Five College Sustainability Studies Program

The Five College Sustainability Studies Certificate Program

Sustainability will be essential to the formulation of sound environmental, economic, and social progress in the 21st Century. Academic institutions must provide students with broad opportunities to pursue their interest in this pivotal topic. The Five College Sustainability Studies Certificate program (FCSS) is designed to engage students in a structured course of study that will draw on courses from across the campuses in a range of disciplines. Students complete an internship, independent research project, or advanced course work in sustainability studies.

Sustainability Studies Planning & Application Form


Course requirements:

A minimum of seven courses are required for the Five College Sustainability Studies certificate program. At least five of the courses must be above the introductory level, and two of  those courses must be at the advanced level.


The core courses are intended to expose students to the interconnectedness and significance of economic, environmental, and social aspects of sustainability. Certificate students complete one course each from three core areas:

  •  Environmental Sustainability
  • Sustainable  Economy and Politics
  • Sustainable Society and Culture


Students pursuing a Five College Certificate in Sustainability Studies must choose an area of concentration from the following five

areas of study. Students complete at least 3 courses within their declared concentration

area (at least one at the advanced level) and one other course chosen from a different concentration area.

1. Agriculture and Food Systems

            By its very nature, food is central to society, culture, and basic survival. However, our current, predominantly industrial agricultural system takes a reductionist approach to growing food, with minimal concern for the resulting environmental, economic and societal impacts.  In order to maintain our agricultural and food systems into the future, an integrated approach which takes environment, economy, and equity into account is critical. In this concentration, students will integrate the science, technology, policies, and ethics of agriculture and food systems, and will examine the relationships among agriculture, food choices, nutrition, and economic and social well-being

2. Energy Systems, Climate, and Water

            More than ever before, society is coming to appreciate the complex inter-relationships between energy use, climate change, and global water availability. The production and consumption of fossil fuels is the leading source of greenhouse gases promoting climate change, which affects not only temperature but also precipitation  patterns. Any effort to slow or reverse the process of global warming requires a fundamental shift  to cleaner energy technology; likewise, any effort to adjust to global warming requires improved water management in order to ensure adequate water supplies. This concentration explores the  changing nature of global climate and the solutions required for sustainable energy and water  management inthe 21st century.


3. Culture, History, and Representation:

            Nature was once autonomous but at least for the past fifty thousand years, humans have dramatically affected nature. We cannot understand  and  promote  sustainability without  understanding the ways humans have constructed nature, both  symbolically and materially. Indeed, the social construction of both nature and sustainability has given rise to conflicts over meaning and policy in the wake of growing environmental awareness  and activism. This history has often been portrayed as elegy -- what we have lost. But we also have to acknowledge what we have gained. This concentration invites students to explore the tension between notions of progress and

Loss, a tension which itself promotes the desire for sustainability. It challenges the student to consider the constitutive role of culture in defining nature and sustainability across a range of public discourses and practices.

4. Politics and Policy:

            In many parts of today's world, people and environments suffer from ecological degradation, resource scarcity, economic decline and social exploitation --none of which promotes sustainability. Transitioning to sustainability will require societal and political action at local, regional, national, international and global levels. In some cases, new norms, laws, treaties and institutions will need to be crafted and enforced in order to improve environmental and other standards. In other cases, people whose livelihood practices sustain and depend on human and ecological communities may challenge policies and political systems that favor environmental and social exploitation. The politics of sustainability will be full of contest and conflict, but it carries the transformative potential to build a far better world. This concentration examines the role of governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, community groups and others in devising, supporting, fighting over, negotiating and enacting sustainable  policies and practice.

5. Green Infrastructure, Design, and Technology

            For the first time in history, more than half the world’s population now lives in cities. A sustainable future for 7 billion people therefore requires sustainable urban systems, buildings and infrastructure. The aim of this concentration is to provide a broad understanding of the challenges, strategies and opportunities that face modern society as we seek to move toward more sustainable built environments. The concentration includes the study and practice of design, as well as planning policy. The course selections and project work in this concentration will examine the interrelationships between urban design and planning, ecosystem processes, green building technologies, policy-making and social equity.


Internship, Independent Research Project, or Advanced Study in Sustainability Studies:
Students work with their campus program advisor to identify and complete an internship or independent research project that addresses a contemporary, “real world” problem.

Alternatively, students may work with their program advisor to identify a suitable advanced course within their concentration area. An approved internship,independent research project, or upper level course within the area of concentration may be counted toward fulfillment of the advanced course requirement.

The experiential component of the FCSS certificate may be completed through an internship, thesis, Division III project, independent  study, or other suitable activity approved by their campus program advisor.


Advanced certificate students present work at a Five College symposium or other venue to consider the ways in which their projects address the core areas of sustainability and their linkages.

The FCSS certificate is currently offered for students from Amherst, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke colleges, and will begin awarding certificates in the 2012-2013 academic year.

The Sustainability Studies Certificate Planning Form provides a framework for students and advisors at participating campuses to design a course of study. This form is submitted to the Sustainability Studies Steering Committee by the student's program advisor upon completion of all requirements in preperation for graduation

Please see our People web page to find out more about Five College Sustainability Studies affiliated faculty to find a program advisor.

For more information about Sustainability Studies courses across the five campuses, use the Courses link in the left-hand sidebar menu,.

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The Five College Sustainability Certificate: FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I find out about this certificate?

Information about the FCSS Certificate is available on the Five Colleges website at In addition, there are specific faculty at each of the three campuses presently participating who will help students with the certificate. See a list of participating faculty here.
It is essential for students to begin working with their campus representatives early on in their studies.

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Can students at each of the Five Colleges obtain the FCSS Certificate?

No. At this time the certificate is available only to Amherst College, Hampshire College and Mount Holyoke College students.

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Are there specific areas that the FCSS Certificate focuses on?

Yes. Elective concentration areas are: 1) Agriculture and Food Systems, 2) Energy, Climate, and Water, 3) Culture, History, and Representation, 4) Politics and Policy, and 5) Green Infrastructure, Design, and Technology.

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Is the certificate only course-based?

No. Students must also complete an internship or independent research project that addresses a real world problem related to sustainability.

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Do I need to formally say that I intend to work towards the FCSS Certificate?

Yes. Students will give their campus program advisor a Declaration of Intent, outlining a potential course of study, by the second semester of their sophomore year. The actual application for the certificate will be submitted later; students should work with their campus advisors to decide when that would be.

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Some of the courses I wish to use for the FCSS Certificate are not listed on the Five College Sustainability website. Can I substitute courses?

Possibly.  Students must work with their campus advisors on this. It will be important to explain how a particular unlisted course meets the requirement.

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Who decides whether my application for the FCSS Certificate is successful?

As with the other Five College Certificates, a committee composed of Five College faculty makes this decision.

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How can the FCSS Certificate help me?

Having the certificate may well help you obtain a job or internship after you graduate, for example. In addition, the certificate is designed to guide students who are trying to develop a course of studies in sustainability.

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