Top Online Sustainability Degree Programs

What is an Online Sustainability Degree?

An online sustainability degree is the mark of an interdisciplinary study focused on local, regional, and global environmental issues. In a sustainability degree program, students focus not just on environmental science, but also on social science, the humanities, business, math, and maybe engineering. Through coursework and research, students learn how to identify and analyze environmental challenges. They also learn how to propose and enact solutions. 

In some cases, students use their sustainability education to develop management or leadership skills. They might apply them in public, private, or nonprofit organizations. In other cases, sustainability students develop the knowledge and skillsets of economic analysts or engineers and apply what they learn to sustainability issues across contexts. It simply depends on the goal of the online sustainability degree program. 

No matter the program, students in sustainability programs study the intersections of multiple systems and how those systems influence everyday life on our planet. They use what they learn to improve life across the globe.

Bachelor's DegreeMaster's DegreePhD
Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies Master of Science in Nonprofit Administration

Doctor of  Management - Environmental and Social Sustainability

Study complex local and global cultural, social, and environmental issues.Gain real-world skills, knowledge, and management tools for work as a leader at a nonprofit. Use a minor in environmental or sustainability studies to focus your learning on impacting nonprofits in those areas.Learn how to guide organizational policy and action in a way that cares for profits, people, and the planet.
  • Energy & environmental systems 
  • Conservation biology 
  • Ecology & evolution 
  • Administrative law & nonprofit organizations
  • Development of philanthropy 
  • Nonprofit resource development
  • Management theory
  • Action research 
  • Environmental & social sustainability 
Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)     LSU has regional accreditation. No specialized accreditation required or held for this degree    AU has regional accreditation. No specialized accreditation required or held for this degreeLSU has regional accreditation. No specialized accreditation required or held for this degreeAccreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)

Online Sustainability Degree Programs

To pursue or enhance your career in sustainability, earn a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree in the subject or a closely related one. Each type of degree has distinct requirements and collectively they offer a beginner’s, intermediate, and advanced study of sustainability. 

Associate’s Degree in Sustainability 

If you’re at the beginning stage of pursuing a degree and you’re not ready to pursue a bachelor’s degree, consider earning an associate’s degree. You can earn an associate’s degree in sustainability in just two years. One of those years will be devoted to general education courses and the other to courses that cover the basics of sustainability. 

You generally have to have a bachelor’s degree to secure employment in sustainability or environmental science. Therefore, this degree should be used as a stepping stone to earning a bachelor’s degree.

Sustainability Bachelor’s Degree Programs

These four-year programs are the place to start if you have yet to earn a degree. They include two years of general education courses and two years of courses connected to your major. Your major might be in environmental science or sustainability studies, or you might major in business, political science, sociology, or engineering with a minor in sustainability or environmental science. Examples of bachelor’s degrees you might pursue include: 

  • BA or BS in Sustainability
  • BA or BS in Environmental Science 
  • BA in Business w/ an emphasis in Environmental Science 
  • BS in Engineering w/ an emphasis in Environmental Engineering 

In these and other programs, your general education courses will cover subjects such as composition, math, psychology, philosophy, biology, political science, and art. These kinds of courses help you develop your critical thinking, writing, and speaking skills. They also help you develop a breadth of knowledge across disciplines. Courses for your major in environmental science or sustainability will cover subjects such as: 

  • Sustainability and society 
  • Policy and governance in sustainability 
  • Sustainable food and farms
  • Energy technology 
  • Sustainability systems 
  • Urbanism and sustainability 
  • Ecosystems and systems thinking 

Once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in sustainability, you become eligible to pursue a master’s degree. 

Sustainability Master’s Degree Programs 

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, pursuing a master’s degree is the next step. These graduate-level two-year programs enable you to study sustainability broadly or an area of it in depth. There are no general education requirements in master’s degree programs. Rather, approximately one year of classes are focused on core classes—or classes that cover the primary subject of your degree—and another year of classes are focused on a more specific area of the primary subject. It is through your core courses that you advance your general knowledge. Your elective courses, meanwhile, help you develop highly specific knowledge in one area. 

Examples of master’s degrees you might pursue include: 

  • MA or MS in Sustainability
  • MA or MS in Environmental Science 
  • MSE (Master of Science in Engineering) in Sustainability Engineering 
  • MSL (Master of Sustainability Leadership) 
  • MPH (Master of Public Health) w/ an Environmental Health focus 
  • MBA (Master of Business Administration) w/ a Sustainability concentration 
  • MS in Energy Policy or Environmental Science Policy 

These are just some of the numerous options for you to consider. 

Specific subjects you might study in programs like these include: 

  • Water and wastewater treatment 
  • Urban ecology 
  • Global environmental economics
  • Forest ecology 
  • Multivariate analysis of environmental systems 
  • Environmental education 
  • Marine ecology
  • Ecosystem services 

We could list dozens of more potential subjects for you to study. That’s because the subjects you’ll study depend on the goal of the master’s degree. If you pursue a master’s degree that focuses on Marine ecology, for example, you’ll study that subject in greater and greater depth. The same goes if you opt to study environmental economics, urban ecology, or toxics.  

In a master’s degree program, you will likely also learn how to conduct and present research in your soon-to-be area of expertise. 

Sustainability Doctorate Degree Programs 

If you want to earn a terminal degree in sustainability, pursue a doctorate degree. Doing so can enable you to learn how to conduct research in the field and present it via articles, books, conferences, and the college classroom. To earn this advanced degree, you might study: 

  • Human dimensions of sustainability 
  • Uncertainty and decision-making in the field
  • International development and sustainability 
  • Ecosystems, food systems, and infrastructure and sustainability 
  • Applied robustness analysis 
  • Research methods
  • Quantitative and qualitative research methods in sustainability 

In addition to taking classes, doctorate students might engage in workshops and seminars to apply what they learn in practice. Teaching and research fellowships might be included in doctorate-level curricula or offered as an opportunity after graduation. 

Some types of doctorate degrees you might pursue include: 

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Sustainability 
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Studies 
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Environment and Sustainability 
  • Doctor of Business Administration w/ an emphasis in Sustainability Management 

Earning a doctorate degree typically takes four to six years. You will devote some of your years to coursework, some to workshops, and much to conducting research. To graduate, you’ll have to present your research and prove that you are in expert in the subject and field.

How Long Does it take to Earn an Online Sustainability Degree?

If you attend school full-time, it typically takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree, two years to earn a master’s degree, and six years to earn a doctorate degree. The majority of students who earned a degree in sustainability in 2016 (56.7%) did so at the bachelor’s degree level. The next largest percentage of students who earned a degree in sustainability that year (41.7%) earned a master’s degree.

Online Sustainability Degree Programs That Could be Completed in 24-48 Months

School# of Credits RequiredStart DatesMinimum Months to Complete
Louisiana State University in Shreveport33-39Summer, Fall and Spring24 months including breaks
Ashford University120Multiple throughout the year (courses start every 5 weeks, though start dates may be less frequent)48 months including breaks
Purdue University Global 180Multiple throughout the year (courses start every 10 weeks, though start dates may be less frequent)48 months including breaks

How Much Does It Cost to Get an Online Sustainability Degree? 

In 2016, students paid a median in-state public tuition of $6,991 to earn a degree in sustainability studies. That same year, they paid a median out-of-state private tuition of $34,060. These totals account for all types of degrees earned in sustainability studies (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, and associate’s degrees). 

To get a more specific sense of what you might pay to earn a master’s or bachelor’s degree in sustainability, consider the following:

School# of Credits RequiredCost Per CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Louisiana State University in Shreveport33-39$307 $11,973
Ashford University 120$485 $58,200 
Purdue University Global 180$371 $66,780 

Top Schools for Earning an Online Sustainability Degree

Last check, there were blank schools that offer sustainability studies degrees or programs. From those schools, there were 1,146 sustainability studies degrees awarded to students in 2016. The majority (56.7%) of these degrees were bachelor’s degrees.

School2016 Grads Total/Degrees AwardedTuition (Out-of-State) Undergraduate
Columbia University in NYC157$47,442
University of Flordia39$25,694
Colorado Mountain College38$10,296
University of South Flordia: Main Campus36$15,473
The New School34$44,555

Why Choose an Online Sustainability Degree from an Accredited University? 

Regional accreditation is a rigorous process through which accrediting agencies assess how well colleges align with their stated scholastic outcomes. The process is conducted by an independent agency sanctioned by the U.S. Department of Education. When schools meet or exceed standards set by the accrediting process, they obtain accreditation. Schools must go through the accrediting process regularly. 

Regional accreditation is important because it helps ensure you’re receiving an education that meets high qualities of the standard. Some employers require students to have a degree from an accredited institution, and many licensing agencies only certify or license professionals with a degree from an accredited school. Also, to transfer credits into another program or to pursue a more advanced degree, you’ll likely have to prove that your existing credits and degree come from an accredited college or university. 

In some cases, programs—in addition to schools—are required to have accreditation. Many business, medical, scientific, social scientific, and other programs seek specialized accreditation. This helps ensure that students receive the quality education they need to work as professionals in particular fields. It also helps professionals meet the qualifications required by licensing agencies.  

There are no specialized accreditations required of sustainability programs. However, to earn professional certificates in sustainability, you typically must have a degree from an accredited school. Also, pursuing employment and advanced education will likely be made easier by holding a degree from an accredited college.

Find the Perfect Online Degree For You

Possible Career Options with a Sustainability Degree

In 2016, there were an estimated 373,871 people in the sustainability studies workforce. The median average age of those people was 39.3 years. Of the people graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies that year, the small majority (55.5%) were women. Jobs for environmental scientists and specialists could grow by 11 percent between 2016 and 2026. This is faster than average for all industries. 

Top States for Sustainability  Degree Holders

StateEmploymentAnnual Mean Wage
California12,820$87,890
Florida5,240$56,160
Texas4,260$87,070
New York4,170$78,370
North Carolina3,730$63,740

Source: bls.gov/oes/current/oes192041.htm#st

Sustainability Career Paths and Potential Salaries

Climate Change Analyst

Climate change analysts research and analyze policy developments related to climate change.  They also make climate related recommendations to legislators or regulatory agencies. Topics would include renewable energy, energy efficiency or climage change. 

  • Median Salary: $69,400 in 2017
  • Job Growth through 2026: 10 to 14% (faster than average)
  • Education: This job is in job zone 5, meaning there is extensive prep needed, most occupations will require graduate school. 79% reported holding a masters degree. 

 

Compliance Manager


Compliance managers plan, direct, or coordinate activities of an organization to ensure compliance with ethical or regulatory standards. 

  • Median Salary: $105,610 in 2017
  • Job Growth through 2026:  Projected growth is between five and nine percent (average growth)
  • Education: This occupation is in job zone 4, considerable prep is needed. Most will require a bachelors degree. 66% of respondents indicated having a bachelors.

Green Marketer

Green marketers are a relatively new subset of marketing. As the title suggests, these marketers specifically focus on green products. This includes analyzing current sales trends to forecast future conditions.  

  • Median Salary: $106,130 in 2017
  • Job Growth through 2026: Projected between five and nine percent (average growth)