—and applies cooperation to the contexts of commonly held resources, networks and strategic alliances, and formal economic organizations. Examines the development of institutions for the management of common pool resources such as fisheries and the climate.

Tutorial: Farm and Food Projects – Includes projects in sustainable agriculture.

Tutorial: Politics of World Trade – Includes a unit on the environmental impacts of trade.

Whitewater/Whitepaper: River Conservation and Recreation – This course covers ecological, historical, sociological, political, and legal aspects of river conservation and watershed protection. Special emphasis is placed on understanding the policy issues surrounding dams, river protection, and watershed planning.

Winter Ecology – Includes a unit on winter ecology in a changing climate. Engages with literature on earlier ice-outs and changing snowpacks.

Read more about COA's academic programs.

faculty research

Learn more about recent and current faculty research related to sustainability here.

the co-curriculum

COA students are also involved in a wide range of sustainability-related activities, clubs, jobs, and projects outside of the classroom. 

Sustainability Activities (PDF)