It is axiomatic that environmental sustainability is a global affair. Climate change, species extinction, pollution, and the supply chains pressuring the planet’s ability to provide humanity with goods and services all share a single defining characteristic: they care not a whit for national boundaries. Decisions and the environmental impacts of those decisions are now separated by hundreds, even thousands of miles. They are likewise both linked to and separated by culture, language, perspectives, and governance.

Global education For practitioners of environmental sustainability, there is no substitute for an understanding of this global interconnectedness. Simple nationalist thinking creates blind spots and interferes with both understanding the problems and seeing the solutions. And because the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS) is in the business of helping environmental practitioners become better at what they do, it’s critical that we create opportunities for global educational experiences.

people walking down old stone steps

In 2014, through its core course Global Issues in Environmental Sustainability, CLiGS began providing international experiences for all of its students. Starting with its first program in China, CLiGS now offers study opportunities in China, Morocco, India, South Africa, Croatia, and Cuba. In 2020, Argentina, Iceland, and Spain will be joining the roster. Because CLiGS’s students are so often working professionals, our study experiences are designed to accommodate their schedules—they run from 10 to 12 days, and tie directly to the semester-long course content.

Creating global educational opportunities is only part of the equation though. Equally important is witnessing the changes that occur among our students as they travel and get to know the people, places, and problems. It is in exposure to foreign cultures, norms, similarities and differences, and ways of problem-solving where the most important benefits of global travel reside. CLiGS considers change among its students as one of the most important facets of its mission.

Global competencies CLiGS believes there are four pillars supporting the robust global platform necessary to be a relevant and effective environmental sustainability practitioner. They are: a cosmopolitan identity, cosmopolitan professional skills, a global systems perspective, and a global community of practice. Each of these relates to the others, and is subject to change as students and practitioners collect experiences and then pause to reflect on that they’ve experienced.

bright orange sunset over mountains

In an upcoming article (PDF), we studied these competencies as they applied to two of our recent programs—one in China, the other in India. We found that, yes, in both countries, across all four competencies, our students reported improvement. Success!

Assessing the future  The work isn’t finished though. We understand that our global programming moves the needle for our students, improving each of their cosmopolitan competencies. But there is room for improvement, both in how far the needle moves, and in better understanding how it’s being moved. So, beginning in 2019, CLiGS will start embedding two new assessments, Hofestede’s Culture Compass and the Intercultural Development Inventory, into the Global Issues course.

By bringing an increasingly structured approach to our global experiences CLiGS hopes to improve upon its course design, its teaching and learning approaches, and in how those 10–12 days unfold overseas. For example, how much of an experience should be focused on developing each of the competencies relative to one another? Or do they all operate in tandem? Our results to-date haven’t asked or answered these questions.

man reading by a busy road

Nothing is constant except change, goes the saying. And nowhere is change more evident than in many of the developing countries we visit. Changes in governance, urbanization, climate impacts—they are all happening in real time. To face those challenges, and to best serve the students we train, CLiGS needs to be able to change as well. To enhance our programming, to improve the experiences it offers, and to deliver a world-class masters education requires the same introspection we ask of our students.


Michael Mortimer headshot

Dr. Mortimer is the Director of the Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability. He received a Ph.D. in Forestry from the University of Montana, a law degree from the Pennsylvania State University, and Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Washington and Jefferson College. Dr. Mortimer teaches courses in Natural Resource Law and Policy and Environmental Conflict Management. His research is published in Society and Natural Resources, Journal of Forestry, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Environmental Management, Journal of Forest Policy and Economics, and other leading natural resource journals.

Photo credits: Michael Mortimer