UH Hilo takes first steps toward a Certificate in Sustainability program

Planners are working on a model for a sustainability certificate program that complements current campus curricula: 29 courses have been designated as focusing on sustainability, a couple of dozen more are under evaluation.

 By Anne Rivera.
This article is part of a series on curriculum and projects at UH Hilo focusing on sustainability issues.

Green graphic with the words "S Sustainability Designated Courses.The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is laying the groundwork to develop a certificate in sustainability program. To start the process, planners have begun a Sustainability Course Designation program and, starting this semester, 29 courses have been designated as focusing on sustainability topics.

Last semester Brooke Hansen of the UH Hilo anthropology department attended the 5th Annual Hawai‘i Sustainability in Higher Education Summit on O‘ahu with others from UH campuses across the state to discuss the various programs and activities that are being done throughout the UH system.

Brooke Hansen
Brooke Hansen

“We’re working together because we’re trying to help each other,” says Hansen, a member of the UH Hilo Sustainability Committee and faculty advisor for the Students of Sustainability student organization.

“UH President David Lassner wants this,” Hansen explains. “He is our captain and we’re all trying to get on the ship together so we can do this.” She is referring to the EP 4.202 System Sustainability Policy that states UH campuses will “encourage, facilitate and support curriculum development that advances the principles of sustainability and enables cross-campus collaborations that integrate teaching and research with solutions at the campus and community levels.”

Developing a certificate program

Courses at UH Hilo that currently carry the sustainability focused (S-Focus) and sustainability related (S-Related) designations have been a part of UH Hilo curriculum for some time—this semester is the first time the classes have been linked together through the designations. Although these classes seem to be unrelated because they range from anthropology to geology to Spanish to business management, they all possess the underlying theme of sustainability.

Jack Rossen
Jack Rossen

“The interest in sustainability has spread across numerous departments,” says Jack Rossen, an assistant professor of anthropology at UH Hilo. “Designating it with the ‘S’ also helps to remind us to emphasize it more in our classes. It alters some of the content in these existing courses.”

Hansen says they want to have the same focal point in all of these courses because there are some classes that are not immediately recognized as being associated with sustainability. However, she hopes that with such diversity in the courses, faculty will be inspired to teach special sections in ecological efficiency.

“Every single course will help us in different ways to reach UH Hilo’s goal toward reducing its ecological impact,” Hansen explains. “Every course will contribute to that mission but in different ways.”

Hansen and Rossen say that in their initial sweep before helping to designate the first 29 courses, they spotted about 55 to 60 classes that would qualify for the designation. They are working on getting all the courses officially designated.

A wide variety of specialized courses is needed for the  program in order to reach a true sustainability curriculum. Offering so many courses from different fields with a sustainability focus will allow for greater diversity for the planned sustainability certificate program. Eventually there will be additional courses, such as introductory classes, that will be added to the UH Hilo curriculum in order to achieve the certificate program.


Claudia Wilcox-Boucher
Claudia Wilcox-Boucher

Hawai‘i Community College has submitted a proposal for a sustainability certificate program and is waiting for approval. Hansen is currently working with Claudia Wilcox-Boucher at the college to create a program at UH Hilo that is complimentary to the sustainability program at the community college level. The plan is to offer Hawai‘i CC students, who have graduated with a certificate in sustainability from that campus, the chance to continue their focus at UH Hilo.

“We will be working closely with them on coordinating our certificate to add to theirs, not duplicate it for students who transition to the university and want to continue their commitment to sustainability,” says Hansen.  “We want them to be able to come here and continue on, intensify [their studies in sustainability] or do other things with it.”

This story was revised Sept. 20 to clarify that Hawai‘i CC’s certificate program has not yet been approved.


About the author of this story: Anne Rivera (senior, communication) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories

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