The Sustainability Fellowship program has produced some important contributions to sustainability education at UBC. Learn more about three of these: UBC’s Sustainability Education Framework; the Sustainability Learning Pathways; and a white paper on how to incorporate sustainability into large, first year courses.

UBC Sustainability Education Framework

The Sustainability Fellows originally developed the Sustainability Education Framework in 2010, then revised it in 2013. The framework proposes that students graduating with a sustainability background from UBC should have a firm grounding in, and be able to demonstrate, the following four key attributes:

• Holistic Systems Thinking
• Sustainability Knowledge
• Acting for Positive Change
• Awareness and Integration

For each of the four attributes, we provide the attribute concept, example learning objectives, from UBC and beyond, as well as some potential assessment tools which could be used to help develop, and then assess students understanding of these key sustainability concepts.



Sustainability Learning Pathways

UBC’s long-term vision is to embed sustainability across all teaching programs. Our view is that every student in any discipline should have access to equipping themselves with the competencies and capacities that enable them to contribute to the co-creation of a sustainable future. To help guide academic units in this work, UBC developed Sustainability Learning Pathways. 

A Sustainability Pathway is a collection of sustainability-oriented courses and experiences that provide students with a firm grounding in the four UBC student sustainability attributes: Holistic Systems Thinking, Sustainability Knowledge, Awareness and Integration, Acting for Positive Change.

From 2014-2018 UBC’s Sustainability Initiative awarded seven pathway grants to refine or develop curriculum within six major undergraduate Faculties. 

These included:

  • New five course Sustainability Pathway for undergraduate geography students in the Department of Geography in the Faculty of Arts
  • Proposed Sustainability Science concentration for undergraduate students in the Environmental Sciences program in the Faculty of Science
  • Refreshed Sustainability Concentration for undergraduate Commerce students and new courses such as ‘Innovation & Sustainability’ and ‘Strategies for Responsible Business’ in the Sauder School of Business
  • Renewed effort in engineering to engage a broad spectrum of faculty members around sustainability education with various curriculum outcomes – including a focus on first year programs and the Bachelor of Applied Science degrees 
  • Ongoing refresh of an existing interdisciplinary Arts minor in Environment and Society for undergraduate students in the Faculty of Arts
  • New interdisciplinary Minor in Sustainable Food Systems developed by the Faculty of Land and Food Systems available to undergraduate students in three Faculties (Arts, Land and Food Systems, Science)
  • New Education for Sustainability cohort in the teacher education program offered by the Faculty of Education


Incorporating Sustainability Into Large First Year Courses

In 2014, the Sustainability Fellows released a white paper documenting the unique challenges of integrating sustainability content and pedagogies into large first year courses. The goal was to introduce students to sustainability early in their academic careers by encouraging faculty to incorporate sustainability content in introductory courses.

Four approaches were outlined. The first approach applies to multi-section courses with multiple instructors who do not rely on a common source of content. The remaining three approaches apply to multi-section courses with shared content among the sections that is achieved by either instructors teaching independent modules across all sections, or individual section instructors relying on a common syllabus and teaching plan. 

For each approach, the whitepaper presents 1) course structure and context, 2) insertion model, 3) case study example(s), and in some cases 4) a commentary on other useful information associated with the approach.




Teaching Practices

“The USI Fellowship Program has been a key opportunity for me in terms of my teaching, curriculum development, and identity as an educator. The projects themselves have allowed me to further my courses by adopting more innovative pedagogies and tools, and also to think more imaginatively and ambitiously about what interdisciplinary sustainability learning outcomes to center in my courses, to support climate justice champions. I’ve learned a lot from the group of Fellows and they have also given me the courage to be adventurous (and have a spirit of learning and play) in my own teaching. ” – Dr. Amanda Giang, Faculty of Science and Faculty of Applied Science

“Perhaps the most profound way in which this past year as a USI Fellow has influenced my teaching practice was through the time I have spent engaged in fruitful conversation around alternative modes of pedagogy and delivery. I found the enthusiasm of the Fellows inspiring, and encountered new ideas about ways to improve our efforts to provide sustainability education at UBC and beyond.” – Dr. Kedrick James, Faculty of Education

“I found the session during which we loosely discussed challenges in the classroom to be the most helpful and believe the manner in which my colleagues deconstructed my approach to teaching concepts related to sustainability, particularly useful. The non-engineering folks definitely approach their teaching practice differently so it is this interaction specifically that will influence my teaching practice the greatest.” – Dr. Tamara Etmannski, Faculty of Applied Science

Interdisciplinary Lens

“I very much appreciate the diverse selection of faculty from across the university. My respect for the work of the Arts and Humanities has deepened from being able to engage with faculty and their work.” – Dr. Will Valley, Faculty of Land and Food Systems

“I enjoyed getting to know and learn from colleagues in very different fields, both about the substance of what they teach and how they teach.  I was inspired by what they are doing.  I enjoyed the broad-ranging conversations, I expect to follow up on specific issues and I’m also lined up to do a guest lecture in the fall. I loved getting to know these folks and hope to keep the ties alive.” – Dr. Kathy Harrison, Faculty of Arts

“Overall this is a great program. It provides an important and unique opportunity to allow Fellows to interact and network with people outside their disciplines, not just through collaboration on the funded projects, but through the interactions facilitated during the meetings. These are rare opportunities in academia, but some with a lot of potential.”  – Dr. Tamara Etmannski and Dr. Gabriel Potvin, Faculty of Applied Science

Student Experiences

“The overall impression from the students was that the course was a great success, they learned a lot about Iceland from a systems and sustainability lens, and they were able to critically assess future challenges that may continue to emerge due to climate impacts.” – Dr. Lee Groat, Faculty of Science

“It seems clear that many students want to concentrate on the topic and will take the opportunity if given the chance. This is particularly important as most of the students in this class are CMS (Combined Major in Science) majors that are not specifically focused on the environment.” – Dr. Michael Lipsen and Dr. Yoshi Gilchrist, Faculty of Science

“Overall, the feedback was quite positive and demonstrated how Climate Justice is becoming an essential topic in students’ lives. [...] Overall, student responses were positive. Students described the classes as informative and engaging. Students also provided positive feedback on the guest speaker and described the talk as inspiring. Finally, students provided positive feedback on the case studies, such as having local examples helped put the topic into perspective.” – Dr. Antoine Coulombe, Faculty of Arts.

Faculty Network

“I have been a Fellow three times – these experiences have significantly broadened the network of people at UBC whom I consider colleagues.” – Dr. Tara Ivanochko, Faculty of Science.

“I am so, so, so grateful for the social network I have engaged with through the USI. I feel like my awareness of initiatives and projects at UBC related to my interest in sustainability have grown so much and it has helped me (a relatively new faculty member) create a cross-disciplinary community of friends and allies. Without this community reminding me how important this is, some of that momentum would have likely been lost. It’s been such an honour to participate in this program!” – Dr. Naomi Zimmerman, Faculty of Applied Science

“I often cite the program as an example of generative space to colleagues in other departments within UBC and also other institutions – as a generative “crack” in a system that is inherently competitive and averse to deep institutional and systemic critique as well as collaborative relations.” – Dr. Vanessa De Oliveira Andreotti, Faculty of Education

Program Experience

“The overall format of the Fellowship program is excellent. It provides funding not only to design and launch a course related to sustainability education, but also to create collaborative interdisciplinary space for faculty to speak about sustainability within the educational context of UBC.” – Dr. Derek Gladwin, Faculty of Education, and Dr. Alexander Dick, Faculty of Arts

“The USI experience has helped re-inspire me to speak about and get involved in sustainability education. I was experiencing sustainability fatigue and was becoming quite pessimistic/nihilistic about the role of universities and education for sustainability before joining the group.” – Dr. Will Valley, Faculty of Land and Food Systems