Navigating the Social Complexities of Sustainability

Marc Stern


Executive and Online Master of Natural Resources professor Marc Stern, Ph.D., will be teaching a course titled NR 5884 TS: Navigating the Social Complexities of Sustainability this Fall 2018 term, challenging students to approach socio-environmental issues with practical and multifaceted solutions.

The course revolves around problem solving through a variety of social science lenses. By providing students with a well-rounded set of critical thinking skills, they can become more likely to take on complex sustainability issues. Navigating the Social Complexities of Sustainability incorporates student-led discourse, focusing on specific challenges they find timely and crucial.

Dr. Stern suspects the course will touch on issues such as climate change, international trade, and alternative energy. “These types of issues always involve people,” he explains. “The course will give students the skills they need for mass communication, one-on-one discussion, team building, negotiation, and planning” for development of sound environmental solutions.

The course, which is taught entirely online, is based on Social Science Theory for Environmental Sustainability: A Practical Guide, a new book authored by Dr. Stern, to be published in early July. Learning objectives include developing an understanding of the wide array of social science theories explaining human behavior. Students will use these theories to develop strategies for approaching real world problems. The textbook – half comprised of theory explanations and the other half of vignettes exemplifying them – will draw attention to the environment’s human element, not only in terms of stakeholders, but also as an impetus to change.

For this, the assignments and projects will familiarize students with the theories and their practical applications. Students will get to film themselves and teach one another about different approaches to dealing with environmental problems from a social standpoint. “That’s one thing I love about this course,” Stern says. “The projects make learning online fun and interactive.”

Perhaps the most invaluable part of the course is the applicable coursework. For the final project, students are tasked with creating a game plan for solving a real world sustainability problem. They’ll be graded based on the extent to which they can apply relevant theory to the problem and clearly justify their approach.

Stern emphasizes the impact of these final projects: “I’ve had a student use the exercises in this course to develop an entirely new approach to waste management for a large Fortune 500 Company subsidiary, which was immediately implemented.” Obtaining new ways of thinking is critical to approaching environmental situations, especially as people get more aware of, dependent on, and involved in sustainability.


Marc Stern received a Ph.D. in social ecology from Yale University, a master of environmental science from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a bachelor of science in natural resources from Cornell University. His research areas include public response to natural resource management, environmental decision-making, effectiveness of conservation initiatives, and various forms of environmental outreach. In addition to his role as an instructor for the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, Dr. Stern is an associate professor in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, where he teaches courses in Environmental Education, Environmental Interpretation, Social Science Research Methods, and Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management. 

CLiGS thanks the following photographers for making their work available through the Creative Commons License:  Friends of the Earth International, and sringsmuth.