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Sustainability Courses

Practical Environmentalism

In the Classroom

Dr. Sankar teaching Practical Environmentalism Class

Sustainability-Focused and Related Courses 

A “sustainability-focused” course concentrates on the concept of sustainability, including its social, economic, and environmental dimensions, or examine an issue or topic using sustainability as a lens. 

A “sustainability-related” course incorporates sustainability as a distinct course component or module, or concentrate on a single sustainability principle or issue.

The Office of Sustainability asked faculty to use the above guidance to self-identify whether any of their classes were sustainability-focused or sustainability-related. In 2015, nearly 500 courses were identified as such. 

American University also includes sustainability learning outcomes in a variety of major. 

Greening the Classroom & Curriculum

In addition to offering many courses that teach sustainability, the Center for Teaching Excellence offers a Green Teaching Certificate program to help faculty green their classrooms. The Green Teaching Certificate provides a checklist for teachers to learn ways of reducing paper and energy consumption. Courses taught by teachers who have completed the checklist are identified with a "certified green course" green apple logo.

Click on the list of List of Certified Green Courses in the Related Links to find teachers and green teachers. Click on Get Certified to learn how to certify your courses.

Qualification Criteria

Reducing Paper Use

  • Send your students your syllabus electronically and post it on Blackboard rather than printing copies for your students (5 points).
  • If you need to print a handout or syllabus, print double-sided and on recycled paper (5 points).
  • If possible, assign e-books rather than printed books (1 point).
  • Only require the purchase of books from which the majority of chapters have been assigned as required reading (2 points).
  • If possible, recommend an earlier version of the main text and provide materials on Blackboard to bring it up to date (1 point).
  • Recommend buying used books, and inform students about required books as early as possible (5 points).
  • Use E-reserves for articles and book chapters assigned as supplemental or required readings rather than handing out hard copies (5 points).
  • Keep reference books available on reserve at the library (1 point).
  • In the last session of the course, circulate a sign-up sheet for students who would like to sell their books, and provide this list to students in the following semester (2 points).
  • Avoid ordering desk copies of your books unless you really need them (5 points).
  • Encourage students to read articles, book chapters and handouts that you have placed on Blackboard online rather than printing them (2 points).
  • If you let students hand in hard-copies of their work, require double-sided printing, and allow single spacing and reduced margins (5 points).
  • If you need paper for classroom activities, use scrap paper (1 point).
  • If you post PowerPoint presentations on Blackboard, save the file with six slides per page and eliminate graphics and colored backgrounds (for instructions on how to do this, please see the "Resources" folder on the Green Teaching Certificate Blackboard page) (2 points).
  • Eliminate the use of colored paper, which cannot be recycled (1 point).
  • If you have a choice, use the chalkboard/whiteboard rather than the flip chart (1 point).
  • Request that students read the Academic Integrity Code online rather than printing it out (1 point).
  • Be a role model to your students and use a mug, rather than a paper cup, if you bring coffee or tea to class (1 point).
  • If you assign student poster presentations, allow students to project these onto the wall, rather than printing posters (1 point).
  • Allow students to bring a laptop to class for note-taking (1 point).
  • If you take attendance, keep the record on a spreadsheet in electronic format, or record it on a voice-recorder, rather than passing around a sign-in sheet every class (2 points).
  • If you give quizzes or tests, use Blackboard online-quizzes rather than giving quizzes on paper during class… (1) some of the time; or (2) most of the time (1-2 points).
  • Have students submit their papers on Blackboard; grade them electronically, and return them to the students through Blackboard… (1) some of the time; or (2) most of the time (1-2 points).
  • Have students type their in-class exams in a computer lab… (1) some of the time; or (2) most of the time (1-2 points).
  • Accept only electronic versions of all papers, tests and assignments (3 bonus points).

Saving Energy and Reducing Emissions

  • Turn off the lights if the room has enough daylight for your needs, or when you leave the room (5 points).
  • Reduce the energy use in rooms with adjustable heat/AC (1 point).
  • If possible turn off any electronic equipment that you are not using in the classroom (5 points).
  • If possible, take the stairs to your office or your classroom rather than taking the elevator (1 point).
  • Schedule office hours before or after class so students do not need to make a separate trip to campus to meet personally (2 points).
  • On snow days and on other occasions, hold class using the Virtual Classroom function rather than rescheduling class on a different day (2 points).
  • Bike, walk, or use public transportation to come to class, rather than driving... (1) more than once a week; or (2) once a week (1-2 points).
  • Encourage students to walk or take public transportation (rather than driving or taking cabs) to off-site field trips or meetings (1 point).
  • If you invite guest speakers, use speakerphone or videoconferencing (2 points).
  • Use the chat-function in Blackboard, videoconferencing, or allow students to phone you rather than setting up appointments on days when you do not usually come to campus (2 points).

Other Measures

  • Encourage students to undertake actions to reduce their ecological footprint (1 point).
  • Teach about the environment (1 point).
  • Encourage student volunteer activities in environmental (and related) areas (1 point).
  • Connect students with campus environmental programs and opportunities (1 point).
  • Encourage students to follow current events about the environment (1 point).
  • Help students find internships and jobs in "green" areas (1 point).
  • Recycle transparencies and other materials from previous courses rather than reprinting them (1 point).
  • Include a Green Teaching initiative section in your syllabus informing students about the program, and encouraging them to support it (a sample can be found in the "Resources" folder on the Green Teaching Certificate Blackboard page) (5 points).
  • Use the option of individualized questions to add a question about your green teaching to the end-of-semester student evaluations (a sample can be found in the "Resources" folder on the Green Teaching Certificate Blackboard page) (2 points).
  • Allow CTRL staff to post a comprehensive online survey on Green Teaching on your Blackboard course pages at the end of each semester and encourage students to fill out the survey (the standard questionnaire can be found in the "Resources" folder on the Green Teaching Certificate Blackboard page; summary results from last year's survey can be viewed in the "Statistics" folder of the same Blackboard page) (2 points).
  • Use your CTRL Small Grant to purchase an item that will help you become a greener teacher (for example a voice-recorder for attendance-taking, and e-book, or an online newspaper or journal subscription) (1 point).
  • Recommend the Green Teaching Certificate to a colleague (1 point).

Bonus Points

  • You can receive bonus points for any measure you are taking to make your course greener that is not listed in the Green Teaching Certificate.