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 

The way that we organize our cities and our transportation systems has deep implications for human wellbeing, and for our ability to decarbonize the economy. Transportation is the source of a significant share of global greenhouse emissions, and is one of the more difficult sectors in which to reduce emissions. In this course will examine this problem from a variety of perspectives, and will explore how transportation decisions get made at a variety of scales, from local to national. We will also explore some of the dramatic changes coming from technological innovation in arenas like vehicle electrification, autonomous vehicles, and the potential shift from individual vehicle ownership to shared mobility. The class will be discussion oriented, with significant contributions to the entire class by every student.

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. The class will review, discuss and assess the organization and components of different types of plans, planning methods, the design of different planning processes, how plans are implemented, planning outcomes, and how plans should be evaluated. 

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 Colorado Blueprint and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. 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 systems' managers are faced with an unprecedented set of issues that call for a different approach to asset design, planning management. These include the urgent changes needed to respond to climate change, population growth, growing resource constraints, and rapidly increasing global urbanization.

In the area of water, many water providers are now moving to a fully integrated approach to water, focusing on four core areas: regenerative water services, basin-connected cities, water sensitive urban design, and water-wise communities. In the growing field of green infrastructure, cities are quickly realizing the many positive benefits of increasing, and enhancing the ‘nature of cities’. By implementing projects that capture stormwaters, reduce heat effects, clean air and water, and offer amenities that are not available through ‘grey infrastructure’ (and usually much cheaper), cities are increasing resilience and reconnecting people with nature.

This course will introduce the student to the current state of urban systems' management, drivers of change, and the use of systems- and design-thinking to provide the transition. Students will work on teams in assessing the current state of a given community system, identifying the opportunities for leveraged-change, and creating an action plan for future policies and projects. Through interaction with working professionals, students will both learn the value of, and gain practice with, analytic and project tools currently in practice.

Planning for Resilient Futures will provide an overview of the relationships and connectivity between the natural environment and human society and the systems relevant to community resilience. We will investigate what it means to be resilient through exploring principles from planning, design, environmental studies, climate change and disaster studies, social-ecological systems, and policy. Students will learn about chronic and acute shocks and stresses the tools available to respond effectively to changing conditions. We will explore strategies for working across traditional sector and jurisdictional boundaries, knowledge sharing between expertise and connecting a wide range of stakeholders to reach consensus, resolve key tradeoffs and identify implementable solutions to foster resilience.


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 have added value when they are integrated into a framework for effective collaboration. Students will develop a better understanding of the skills and processes that make collaboration effective as well as its application to various genres in the environmental, energy, and sustainability sectors.

Sample Course Sequence

Term Courses
  • Student Orientation
  • The Scientific Basis of Environmental Change (MENV core; 4 credit hours)
Fall Semester I
  • Foundations of Environmental Leadership (MENV core; 3 credit hours)
  • Socio-Environmental Systems (MENV core; 3 credit hours)
  • Transportation and Sustainable Cities (SPM Specialization requirement; 3 credit hours)
  • Planning for Land Use and Environmental Change (SPM Specialization requirement; 3 credit hours)
  • Capstone Innovation Lab I (1 credit hour)
Spring Semester
  • Business Fundamentals for Environmental Professionals (MENV core; 3 credit hours)*
  • Environmental Statistics (MENV Core; 3 credit hours)*
  • Ethics and Values in Environmental Leadership (MENV core; 3 credit hours)
  • Environmental Collaboration (SPM Specialization requirement; 3 credit hours)#
  • One Water (SPM Specialization requirement; 3 credit hours)#
  • Capstone Innovation Lab II (1 credit hour)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (optional; 3 credit hours)
Summer Semester
  • Capstone Project (5 credit hours)
Fall Semester II
  • Sustainable Landscapes, Sustainable Liveihoods (SPM Specialization requirement; 3 credit hours)
  • Capstone Innovation Lab III (1 credit hour)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)
  • Elective (3 credit hours)

* Students choose one of these two core courses
# Students choose one of these two specialization courses​