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Best online graduate certificate in sustainability 2022: Top picks

A graduate certificate in sustainability helps you integrate environmentally conscious and friendly principles and practices into your personal and professional life.
Written by Melissa Sartore, Contributor

Sustainability programs explore the relationships between humans, nature, and the environment. A graduate certificate in sustainability emphasizes the core aspects of sustainability and how they can be integrated into business and industry. 

Certificates in sustainability supplement existing professional training and experience, allowing for individuals across the workforce to apply the fundamentals of sustainability to their current careers. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected growth in entry-level and advanced roles in the green industry.

Graduate certificates in sustainability vary in length and requirements, so determining which program meets your needs requires close consideration of what they offer. The content below provides some of the key information you need to know before deciding on a program.

Top 2 online schools for graduate certificates in sustainability: Quick facts


Program stats

How much?

Penn State World Campus

University Park, PA

  • Graduate certificate in sustainability management and policy
  • Acceptance rate: 76%
  • Graduation rate: 73%
  • 12 credits

Per credit: $950

Application fee: $65

Unity College

Unity, ME

  • Graduate certificate in sustainability
  • Acceptance rate: 98%
  • Graduation rate: 63%
  • 12 credits

Per credit: $650

Application fee: Free

The best online graduate certificate in sustainability

ZDNet assesses academic programs using a proprietary formula that draws on objective data and insights from industry experts. However, ZDNet's ranking methodology wasn't used for the two programs listed below because there was no need to rank them. Rather, the top picks for sustainability graduate certificates found below are presented in alphabetical order. 

Unless otherwise indicated, data is drawn from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and College Scorecard.

Penn State World Campus

University Park, Pennsylvania

About the program: Penn State World Campus's online graduate certificate in sustainability management and policy trains students to create, adopt, and deploy techniques and technologies for long-term sustainability solutions.

  • Acceptance rate: 76%
  • Graduation rate: 73%
  • Avg. annual net price: $27,372
  • Years to completion: One year or less
  • SAT range: N/A
  • Minimum GPA: N/A
  • Enrollment periods per year: Three
  • Course delivery method: Asynchronous

Unity College

Unity, Maine

About the program: Unity's online graduate certificate in sustainability focuses on mitigation and adaptation alongside biodiversity conservation, resource conservation, and pollution reduction. 

  • Acceptance rate: 98%
  • Graduation rate: 63%
  • Avg. annual net price: $26,080
  • Years to completion: One year or less
  • SAT Range: N/A
  • Minimum GPA: N/A
  • Enrollment periods per year: Eight
  • Course delivery methods: Asynchronous

What to expect in an online graduate certificate in sustainability degree program

Online graduate certificates in sustainability courses introduce you to sustainability fundamentals while providing information about how to integrate them into business and industrial settings. You learn about social, economic, and political aspects of sustainability as they relate to organizations, communities, and individual well-being. 

Graduate certificates in sustainability generally last 12 months or less. The pace of coursework may be somewhat intense, depending on the curriculum. Lecture coursework accompanies classes designed to bring students together through group projects, presentations, and comparable cooperative activities. 

Most certificates in sustainability have a specified set of courses and do not allow for electives, although exceptions exist. Within the broad category of sustainability certificates, however, many emphasize specialized topics such as industrial ecology, sustainability in sport, and sustainability management and policy.

Graduate certificate in sustainability courses

Graduate certificates in sustainability train you to incorporate environmental-friendly practices and policies into the workplace. Coursework provides a comprehensive look at the economics, politics, and social aspects of sustainability. You learn how to lead sustainability initiatives, to implement programs and policies related to sustainability, and to create innovative and effective sustainability solutions.

No two graduate certificates in sustainability are identical but some common courses appear across the curriculum. 

Economics of society and sustainability

A course in economics of society and sustainability explores how economic, environmental, and social issues related to sustainability influence the marketplace. The class also emphasizes building sustainable business practices alongside the responsibilities of businesses, government, and individuals within the larger sustainability conversation.

Organizational behavior and sustainability

Organization behavior and sustainability coursework examines how to implement and influence decisions related to sustainability. Students study management principles, theories, and functions of human behavior in organizations and how they relate to creating an eco-friendly workplace. 

Management and environmental technology

A management and environmental technology course trains students to use information and data processing systems to manage sustainable development within an organization. Topics include green data centers, data and information uses in green business, and energy-efficient trends in information technology.

Global social enterprise and sustainability 

With an emphasis on tools and techniques to overcome challenges to sustainable practices in a global context, students learn to develop and execute global innovation strategies to solve social problems. Topics include building global networks, entrepreneurship in the social sector, values-based entrepreneurship

Sustainability degree levels

Depending on your educational background, professional experience, and personal goals, there are different sustainability degree levels that can help you reach your goals. 

Undergraduate programs in sustainability introduce you to the fundamentals of the topic, while graduate degrees and non-degree certificates provide advanced information about sustainability in principles, practices, and policies.

Associate in sustainability

  • Length: Two years
  • Cost: $3,000-$20,000
  • Post-grad careers: Environmental science technician, conservation worker, and solar system installer 

Often designed to help students transfer to a bachelor's degree in sustainability, an associate degree in sustainability includes two years of coursework in natural science, English, humanities, and information technology. Lectures and labs accompany practical requirements as you learn topics such as natural resource consumption, energy systems and conservation, and implementing sustainable practices. 

With an associate degree in sustainability, you can work entry-level sustainability positions in businesses, organizations, and industries. 

Bachelor's in sustainability

  • Length: Four years
  • Cost: $12,000-125,000
  • Post-grad careers: Environmental scientist, environmental science instructor, and urban planner

A bachelor's in sustainability includes four years of general education and major coursework. During the first two years of the program, you study natural science, social science, English, and the humanities while completing introductory coursework in the foundations of sustainability.

The last two years of a bachelor's degree in sustainability include advanced classes in aspects of sustainability such as sustainable management and organizations, sustainable environment and science, and urban sustainability. Some sustainability degrees provide options to specialize in areas like policy and governance in sustainable systems, international development and sustainability, and society and sustainability. 

A bachelor's degree in sustainability may include an internship or practicum to allow you to gain valuable experience in anticipation of a sustainability related career. Most degrees culminate in a capstone requirement as well. 

Master's in sustainability

  • Length: Two years
  • Cost: $16,000-$60-000
  • Post-grad careers: Environmental engineer, sustainability manager, and climate change analyst 

A master's in sustainability prepares you to take on leadership and managerial roles in sustainability. Many master's degrees have specialization options, allowing you to focus on aspects of the discipline such as conservation ecology, sustainability management, and environmental engineering.

Master's degrees in sustainability incorporate two years of coursework and practical requirements with project-based and cooperative activities. You also focus on qualitative and quantitative research, developing analytical and critical-thinking skills along the way. A master's in sustainability may include a comprehensive research requirement such as a thesis.  

Doctorate in sustainability

  • Length: Three to five years
  • Cost: $18,000-$80,000
  • Post-grad careers: Senior conservation researcher, university professor, and sustainability director 

Designed to create problem-solvers and educators in the field of sustainability, a Ph.D. in sustainability takes an interdisciplinary approach to the discipline. Doctoral degrees in sustainability emphasize scholarship and research in sustainability alongside classes in sustainability science, economics of sustainability, and sustainability policy. 

After a requisite number of courses, seminars, and workshops, you'll take a comprehensive exam before starting work on a dissertation proposal. You'll choose an area to focus your dissertation on, such as food system sustainability, urban infrastructure and sustainability, or resource ecology and management. 

In conclusion

Certificates in sustainability provide a pathway for environmentally conscious professionals to understand and implement sustainable practices into their professional lives. A graduate certificate in sustainability is just one way to boost your understanding of the way humans, the environment, and natural systems interact. 

The information on this page can help you find the best certificate while introducing you to the many options for sustainability programs.

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