Sustainability is as much a cause as it is a job. It is an ongoing, ever-evolving effort to balance the economic needs of a business or organization with the fragility of our planet and the requirements of social justice. A master's degree in sustainability is often offered as a sustainability MBA, or master's in business administration. It's also referred to as a "green MBA." According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one of the common definitions of sustainability comes from a 1987 United Nations report that described it as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
What can you do with a master's degree in sustainability? Almost anything. Careers in sustainable business can include product design, energy systems engineering, education, marketing, consulting, pollution prevention, and management of environmental resources. A business sustainability manager is responsible for developing and putting to use an organizational plan and selling that plan to senior staff. They might be responsible for compliance with environmental and health regulations, and often need to depend on communication skills to convey ideas to co-workers and the public.
Some of the many other job possibilities for someone with a master's education in sustainability include environmental engineer with a median salary of $87,620, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, compliance officer at $65,640, management analyst at $81,320, financial manager at $117,990, logistician at $74,260, and medical and health services manager at $94,500 a year on average. The universities and colleges on this list are the best places in the U.S. to get a solid education in sustainability. Several offer specific areas of expertise, such as social innovation and global enterprise. But all offer a rigorous education that can be applied to a career in which you can feel good about what you're doing every day.
Ranking Methodology: "It's science!"
The researchers and writers at Best Master's Degrees don't make recommendations based upon preference– we back our rankings with science. Here's a quick breakdown of how we organize ranking data:
- Finances (40%)
- Academic Rigor (35%)
- Student Gratification (25%)
Nearly half of the data used to score each ranking involves finances and are acquired from sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Education, Glassdoor, and PayScale. Financial data encompasses the cost of tuition, fees, and class supplied; the average price of living; access to financial aid and social services; and lastly, the projected annual salary acquired from degree outcomes and income for loan repayment. The second largest category of information involves the quality of education, how competitive degree applicants should be for consideration, and how exclusive a degree program is overall. The final 25 percent of collected data is dependent on student and alumni reviews from sources such as PayScale, Rate My Professor, and Students Review.
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The amount of information available for specific degrees is plentiful, and Best Master's Degrees aims to provide as many resources as we can. Check out our Methodology page for more information and resource links.
#13 – Edgewood College
Master of Arts in Social Innovation & Sustainability Leadership
Edgewood College, a private institution, has a small undergraduate enrollment of about 1,500. It is located in a college town dominated by the University of Wisconsin. Edgewood offers a Master of Arts in Social Innovation & Sustainability Leadership, a claims it is the first such on-campus degree in the United States. The program forms cohorts of no more than 18 students. The degree consists of 33 semester credit hours that can be completed in as little as 17 months. The first three courses use the cohort, with the group going through the 12 credit hours together. There are three more required courses. The remaining 12 credit hours are chosen from elective courses that fit the student's goals or interests. There is an accelerated-path option in which juniors or seniors, with faculty consent, can take 12 credit hours of the master's coursework. Application requirements include at least one letter of recommendation, an essay describing your goals for the program, and a phone interview with the program director.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $17,334
#12 – Western Kentucky University
MBA in Sustainability
Bowling Green, KY
Western Kentucky University's hometown of Bowling Green is located about an hour northeast of Nashville, TN. The public university uses a semester system. Its MBA program offers a graduate certificate in sustainability for its full-time, on-campus degree. The MBA is designed to take one year to complete, with students joining a cohort that starts each fall and ends the following summer. Cohorts take part in practicum business cases that collaborate with organizations and companies to apply their academics to real-world situations. The MBA program consists of ten courses. MBA candidates who don't have an undergraduate business degree can prepare with MBA Foundation Modules – a 4.5 credit offering available on demand. Program applicants must have a GPA of at least 2.75 in all undergraduate work, and an overall GMAT score of at least 500.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $12,140 / $17,980
#11 – Maharishi University of Management
MBA in Sustainable Business
The Maharishi University of Management is in the small city of Fairfield, IA, about two hours east of Des Moines, IA, and 4.5 hours west of Chicago. The university, known as MUM, was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. MUM's academics are grounded in what the university calls Consciousness-Based Education, which teaches students to unlock creative potential and strive for harmony with nature. The degree has three major parts: 16 credit hours of MBA foundation courses ranging from accounting to business law; 16 credit hours of coursework in sustainable business practices; and 16 hours of graduate-level electives. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree and be familiar with the basic principles of education. If applicants have an undergraduate GPA below 3.0, they can still be admitted if they have a higher GPA in their final two undergraduate years, with a strong GMAT score, or by completing three undergraduate business courses with a B grade or better.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $28,000
#10 – Duquesne University
MA in Sustainable Business Practices
Duquesne University is a private school located in urban Pittsburgh. It has an undergraduate enrollment of about 5,900. Duquesne's MA in Sustainability is offered through its Palumbo-Donahue School of Business. Duquesne ranked No. 17 in Corporate Knights magazines' 2018 worldwide list of Better World MBAs. The MBA program begins each year in late May – the summer semester – with a full-time schedule. The program follows the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education. In the course of one year – three semesters – students undergo a rigorous program that combines coursework with projects in the field. The third semester includes an international study course that features seven to ten days abroad. Applicants need to provide transcripts, a resume, two letters of recommendation, and some short essays that describe your goals and expectations. All candidates will be interviewed by phone or Skype.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $23,112
#9 – SIT Graduate Institute
Master of Arts in Sustainable Development
The full name of the program at the School for International Training's Graduate Institute is the Master of Arts in Sustainable Development: Advocacy, Leadership, and Social Change. The degree is offered through SIT's School for International Training. SIT is located in the small, bucolic town of Brattleboro, in a state that's on the leading edge of sustainable economics. Brattleboro is about two hours northwest of Boston. Students in the master's program can choose among three areas of emphasis: monitoring/evaluation; social innovation and management; and analysis and advocacy of policy. The program begins with two terms of coursework covering two terms and 28 credit hours in the fall and spring. Then there is a practicum covering two to three terms and 12 credit hours, followed by a capstone paper and presentation. Applicants are encouraged to first attend an open house at SIT and talk to faculty, staff, and current students and alumni.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $40,554
#8 – Rochester Institute of Technology
Master of Science in Sustainable Systems
Rochester Institute of Technology's suburban campus has an undergraduate enrollment of about 12,400. A private university, RIT runs on a semester system. Its Master of Science in Sustainable Systems is offered by its Golisano Institute for Sustainability. The program is designed to first build a knowledge base in environmental assessment, decision making, and economic and policy strategies. The student then is paired with a faculty member who will help customize the coursework to interests and professional goals. The degree consists of 30 credit hours and takes about two years to finish. Students can choose to do a capstone project or a thesis. Classes include Industrial Ecology, Economics of Sustainable Systems, and Risk Analysis. The master's degree also can serve as a step toward a Ph.D. in Sustainability at RIT. Applicants must have a bachelor's degree, and provide transcripts, GRE scores, two letters of reference, a statement of objectives, and a resume.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $45,520
#7 – Bard College
MBA in Sustainability
New York City, NY
Bard College is a private school located in the rural community of Annandale-On-Hudson, about two hours north of New York City. However, students in Bard's MBA in Sustainability degree program spent most of their residency at the college's New York City campus. Bard's MBA in Sustainability program has two focus areas: impact finance and circular value chain management. The latter trains students to assume a new role in business hierarchies: the CCO, or corporate circularity officer. The MBA is a hybrid, allowing coursework to be done on-campus and online. Full-time students able to take on 15 credit hours a semester can complete the 60 credit hours in two years. Students who have a full-time career or family commitments can complete the MBA in three years. Bard's selection committee, in addition to considering a student's academic track record, also will take into account the applicant's statement of purpose, writing skills, and work experience.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $35,972
#6 – Tufts University
MS in Sustainability
Tufts University is located above five minutes north of Boston. It has an undergraduate enrollment of about 5,500. Tufts is a private institution and is ranked #27 among all U.S. universities by U.S. News & World Report. The MS in Sustainability degree is offered through the university's Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. It consists of 36 semester credit hours – 11 courses – along with a capstone project or internship. A full-time student can finish the coursework in 12 months. There are six core courses, along with five electives that draw from three focus areas: theoretical foundations, policy, and planning for sustainability. Core courses include Socio-Ecological Systems Thinking for Sustainability, and Economics for Policy and Planning. The degree program begins each fall, and the application deadline is Jan. 15. Application requirements include a resume, a personal statement, GRE scores, transcripts, and three letters of recommendation.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $51,288
#5 – American University
Sustainability Management (MS)
American University, located in the Tenleytown area of Washington, D.C., is a private institution with an undergraduate enrollment of about 8,100. The Sustainability Management degree program is offered through AU's Kogod School of Business. The program begins in the fall semester. It consists of 30 semester credit hours, of which 21 are core courses and nine are electives aligned to professional goals. Those goals are sustainability executive, entrepreneur, consultant, or communications executive. There is a broad selection of electives for each focus area. Core classes include Ethics in Business and Accounting; Leading and Managing Change; and Sustainable Products and Purchasing. AU offers an accelerated option in which an undergraduate to take up to nine credit hours that will apply toward the master's degree. All applicants must offer at least one professional recommendation and are encouraged to submit GRE scores. Students can take advantage of Kogod School's Office of Career Engagement, which can help put them on a solid professional path.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $30,744
#4 – University of Pennsylvania
Master of Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Sustainability
The University of Pennsylvania has a reputation as one of the nation's go-to places for business academics. Led by the revered Wharton College of Business, Penn is No. 1 among business universities, according to U.S. News & World Report, which also ranks the private institution in downtown Philadelphia No. 9 overall among all U.S. universities. Penn also ranked No. 17 in Corporate Knights magazine's 2018 worldwide list of Better World MBAs. The relevant degree offered by Penn is its Master of Environmental Studies with a concentration in Environmental Sustainability. The degree features courses offered in several of Penn's colleges and programs drawing from areas like environmental studies, engineering, urban studies, and, of course, the Wharton School. Class cycles begin in the spring and fall. The program consists of 11 courses and a capstone project designed to demonstrate mastery of the chosen concentration. Full-time students can complete the coursework in about two years. Application requirements include a resume, statements of purpose, two letters of recommendation, and GRE scores.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $34,882
#3 – Presidio Graduate School
MBA in Sustainable Solutions
San Francisco, CA
Presidio Graduate School's location is a story unto itself – a Civil War-era military post on the northwest tip of San Francisco, nestled in an urban forest with the towers of the Golden Gate Bridge rising behind it. The private business school was founded in 2002. PGS offers an MBA in Sustainable Solutions, though it injects lessons of sustainability into all of its degree programs. PGS emphasizes experiential learning; the school partners with more than 500 businesses and organizations that are working to solve sustainability challenges. Students experience hands-on, real-world applications of their coursework, while the professional partners reap the benefits of fresh ideas. The approach also gives students recommendations and tools that can plug into their professional lives. There are 12 required courses that take three terms to complete. Application requirements include transcripts, a resume, two letters of support, an online interview, and an essay about academic and professional goals and accomplishments.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $30,950
#2 – Cornell University
MBA-Sustainable Global Enterprise
Cornell University is ranked No. 16 by the U.S. News & World Report. It is also listed at No. 10 for business programs. Cornell is a private institution and is located in the small college town of Ithaca, about an hour south of Syracuse. MBA degrees are offered through SC Johnson College of Business. Students in the MBA-Sustainable Global Enterprise program work in teams that do consultation-like projects with organizations and businesses. Students are challenged to solve real problems and are expected to show competency in finance, accounting, operations, and economics. Johnson College accepts second-year and one-year MBA students to enter a concentration program that aligns them for a specific career. In the Sustainable Global Enterprise concentration students take at least three courses, plus six credit hours of specialized classes including one foundation course. Students also can join campus organizations such as the Sustainable Global Enterprise Club, the Energy Club, and the General Management Association.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $29,500
#1 – University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
Master of Science in Environment and Sustainability
Ann Arbor, MI
The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor is ranked No. 27 by U.S. News & World Report. The public school offers its Master of Science in Environment and Sustainability through its School for Environment and Sustainability. The MS program has six fields of study: Behavior, Education, and Communication; Environmental Informatics; Environmental Policy and Planning; Conservation Ecology; Environmental Justice; and Sustainable Systems. The program emphasizes field-based education, professional training, practical approaches to behavioral change, and the application of scientific knowledge to management challenges. Degree coursework consists of 42 credit hours. Required and elective classes vary according to the chosen field of study. All fields require a capstone project, referred to at Michigan as an opus finish. It can be an individual or group project. It also can be a practicum or thesis. In any event, it is used to demonstrate mastery over the subject matter. Application requirements include a statement of academic and professional goals, along with letters of support. To receive strong consideration, students should have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.5.
Graduate Tuition/Fees: $23,128 / $46,678