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Sustainable Living
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Tracks of Focus    

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  Program Directors

  Lonnie Gamble

  641-472-7000 ext. 2291


  Travis Cox

  641-472-7000 ext. 3306

  Department Chair

  David Fisher

  641-472-7000 ext. 2139

Our program aims to give students the breadth of wisdom to be able to make a real difference in their own lives and the life of society. All students are required to take a set of core courses that cover the full range of Sustainable Living. In addition, students interested in going deeper into one area of sustainability have the option of following an educational track/concentration within a key area of concern to sustainable communities. Each track is comprised of three to four classes, designed to build on each other and give students a greater level of expertise in that particular subject. The tracks are as follows:


Fundamentals of Sustainability

The Fundamentals of Sustainability track starts from the awareness that “sustainability” is a concept that is used differently by different people, institutions, and governments. In fact, it is a normative concept, meaning that it is based on human definitions of “norms.”


Another way of putting this is that the various definitions of sustainability come from various ways of answering, “what is it that we are choosing to sustain?” How a person, institution, or government answers this question depends upon their understanding of equity, ethics, philosophy, and spirituality.


Therefore, the Fundamentals of Sustainability track focuses on these foundational belief structures as a way of understanding the myriad conceptions of “sustainability” at work in the world today. Perhaps a more eloquent way of putting it comes from Wendell Berry:


Before going further, we had better ask what is it that we humans need to know. We
need to know many things, of course, and many kinds of things. But let us be merely practical for the time being and say that we need to know who we are, where we are, and what we must do to live. These questions do not refer to discreet categories of knowledge. We are not likely to be able to answer one of them without answering the other two. And all three must be well answered before we can answer well a further practical question that is now pressing urgently upon us: How can we work without doing irreparable damage to the world and its creatures, including ourselves? Or: How can we live without destroying the sources of our life? (“The Way of Ignorance” p. 59)



  • SL-F151 Deep Ecology
  • SL-F305 Spirituality and Sustainability
  • SL-F310 Social Justice and Sustainability
  • SL-F401 Philosophies of Sustainability

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    Applied Soil Ecology

    The conventional agriculture that we’re so familiar with produces high yields, but at the cost of an unsustainable impact on human health, the environment, the economy, and the social fabric. Surprisingly, even organic agriculture is usually not fully sustainable.  Enter the concept of the living soil, as developed by Dr. Elaine Ingham, one of the world’s leading soil biology experts.  Basically, it holds that with the proper balance of soil bacteria, protozoa, fungi, nematodes, and microarthropods, any soil in the world can provide all the nutrition required for a healthy crop. 


    This track teaches students how to prepare the compost and compost tea required to restore that nutrition to soils, first through hands-on class work and then fieldwork on a practicing farm.



    • SL-G195 Living Systems
    • SL-G201 Ecology
    • SL-A301 Living Soil

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    Renewable Energy

    The energy track is for students who want to go into greater depth about energy and sustainability.


    Currently, Energy 101 is offered every year, and Energy 201-203 are offered in two year rotations. Good basic math skills, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, working with decimals and fractions, basic trigonometric relation of angles, areas, and volumes, basic algebra, and simple statistics like averages and mean, are needed for deep understanding and success in these courses. The suggested sequence of courses for the energy track and descriptions of each course are listed below:

    • Energy 101: Energy and Sustainability: The Energy Basis of Humans and Nature
    • Energy 201: Renewable Energy Technology: Solar, Wind, Water Prerequisites: Energy 101, Math for Sustainable Living, Physics and Chemistry for Sustainable Living or permission of Instructor
    • Energy 301: Modeling and Monitoring Energy Flow Prerequisites: Energy 101, Math for Sustainable Living, Physics and Chemistry for Sustainable Living or permission of Instructor

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    Policy and Social Change

    There are ample technical solutions available to transform society to sustainability. But all too often there are blocks to implementation. In the Policy and Social Change track students seek to understand how those blocks are rooted in human consciousness and psychology. Students study the strategies that can be adopted to shift society’s mindsets and what policies large organizations, especially corporations and governments, can adopt to create a sustainable future. In the process, issues of food and water security, energy and climate stabilization, and many others are addressed from local to international levels.


    Here the main courses of the track. The core course is offered every year. The others are offered at least every other year.

    • SL P101 Global Sustainability (core course): a big picture analysis of global systems and how sustainability can be created.
    • SL P303 Energy Policy for Sustainability: how to gear up human society with clean energy for less pollution and a stable climate.
    • SL P404 How to Create Social Change: a study of high powered change makers and how you can join this critical field.

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    Agriculture and Food

    The agricultural track is for students interested in working to create food systems that nourish and sustain communities. Students learn about sustainable agriculture, organic agriculture and going beyond organic to food production that is regenerative – an agriculture that renews the land, people and communities. Students learn about the living soil, taught by world-renowned soil biologist Elaine Ingham.


    Season extension is another important subject for temperate climates; students learn about greenhouses, passive solar hoop-houses, low tunnels and other ways to grow food earlier and later in the season. A farm planning course enables student to create a business plan for an economically sustainable farm. Practical hands-on courses and internships on organic farms give students real life experience.


    Possible job opportunities for graduates of this track include: organic farmer, farm manager or assistant farm manager, community garden manager, Farm to School coordinator, Buy Fresh Buy Local coordinator, School Garden Program Manager.

  • Organic Agriculture SL-A101
  • Season Extension SL-A201
  • Biodynamic Agriculture SLA202
  • Planning a Sustainable Farm SL-A401

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    Sustainability and the Built Environment

    Everything we humans create or affect using physical materials—buildings, roads, bridges and landscapes, from urban sprawl to industrialized agriculture—can be considered part of the built environment. Gaining a holistic view of the environmental and social impacts of our constructed world is an important part of sustainability.


    The track’s primary focus is on buildings. In their constituent materials, their construction, and in the course of their useful life, buildings are responsible for a large percentage of all energy and resource use. Yet, even in the face of increasing energy costs and the depletion of global resources, most buildings built today are constructed to technological standards set fifty years ago.


    The four courses in this track are designed to give students practical experience in the newest methods, materials and design philosophies of “green” construction—how to build energy efficient, healthy, affordable homes and other structures to support the vision of sustainable community living.

    • SL—B101 Sustainability, Buildings and the Built Environment
    • SL—B201 Natural Building
    • SL—B202 Eco-cities
    • SL—B301 High Performance Green Building: Shaping the Future with Regenerative Design

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    Tracks and Courses

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