University Courses in Computational Sustainability

CompSustNet is a network of researchers who are developing new computational approaches to addressing challenges in environmental and societal sustainability. In my role as CompSustNet’s Director of Outreach, Education, Diversity, and Synthesis, I plan to blog regularly about each of the topics indicated in my title, as well as posting publicly-accessible overviews of the research being undertaken in the network. For this latter area of responsibility, in particular, I will also recruit graduate and undergraduate students with an interest in communicating science and technology to the public, as fellow bloggers and co-authors of articles. Contact me if you are interested.

Because registration at most schools for Fall 2016 courses is starting soon, or is very recently underway, higher education in computational sustainability is a timely topic.

In the last 5 years or so there have been a number of college-level courses in computational sustainability, some with an emphasis in one subarea, but most with broader coverage. Here is a list of the courses that I know.

Beyond the topics themselves, at least two things strike me as notable about these courses.

  • Instructors openly use and acknowledge educational content from other courses and other instructors, in addition to making nontrivial use of guest lecturers. As I plan for my Fall 2016 special topics course, entitled Computing, the Environment, and Energy, I will be using much from my earlier 2011 course, but I will also undoubtedly take Stefano Ermon (Stanford) and Dan Sheldon (UMass) up on their offers to share resources. I’ll consider drawing from other courses as well, and I expect to line up a few guest lectures over video conferencing as well.
  • These are not courses that fit the stereotype of “computing and society” or “computing and ethics” that require little or no computing background. Such introductory courses would be a good addition to the course portfolio, but consistent with the CompSustNet mission, the courses so far have opted to advance the education of committed and knowledgeable computer science students.

In the future, I will be posting more on computing courses, including my own Fall 2016 course. I invite others to contribute one or more posts on their experiences too. In addition to standalone courses in computational sustainability, I will be posting on “deep infusion of sustainability material into NON-sustainability-themed courses”.  Deep infusion doesn’t seek to spinoff computational sustainability to specialized courses, but seeks to make it ubiquitous across the entire computing curriculum.

Douglas H. Fisher is CompSustNet’s Director of Outreach, Education, Diversity, and Synthesis. The opinions expressed herein are Doug’s and not necessarily those of Cornell University. Contact Doug at