Progressing towards the goal of environmental sustainability is far from a simple task as it requires fundamental changes in human attitudes and behavior. As climate change and the destruction of natural environments continue to escalate, sustainability science professionals understand that meaningful action must be accompanied with a great sense of urgency. Mitigation and adaptation to these challenges must happen now and with the broadest range of partners possible.

A transition towards the sustainable use of our planet’s resources can only be achieved through deliberate processes of transformation, involving collaboration and integration across scientific disciplines, civil society, governments, and other stakeholders. To adequately address such complex challenges, sustainability science studies at Unity College combines transdisciplinary technical aspects with skills based in the humanities and social sciences.

Here’s why a transdisciplinary approach best develops effective change agents who can successfully work within the context of political, cultural, and economic concerns.

Sustainability Masters Programs Understand Our Interconnected Society

Sustainability issues are inherently globally interconnected, cumulative, and highly dynamic. While the differentiation of science into specialized disciplines over past centuries has led to extraordinary progress, the tendency to compartmentalize complex phenomena into isolated analytical models has had the effect of separating objects from their environment. The concept of environmental sustainability, however, resists such simplifications, necessitating open-ended approaches to human-environment interaction.

Developing sustainable energy like wind power requires collaboration with diverse stakeholders

Developing sustainable energy like wind power requires collaboration with diverse stakeholders

The terminology used is important because “transdisciplinary” implies a significant distinction from “interdisciplinary”, which tends to enforce disciplinary boundaries or identities and often incompatible perspectives and methodologies. A transdisciplinary approach to sustainability proceeds from the socio-cultural to the biophysical, addressing complex environmental problems first as social challenges, which provides the organizing principle for integrating the appropriate scientific knowledge.

How an Environmental Sustainability Degree Integrates Transdisciplinary Connections

Recognizing that our planet is in itself an integrated system makes it self-evident that strategic integration of various disciplines is needed to address complex sustainability challenges. This means a flow and exchange of knowledge between agents of change, developing functional interfaces to bridge disciplines, knowledge systems, and cultures. Sustainability science is a problem-based, solution-oriented framework that explores potential action strategies from a variety of viewpoints.

Environmental leaders need to be able to communicate the mutual benefits of sustainability

Environmental leaders need to be able to communicate the mutual benefits of sustainability

Sustainability is integral to all aspects of Unity College’s sustainability masters programs, providing a solid foundation for communicating and thinking critically about environmental challenges. Gaining an applied knowledge of the connections across disciplines in the larger field of environmental studies prepares students for assuming influential leadership roles in a wide range of environmental careers. Developing these organization and communication skills is more important than ever in our polarized society, demanding an efficient coordination of activities at all levels of the system towards a common purpose.

In practice, a transdisciplinary approach involves incorporating diverse perspectives outside of science and academia into research and implementation processes to leverage the best possible knowledge, reconcile values and preferences, and establish shared ownership for problems and potential solutions. It requires constructive input from affected communities and participatory efforts between professionals with an environmental sustainability degree and non-academic stakeholders to ensure all factors have been considered and solutions are as sustainable in the long-term as possible.

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