Yale Pilots the Green Course Guide

student on laptop
January 22, 2021
This spring, the Office of Sustainability is piloting a Green Course Guide. The guide is composed of Yale College courses and is catered to the student interested in exploring sustainability through Yale’s curriculum. Through the guide, students can peruse course descriptions, distributions requirements, and meeting times—similar to Yale Course Search. Hopefully the resource will prove to be useful for encouraging both student and university engagement with the omnipresent issue of sustainability. 
While this is the first year a Green Course Guide is publicly available to Yale undergraduate students, the project of corralling all courses related to sustainability actually began in 2018 as part of Yale’s biannual submission to AASHE STARS, a comprehensive sustainability benchmark for higher education institutions. This past fall, after many years ranking Silver, Yale received a Gold recognition from AASHE. This upward progression was in large part due to Yale’s inclusion of ‘sustainability focused’ courses and ‘sustainability inclusive’ courses in its submission portfolio. At the onset, however, the rendering of such a course catalogue required the manual reading of course descriptions and returned a less sophisticated product than students can find online now.  
The current rendition of the Green Course Guide was completed during the summer of 2020 with the help of Chris West SY ’21. West was the Saybrook Sustainability Liaison during the 2019-2020 school year. When COVID-19 forced students online, the liaison coordinator, Ashley Jankowski, gave her cohort free reign to work on campus sustainability projects that interested them. For West, the decision to tackle a comprehensive course resource for students interested in sustainability came easily. West explained that as a first year at Yale, he was vaguely interested in getting involved with sustainability but unsure how. This interest is what brought him to the Office of Sustainability in the first place. However, in terms of Yale’s academic curriculum, the closest thing he could find was the Energy Studies Multidisciplinary Academic Program (MAP). Rather than centered around a single department, the program is centered around broad issues. According to West, “the list of courses was really helpful with discovering courses that I ended up taking and enjoying” even without being directly about sustainability. For West, sustainability represents an issue that has become no doubt interconnected with all aspects of university life. So, what would happen if an MAP-like resource did exist for sustainability?
A physics major, West quickly got to work, first combing through Yale Course Search via strong keywords such as “sustainability,” “energy,” or “climate.” The initial search included Yale College and all Yale graduate schools across both fall and spring 2019-2020 semesters. Once all courses, inclusive of their descriptions, were loaded into a spreadsheet, West went back manually to confirm that the course descriptions were relevant and beneficial to a curious Yale student. In its current rendition, the guide only includes ‘sustainability focused’ undergraduate courses for the concurrent academic term (now, spring 2021), a decision that was made in order to limit course description inconsistencies across the university. However, West says the guide is still valuable. For example, one of his favorite newly discovered courses is “Green Germany, History and Culture of Sustainability,” an unexpected find which he would definitely take if it were not taught entirely in German. 
Melissa Goodall, Deputy Director of the Office of Sustainability, says that this focus on interdisciplinary sustainability is exactly what the guide is about. Previously, through the Office of Sustainability’s initiative to align Yale scholarship to the United Nation’s 17 Sustainability Development Goals, Melissa had connected faculty across the University for research purposes. However, students can and should reap the benefits of more interdisciplinary pathways as well. The guide is rooted in the Office of Sustainability’s commitment to nature, climate action, responsible use of materials, diversity and inclusion, and health and well-being. Given the variety of courses related to sustainability, the guide should be attractive for students interested in more skills-centered project or practicum courses, too.
Beyond interdisciplinary programming, the Green Course Guide is directly aligned with recent pushes for sustainability to become more interwoven into Yale’s baseline curriculum. Speaking from a student perspective, West expressed awe at how tedious it was to mine sustainability-focused courses out of Yale’s purported 2000 undergraduate courses. The university has demonstrated commitment to sustainability through the provost’s pan-university Planetary Solutions in Development program that began in 2019. However, West hopes that the public posting of the guide, which is currently a short list dominated by the Environmental Studies department, will encourage Yale to think deeply about such questions as what content is being included or not included in the curriculum, or what departments do or do not include content on the pervasive and relevant issue of sustainability. 
Overall, the Green Course Guide is a great first step for both the Office of Sustainability and Yale as a whole. Undergraduate students can currently access the guide through the Office of Sustainability site here. Future endeavors include integrating a ‘sustainability’ tag within Yale Course Search for students to use while selecting courses. Hopefully, through efforts such as these, the social and environmental sustainability focus which is the hallmark of the Office of Sustainability will bleed into the larger academic culture at Yale.