Environmental Studies

The interdisciplinary Environmental Studies major is administered through the Environmental Studies Program and draws courses from 16 departments and four colleges on the CU-Boulder campus. The major teaches the integration of science, policy, and values as applied to environmental issues. Students acquire an awareness of the complexity of factors relating to human interaction with the environment. They will become acutely aware that environmental problems have both human and biophysical components, and they gain knowledge of the general principles of human-environmental interaction, global habitability, environmental change, and sustainable human societies.

To complete the ENVS major, students take foundational courses in sciences, policy, ethics, economics, writing, math, an internship or field course, a cornerstone course, and a capstone course. Students take 12 credits of upper-division course work to specialize in an area of interest.

See the program website at www.colorado.edu/envs/current-students/undergraduate-students/curriculum for details of the program requirements and current courses.

Course code for this program is ENVS.

Bachelor's Degree Program(s)

Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below. 

Required Courses and Semester Credit Hours

1. Natural Sciences Requirements

Purpose: Understand the scientific process in the natural sciences, understand how this process generates knowledge, and be able to apply the results of natural scientific research to problems and questions as they relate to what is broadly called the environment.

Introductory Course—mandatory:

  • ENVS 1000 Introduction to Environmental Studies—4

Biology Sequence—complete one sequence and applicable lab(s):

  • EBIO 1030 and EBIO 1040 + EBIO 1050 Biology: A Human Approach and lab—7
  • EBIO 1210 + EBIO 1230 and EBIO 1220 + EBIO 1240 General Biology and labs—8

Chemistry or Physics Course—complete one course and lab, if lab is corequisite:

  • CHEM 1011 Environmental Chemistry—3
  • CHEM 1113 + CHEM 1114 General Chemistry 1 and lab—5
  • PHYS 1110 General Physics–4
  • PHYS 2010 General Physics with lab—5

Earth Science Sequence—complete one sequence and associated lab(s):  

  • ATOC 1050 and ATOC 1060 + ATOC 1070 Weather and the Atmosphere/Our Changing Environment: El Niño, Ozone, and Climate and lab—7
  • GEOG 1001 and GEOG 1011 Environmental Systems with labs—8
  • GEOL 1010 and GEOL 1060 (or GEOL 1020 or GEOL 1040) + GEOL 1030 Introduction to Geology and Global Change: An Earth Science Perspective (or Introduction to Earth History or Geology of Colorado) and lab—7

Intermediate Natural Science—complete one course:

  • ENVS 2000 Introduction to Applied Ecology for Environmental Studies—4
  • ATOC 3600/ENVS 3600/GEOG 3601 Principles of Climate—3
  • CVEN/ENVS 3434 Applied Ecology—3
  • EBIO 2040 Principles of Ecology with lab—4
  • GEOG 3511 Hydrology with lab—4

2.  Social Sciences Requirement

Purpose: Develop a familiarity with the drivers of human actions regarding social-ecological systems.

Intermediate Social Science—complete one course:

  • ENVS 3030 Topics in Environmental Social Sciences—3
  • ENVS 3032 Environment, Media and Society—3
  • SOCY 2077 Environment and Society—3

3.  Values Requirements

Purpose: Examine the economic drivers and the underlying moral beliefs, personal and social ethics, principles, and theoretical commitments that might be informing environmental discourse and also driving human actions and decisions.

Introductory Economics—mandatory:

  • ECON 2010 Principles of Microeconomics—4

Intermediate Economics—complete one course:

  • ECON 3535 Natural Resource Economics—3
  • ECON 3545 Environmental Economics—3

Ethics—complete one course:

  • ENVS/PHIL 3140 Environmental Ethics—3
  • GEOG 3422 Conservation Thought—3
  • PSCI 3064 Environmental Political Theory—3

4.  Policy Requirement

Purpose: Learn to systematically analyze environmental problems and critically assess the ways in which public policies may help to address these problems. Students will learn a basic knowledge of existing environmental laws and policies and the processes through which environmental policies are made and implemented.

Intermediate Policy—complete one course:   

  • PSCI 2106 Introduction to Public Policy Analysis—3
  • PSCI 2116 Introduction to Environmental Policy—3
  • PSCI 3206 The Environment and Public Policy—3

5.  Math Requirement

Purpose: Learn to use mathematical systems as a tool to quantify and understand complex issues and to use mathematical systems to help solve problems. 

Choose between Statistics or Calculus 1 and complete one course:


  • EBIO 4410 Biometry—4
  • GEOG/GEOL 3023 Statistics for Earth Sciences—4     
  • MATH 2510 Introduction to Statistics—3       
  • PSCI 2075 Quantitative Research Methods—3  
  • PSCI 3105 Designing Social Inquiry: An Introduction to Analyzing Political Phenomena—3
  • PSYC 3101 Statistics and Research Methods in Psychology—4
  • SOCY 2061 Introduction to Social Statistics—3

Calculus 1

  • APPM 1350 Calculus 1 for Engineers—4
  • MATH 1300 Analytic Geometry and Calculus 1—5
  • MATH 1310 Calculus, Stochastics, and Modeling—5

6.  Writing Requirement

Purpose: Develop an understanding of rhetorical situations in professional writing and be able to apply critical thinking skills when delivering or receiving information. Learn to frame a problem and develop an idea from knowledge based on research.

Complete one course:

  • ENVS 3020 Advanced Writing in ENVS—3
  • EBIO 3940 Argument in Scientific Writing—3     

7.  Application Requirement

Purpose: Acquire practical and “hands-on” experience applying knowledge and skills outside the classroom. Improve the ability to integrate the knowledge and skills taught in the ENVS major and emphasize their real-world applications.

Complete one course:

  • ENVS 2100 Topics in Applied Environmental Studies—3      
  • ENVS 3001 Sustainable Solutions Consulting—3         
  • ENVS 3100 Topics in Applied Environmental Studies—3
  • ENVS 3103 Mining 4 Corners—3
  • ENVS/CVEN 3434 Applied Ecology—3  
  • ENVS 3930 Internship—3
  • EBIO 4090 Coral Reef Ecology—2
  • EBIO 4100 Mountain Research Station field course—3
  • EBIO/ENVS/MUSM 4795 Museum Field Methods/Zoology and Botany—3
  • EVEN 4100 Environmental Sampling and Analysis—3
  • GEOL 2700 Introduction to Field Geology—2

8. Cornerstone Requirement

Purpose: A foundation course to synthesize lower-division environmental science, policy, and values courses into a cohesive knowledge base to prepare students for specialization and capstone courses.

Complete one course:

  • ENVS 3525 Intermediate Environmental Problem Analysis: Topical Cornerstones—3
  • ENVS 3621 Energy, Policy, and Society—3

9. Specialization Requirement

Purpose: Allow upper-division students to focus on one aspect of environmental studies to develop a deeper understanding. To explore suggested focus areas and learn how to select courses that align with a student's interests, see the ENVS Guidance Documents at: www.colorado.edu/envs/current-students/undergraduate-students/curriculum/guidance-documents

Complete a minimum of 12 credits from the following list:

  • ENVS/EBIO 3040 Conservation Biology—3
  • ENVS/PHYS 3070 Energy and the Environment—3
  • ENVS/GEOL 3520 Environmental Issues in Geosciences—3
  • ENVS 3521 Climate, Politics, and Policy—3
  • ENVS/SOCY 4027 Inequality, Democracy, and the Environment—3
  • ENVS 4100 Special Topics in Environmental Studies—3
  • ENVS 4120 Special Topics in Environmental Studies—4
  • ENVS/GEOG 4201 Biometeorology—3
  • ATOC 3300/GEOG 3301 Analysis of Climate & Weather Observations—3
  • ATOC 3500 Air Chemistry and Pollution—3
  • ATOC 4215 Descriptive Physical Oceanography—3
  • ATOC 4700 Weather Analysis and Forecasting—3
  • ATOC 4720 Introduction to Atmospheric Physics and Dynamics—3
  • ATOC 4750 Desert Meteorology and Climate—3
  • ATOC 4800 Policy and Climate—3
  • CVEN 4404 Water Chemistry—3
  • CVEN 4414 Water Chemistry Laboratory—1
  • EBIO 3190 Tropical Marine Ecology—3
  • EBIO 3270 Ecosystem Ecology—3
  • EBIO 4020 Stream Biology—3
  • EBIO 4030 Limnology—3
  • EBIO 4060 Landscape Ecology—3
  • EBIO 4140 Plant Ecology—3
  • EBIO/ENVS/GEOL 4160 Introduction to Biogeochemistry—3
  • ECON 3403 International Economics and Policy—3
  • ECON 3784 Economic Development and Policy—3
  • ENVD 4023 Environmental Impact Assessment—3
  • GEOG 3053 Cartography: Visualization and Information Design—4
  • GEOG 3251 Mountain Geography—3
  • GEOG 3351 Biogeography—3
  • GEOG 3402 Natural Hazards—3
  • GEOG 3682 Geography of International Development—3
  • GEOG 3812 Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean—3
  • GEOG 3822 Geography of China—3
  • GEOG 3862 Geography of Africa—3
  • GEOG/GEOL 4093 Remote Sensing of the Environment —4
  • GEOG/GEOL 4241 Principles of Geomorphology—4
  • GEOG 4271 The Arctic Climate System—3
  • GEOG 4321 Snow Hydrology—3-4
  • GEOG 4371 Forest Geography: Principles and Dynamics—3
  • GEOG 4501 Water Resources and Water Management of Western US—3
  • GEOG 4632 Development Geography—3
  • GEOG 4712 Political Geography—3
  • GEOG 4732 Population Geography—3 
  • GEOG 4852 Health and Medical Geography —3
  • GEOL 3030 Introduction to Hydrogeology—3
  • GEOL 3040 Global Change: The Recent Geological Record—3
  • GEOL 3320 Introduction to Geochemistry—3
  • GEOL 4060 Oceanography—4
  • HIST 4417 Environmental History of North America—3
  • PHIL 2140 Environmental Justice—3
  • PSCI 3206 The Environment & Public Policy—3
  • PSCI 4012 Global Development—3
  • RSEI 4150 Energy Policy Project—3
  • SOCY 3002 Population and Society—3
  • SOCY 4007 Global Human Ecology—3
  • SOCY 4117 Food and Society—3

Additional notes regarding approved ENVS specialization courses:
1. Topics courses may apply to the ENVS specialization requirement, although offerings will vary semester by semester. The current semester course list includes topics classes. Visit to see applicable subtopics: www.colorado.edu/envs/current-students/undergraduate-students/curriculum/current-courses.
2. Topics course numbers that may apply to the ENVS major, depending upon course content, include: ANTH 4020 Explorations in Anthropology; ATOC 4500 Special Topics in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences; EBIO 4460 Special Topics; GEOG 4100, 4110, and 4120 Special Topics in Geography; SOCY 4047 Topics in Environment and Society.

10.  Capstone Requirement

The capstone requirement provides an opportunity for students to pursue intellectual integration of the multiple scientific disciplines and allows students to demonstrate competence in integrative analysis and problem solving.

Complete one course:

  • ENVS 3800 The Art of Research—3
  • ENVS 4800 Capstone: Critical Thinking in Environmental Studies—3
  • ENVS 4990 Senior Thesis—3
  • ATOC 4800 Policy Implications of Climate Controversies—3
  • EBIO 4800 Critical Thinking in Biology (includes Conservation Medicine, Ecosystem Management, Land Use Sustainability, Microbial Ecology, Novel Ecosystems, Soil Ecology, Intervention Ecology)—3
  • GEOG 4430 Conservation Trends (includes Hazard and Risk Assessment; Food; Landscape, Society, and Meaning)—3
  • GEOG 4742 Environment and Peoples—3
  • PSCI 4732 Critical Thinking in Development—3

Additional Notes

1. These major requirements apply to students who declared the major in fall 2013 or later.

Graduate Degree Program(s)

Graduate Study in Environmental Studies

Opportunities for interdisciplinary graduate studies and original research, leading to the MS and PhD degrees, are available with a variety of emphases, including sciences, policy, and values and theory. Particular programs of study are limited only by course offerings and faculty expertise. A Graduate Certificate in Environment, Policy, and Society is also available (see below).

For more information, consult the website at envs.colorado.edu/grad_program for updated information.

Master’s Degree

Candidates for the master’s degree in environmental studies must complete at least 36 credit hours of graduate course work. Both thesis (Plan I) and non-thesis (Plan II) options are available. Plan I requires that the student write and successfully defend a thesis for 6 research credits. Students who opt for Plan II must complete a 2-credit internship as part of their program. Additional information can be found at www.colorado.edu/envs/current-students/graduate-students/degree-programs/masters-degree.

Doctoral Degree

The PhD degree is a research degree, involving the production of a major piece of original research (the dissertation). Candidates for the doctoral degree must complete at least 32 degree-hours from a list of approved ENVS core and elective courses. In addition, 30 semester hours of dissertation credit must be taken. Students are expected to form an advisory committee of five faculty members (including one from outside ENVS) soon after beginning their studies. This committee helps the student in designing a research program and in making choices concerning course work. The PhD comprehensive exam is administered by the student dissertation committee and must be taken within the first five semesters of degree work. It consists of a written research proposal on the dissertation topic, a formal presentation summarizing the student research progress, and an oral examination centered on the student research. Upon the student completion of the dissertation, a final examination is administered by the dissertation committee.

Additional information may be found at www.colorado.edu/envs/current-students/graduate-students/degree-programs/phd-programs.

Dual Degree Programs


This is a dual degree program offered in conjunction with the Leeds School of Business. It requires 36 hours of graduate work in environmental studies and 43 hours of MBA course work (with 12 hours of environmental studies course work applying toward the required 55 credits for the MBA). The MBA program will be considered the student’s primary program. Additional information is available at www.colorado.edu/envs/current-students/graduate-students/degree-programs/dual-degrees/envsbusiness.


This is a dual degree program offered in conjunction with the Law School. The Law School will grant credit for acceptable performance in graduate-level environmental studies courses toward the JD degree for up to 9 (for MS students) or 12 (for PhD students) credit hours of the required 89 credits for the JD degree. Environmental studies will grant up to 9 (for MS students) or 12 (for PhD students) credit hours of acceptable performance in law courses. The JD program will be considered the student’s primary program. Additional information is available at www.colorado.edu/envs/current-students/graduate-students/degree-programs/dual-degrees/envslaw

Certificate Program

Certificate in Energy 

This undergraduate certificate program is intended to supplement, not replace, undergraduate students' degree programs. Graduates from this certificate program—regardless of their undergraduate major—will have a strong understanding of energy science and technologies, energy alternatives, energy markets and business, and energy policy. They will be well-prepared to apply their disciplinary knowledge to the energy challenge/ This certificate provides a broad exposure to energy issues, with an emphasis on renewable and sustainable energy. Required course work on energy science and technology, policy, and economics; coupled with electives on energy and environment, journalism, ethics, and other topics, give students the skills and knowledge to tackle society's pressing energy problems. Solving society's energy-related problems is not just a technical challenge. It will require contributions from law, business, humanities, journalism, and other disciplines as well.  

In order to earn the certificate, students must apply to and be accepted into the program. The certificate program requires 18 hours of coursework: 9 for core courses, and 9 for electives.


  • ENVS/PHYS 3070 Energy and the Environment provides an understanding of energy science and technology: resources, units of measurement, physical principles and limits, conversion technologies, and environmental impacts.
  • ENVS 3621 Energy Policy and Society provides an understanding of energy politics, policy, and economics: how society makes decisions about energy, what are the policy tools that can influence energy use and how do they work, how stakeholders interact to yield energy policy decisions.
  • RSEI 4150 Energy Policy is a projects course, in which students’ energy knowledge is applied to a specific energy challenge or problem.

These core courses are followed by electives, which allow students to focus on specific areas that are of interest. These electives are varied, however they all share a focus on energy.

Students must take an additional 9 credits of qualifying electives. 

Graduate Certificate in Environment, Policy, and Society

In order to understand contemporary environmental issues, today’s scholars must transcend historical academic disciplinary boundaries. Indeed, complex issues related to energy, climate change, species preservation, and air and water quality are best addressed by valuing insights from multiple perspectives. The Graduate Certificate in Environment, Policy, and Society allows students the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary exploration of these contemporary environmental problems by drawing from courses across a wide range of social science disciplines.

The certificate curriculum incorporates courses from many departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, including anthropology, biology, economics, geography, philosophy, political science, psychology, and sociology. In addition, pertinent courses are available in the Program in Environmental Design, the Leeds School of Business, the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the Journalism and Mass Communication Program, and the School of Law.

Tracks are available in:

  • Environment and Society
  • Environmental Policy
  • Energy and Society
  • Water and Society

Students will be expected to complete the interdisciplinary cornerstone course, an integrative capstone course, and 9–12 hours from the menu of courses available for each track.

Admission to the certificate program is open to students in any regular graduate degree program at the University of Colorado. A limited number of individuals already holding master’s or doctoral degrees from other institutions may be admitted, provided they meet the normal admission requirements of a participating department.

To receive the certificate, students must complete 18 hours of approved course work, including 6 hours of cornerstone/capstone seminars. At least 12 of the 18 hours must be in courses outside the department in which the student is currently enrolled. The certificate is awarded to recognize the additional coursework beyond that required for the student’s regular degree program. Hence, transfer credit for courses taken elsewhere may not be counted toward certificate requirements.

For more information, please consult the Environmental Studies Program website at www.colorado.edu/envs/current-students/graduate-students/environment-policy-and-society-certificate.

Graduate Certificate in Science and Technology Policy 

The graduate certificate in science and technology policy is a rigorous educational program to prepare students pursuing graduate degrees for careers at the interface of science, technology, and decision making. Past recipients of the certificate have gone on to positions in the U.S. Congress, academia, NOAA, and other policy relevant positions. Students come from such graduate programs as aerospace engineering, atmospheric and oceanic sciences, biological sciences, chemistry, civil engineering, environmental studies, geography, journalism, and mechanical engineering. Students enrolled receive either a master’s or doctoral degree in their department and a certificate in science and technology policy. Each year, the certificate program will begin with a capped enrollment of 18 students per cohort. These 18 students will take three required courses:

  • ENVS 5100 Science and Technology Policy 
  • ENVS 5110 Science, Technology, and Society Studies 
  • ENVS 5120 Quantitative Methods of Policy Analysis 

In addition to the above three required courses students are also required to take three additional courses from a list of approved electives. For a list of all required courses and electives see sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/stcert/curriculum/courses.html. Successful completion of the certificate program requires the completion of 18 hours of course work (or course work plus internship credit). 

For more information, visit sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/stcert.