Students working in Maura garden

Sustainability Studies

Bachelor of Arts

The Sustainability Studies program at Mercyhurst University prepares students to engage in the immense environmental, social, and economic challenges that increasingly shape our world. Students engage in coursework aimed at fostering a holistic understanding of issues, such as global climate change, carbon emissions, land use and food production, energy systems, and sustainable economies. Throughout the program and their capstone projects, students work with campus and community partners to hone their systems-thinking and problem-solving skills and graduate as prepared professionals in the sustainability field.

Grounded in a broad range of approaches from the humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and natural sciences, the program emphasizes active engagement and systemic and contextual analysis of the climate crisis and environmental justice.
Mercyhurst sustainability graduates become problem-solving change-makers, helping to advance a more just and secure future wherever they go.  Engaging in activities like urban gardening and preparing sustainability and climate action plans, graduates are prepared for success as sustainability coordinators for organizations, local government, and business, as well as a wide range of positions in the private and non-profit sectors.

Fast Facts

  • Sustainability students at Mercyhurst are encouraged to develop proposals to the Student Sustainability Fund (SSF).  Established in 2006-07 by students, the SSF has led to a number of campus sustainability projects, such as the Mercyhurst Tiny Forest, the Zurn Hall-Ceramics Lab Green Roof, and the Sister Maura Smith Peace Garden. 
  • Sustainability majors are encouraged to consider the possibility of either a double major or a minor in another program such as Business or Public Health.
  • Mercyhurst sustainability graduates are employed in the fast-growing solar energy industry, environmental legal field, and for non-profit organizations. 
  • The Mercyhurst sustainability program has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Green Power Program, as well as by Penn Future for its commitment to renewable energy.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will develop the foundational knowledge and skills of a sustainability professional.
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the systemic, complex, and multidisciplinary nature of environmental challenges.
  • Students will engage with communities both on and beyond campus on sustainability projects that effect meaningful change.



    Through these requirements, students build a foundational understanding of key issues related to environmental sustainability and essential tools for addressing those challenges.   

    • SUST 101 - Foundations of Sustainability
    • SCI 100/101 - Environmental Problem Solving/Lab
    • SUST 210 - Responding to Climate Change

    Students must take at least one course from each of the four areas below and a total of 9 courses altogether for 27 credits

    1. Business: Courses in this area are designed to help students apply and frame the concepts of sustainability through an economic and policy lens, while developing skills applicable to the business world.  

    • ECON 26 - Environmental Economic and Policy
    • ECON XXX - Sustainable Business Operations (AY 2025-26)
    • ECON XXX - Global Development
    • POLI 321 - Environmental Law
    • MGMT 120 - Principles of Management or TBD: Non-Profit Management

    2. Social and Behavioral – Systems: Courses in this area foster an understanding of the interconnected nature of social systems and the natural world in which we live. 

    • GEOL 288 - Energy and Environmental Justice
    • ANTH 254 - Food & Foodways
    • SUST  XXX - Community Planning (AY 2025-26)
    • PUBH 201 - Environmental Health
    • HIS 221 U.S. - Environmental History 
    • COM  262 - Environmental Communication
    • COM  312 - Communication and Social Responsibility

    3. Social and Behavioral – Individuals: In addition to complex social systems, understanding the behavior, motivations, and actions of individuals is critical for ensuring positive change around sustainability initiatives.

    • PSYC XXX - Environmental Psychology (AY 2026-27)
    • PHIL XXX - Environmental Philosophy (AY 2025-26)
    • RLST 375 - Religion and the Environment
    • PHIL XXX - Environmental Ethics (AY 2026-27)
    • ART XXX - Nature Therapy (or another designated art course)
    • ANTH 255 - Dwelling

    4. Analytics: This area provides students with the analytic tools and skills necessary to be a successful sustainability professional.

    • GEOL 440/1 - Introduction to GIS    
    • XXXX 101 - Excel 101 (AY 2024-25)
    • STAT 109 - Introduction to Statistics
    • SUST XXX - Carbon Accounting (AY 2024-25)
    • ENG 386 - Grant Writing

    This first field experience provides students with an opportunity to work with campus and local community partners in advancing sustainability solutions to a range of energy, food production, water, and other environmental challenges.

    SUST 390 - Sustainable Solutions and Community Engagement 

    The Capstone is meant to be a culminating experience in which students apply the knowledge and skills they have gained throughout the program, building on the junior field experience.  Whether through a project or internship/externship, students in the capstone will work with partners in the broader community in helping to address a real-world environmental challenge through a substantive project—one that demands that students first, evaluate the problem and then propose and carry out a meaningful project aimed at addressing the issue.

    SUST 490 - Sustainability Senior Field Experience
    SUST 475 - Sustainability Internship


    Minor Requirements

    • SUST 101: Foundations of Sustainability
    • SCI 100: Environmental Problem Solving
    • SUST 210: Responding to Climate Change
    • Two qualifying electives
    • SUST 490: Senior Field Experience  

Campus Projects

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  • Tower Garden

    As part of our commitment to counter food insecurity at the City of Erie, Mercyhurst University organizes the Tower Garden Lending Program, pictured here at Diehl Elementary School. These vertical aeroponic grow towers allow for the growth of leafy greens, small flowering fruits, and flowers indoors throughout all seasons. Pictured here, former VISTA Amber Marshall harvests lettuce for a 5th-grade lunch!

    Students look at indoor herb garden
  • Tiny Forest

    Urban forestry is a priority in cities such as Erie, as trees provide a myriad of benefits to city landscapes. Mercyhurst’s Tiny Forest, pictured here, is the first university-owned Tiny Forest and is host to almost 600 native trees within the space of a tennis court! We seek to plant similar forests throughout the city through collaborations with the Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier (LEAF) and Sustainability Coordinator. 

    Student Working in Tiny Forest
  • Green Roof on Zurn Hall

    Mercyhurst’s green roof is the first visible sustainability project installed on our campus! Created using the Student Sustainability Fund in 2011, the green roof is a self-sustaining planting of mostly sedum, providing water filtration, protection for the roof, and insulation for the ceramics lab below. The green roof is a hidden treasure on our campus, used for research in our environmental science department and inspiration for local organizations.

    Green Roof of Zurn
  • Hurst's Sustainability Commitment

    Mercyhurst's sustainability commitment goes beyond our gates and into the City of Erie. With partnerships formed throughout the city, a Mercyhurst education gives opportunities for innovative collaborations with businesses, nonprofits, local school districts, and neighborhoods. Pictured here, Sustainability Coordinator Molly Tarvin and Coordinator of Service and Justice Deonte Cooley serve Mercyhurst-grown salads at United Way’s National Night Out, complete with lettuce, kohlrabi, parsley, kale, and chives!

    Mercyhurst staff handing out produce at a community event
  • Tiny Forest

    A natural compliment to the Sustainability Studies major, we would be remiss not to mention our fantastic Environmental Science department! The Environmental Science faculty is heavily involved in our campus’s sustainability office and coursework through fieldwork, outdoor research, and studies such as ecology, botany, forestry, and geology. Pictured here, our Environmental Science and Biology professors help weed the Tiny Forest over the summer. 

    Sustainability staff working on tiny forest
  • Student Workers

    While a Sustainability Studies major will give you all the experience you need to build a skill set and passion, opportunities for further participation are available through the Office of Sustainability! With paid employment and supervision under the Sustainability Coordinator, student workers have the flexibility to design and implement sustainability projects around campus. Examples of past projects include crocheting plastic bags into mats, a garden-based recipe book, and an investigation of LED lighting replacements in our academic buildings. Pictured here, student worker Morgan proudly shows the potato she helped dig from the garden!

    Student in campus garden
  • Sustainable Lifestyles

    Sustainable lifestyles are encouraged here at Mercyhurst, and creative ways to reduce an individual's environmental footprint are always embraced. Pictured here, students involved with the Sustainability club proudly display their canned tomatoes, a method of preserving the tomato harvest from our garden’s growing season! Other lost arts practiced on campus include natural fiber collection, jelly making, turmeric anthotypes, and rope making. 

    Students posing with jars during a canning event
  • Rooftop Greenhouse

    Our most recent addition to the campus’s green infrastructure is our rooftop greenhouse, proudly opened to the public in November 2023. This greenhouse will serve as a conservatory for interesting plants, a growing space for year-round vegetables, a research opportunity for classes, student projects, and a workplace for gardening and potting in preparation for the growing season. Featuring such plants as a Venus fly trap, a rubber tree, a living stone, and a banana tree, the greenhouse is a beautiful oasis during the chilly winter months.  


For more information about our commitment to sustainability: