The MENV Sustainability Planning and Management specialization will prepare students to design and implement sustainability initiatives. Taught by leading sustainability researchers as well as cutting-edge practicing professionals, the program is designed to bring students from different backgrounds and experiences together to build a career around making impactful, positive change.

As a student in this specialization, you will gain the theoretical framework and technical skills for the growing field of sustainability planning and management. You will gain the analytical and hands-on skills of highly effective practitioners by learning how to assess contemporary environmental issues, catalyze innovative environmental problem-solving, uphold environmental and social justice, and engage diverse stakeholders from the non-profit, public, and private sectors. You will develop a deeper understanding of what it takes to create livable towns and communities and vibrant cities, acquiring core skills and ideas including:

  • Green infrastructure planning and design
  • Communication, collaboration, facilitation, and empowerment skills
  • Theories and methods for community adaptation and transformation
  • Plan-making for sustainability, including climate action plans and resiliency planning

Students must take a minimum of four courses in this specialization.

In addition, students can select among a diversity of elective courses according to their individual interests, and gain access and exposure to practitioners through our faculty, alumni, and program partners in Colorado and worldwide. Our graduates will be prepared for a career making positive change, as planners, environmental managers, sustainability consultants, low-impact developers, researchers, and advocates.

Course Offerings 

SPM student must choose four (4) of the course options below.

Transport activity, a key enabler of economic development and human welfare, is increasing around the world as economies grow. This course provides students with an overview of theoretical, policy, and practical strategies to coordinate the reciprocal relationship between land use and transport. We discuss the merits of employing planning polices or infrastructure investments in designing communities and networks that comport with common aims of environmental stewardship.

Plan making is a central activity of government at all levels, in part a science, in part an art, and in part a management and political challenge. Over the past few decades the field of environmental planning has grown rapidly along with the emergence of new policy needs and requirements and plan types including resource plans, hazard plans, sustainability plans, climate adaptation plans, watershed plans and regional conservation plans. This course will use readings and case studies to explore the practice of making environmental plans.

This class will enhance your practical ability to put knowledge and skills to work for social change. We first examine what social and environmental innovation looks like, and how innovators harness the forces that are around them, rather than single handedly setting those forces in motion. Drawing on our understanding of system theory, we will learn about innovators who sought to understand the complex relationships that shape social and ecological change, and leverage their roles to bring this change about through collaboration. Next we will engage in a hands-on, highly interactive approach to empathize, problem-solve and co-create, following the Theory U framework developed by MIT’s Presencing Institute. Finally, we will turn our new ideas, visions, and approaches into prototype designs for your projects, including your Capstones. We will conduct case clinics to share ideas and deepen our understanding of what we have learned, and present our prototype designs to our community partners at the end of term. We conclude by reflecting on how we can remain committed to the common good, and discuss how we can sustain this commitment over a lifetime of service in a changing world. Classes will be varied and interactive, relying on a mixture of videos, case readings, interactive activities, and discussion. Evaluation will be based on in-class work, writing assignments, and group work.

The nation’s public lands are central to the economy, and, in many ways, our national identity. Public land uses, such as energy and natural resource extraction, agriculture and ranching, and outdoor recreation activities, serve as important economic drivers in communities all over the country. However, population pressures, and economic and policy transitions are disrupting conceptions and uses of public landscapes. At the same time, Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy generates $28 billion in consumer spending annually and contributes 229,000 direct jobs. As a result, the ways of life in many communities and industries, whose futures are intertwined with these lands, are dramatically affected as well. This course will focus on communities, public lands and the connection to recreation economies. Solving complex problems in rural communities means that students must understand cultural, economic and political underpinnings. This is a project-based course, partnered with Rural Technical Assistance Program through the Colorado state Office of Economic Development and International Trade  and the Outdoor Recreation Industry Office to grow outdoor industry and recreation economies in small communities. Students will work closely with stakeholders in a real-world project, serve as consultants to organizations and communities, conduct the analysis, and deliver a final product.  Class time will be devoted to project management, guest speakers, case studies and dialogue that supports the development and execution of the project as well as understanding of recreation economies and rural community transformation.  Students will be expected to travel to the project location multiple times and interact with a variety of stakeholders throughout the semester.  

Today’s urban water managers are faced with an unprecedented set of issues that call for a different approach to urban water management. These include the urgent changes needed to respond to climate change, population growth, growing resource constraints, and rapidly increasing global urbanization. Many water providers are now moving to a fully integrated management approach to water, focusing on 4 core areas: regenerative water services, basin-connected cities, water sensitive urban design, and water-wise communities. This course will introduce the student to the current state of urban water management, these directives for the future, and the need for systems- and design- thinking necessary for transition. both learn the value of, and gain practice with, analytic and project tools currently in practice.


This course explores the skills and processes that enhance collaborative decision-making from a practitioner perspective. Students will explore key elements of the practice of collaborative problem solving and decision making including negotiation, facilitation, mediation, and collaboration. These elements have meaning and value independent of each other but take on added value when they are integrated into a framework for successful collaboration. This integration is often overlooked by those not directly engaged in designing, managing and facilitating collaborative processes. Students will develop a better understanding of the skills and processes that make collaboration successful as well as its application to various genres in the environmental, energy, and sustainability sectors.

Course Sequence

Term Courses
  • Student Orientation
  • The Scientific Basis of Environmental Change (MENV core; ENVM 6100; 3 credit hours)
  • Applications in Environmental Change (MENV core; ENVM 6100; 1 credit hour)
Fall Semester I
  • Analyzing Socio-Environmental Systems (MENV core; ENVM 5002); 3 credit hours)
  • SPM specialization requirement (3 credit hours)
  • SPM specialization requirement (3 credit hours)
  • Capstone Innovation Lab I (ENVM 6001; 1 credit hour)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
Spring Semester
  • Leadership and Ethics (MENV core; ENVM 6100; 3 credit hours)
  • SPM specialization requirement (3 credit hours)
  • Capstone Innovation Lab II (ENVM 6002, 1 credit hour)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
Maymester (optional)
  • Elective (optional; 3 credit hours)
Summer Semester
  • Capstone Project (ENVM 6003; 5 credit hours)
Fall Semester II
  • SPM specialization requirement (3 credit hours)
  • Capstone Innovation Lab III (ENVM, 6004; 1 credit hour)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)