College of Sustainability turns one year old

January 2010 marks the one-year anniversary of the College of Sustainability, and Steven Mannell, director of the college, said looking back is overwhelming.

Students in Sustainability 1001 learn about the inter-disciplinary methods of the course. Photo: Aly Thomson


Carsten Metzner is a long way from home – he left Germany last year to study at Dalhousie’s College of Sustainability.

The Stuttgart native travelled more than 5,000 km carrying green aspirations. He said the program was the perfect place to cultivate his interest in environmentalism.

“It’s not all about saving the Earth … one final aim is if you want to be sustainable you have to save human kind,” said Metzner above the bustle of a coffee shop.

January 2010 marks the one-year anniversary of the College of Sustainability, and Steven Mannell, director of the college, said looking back is overwhelming. 

For Mannell, the year’s biggest highlight was the very first Sustainability 1000 class.

“I’m not used to students lining up en masse before a class, and having the kind of energy of it being like a concert,” he said after playfully describing three or four occasions of spontaneous applause. 

The college was expecting around 150 students for the fall semester. Mannell said he was floored to see almost 300 students enrolled in the course. 

Mannell said he could not be happier with the student response to the new program. He said there is a distinct energy circulating through the students “that is not easy to describe outside the classroom.” 

But even before the first crop of energetic sustainability students stepped into a classroom, the college was internationally recognized overseas. Last March, the program was one of 25 projects honoured with a UNESCO award for world good practices in education for sustainable development. 

Mannell said everyone from the Swiss to the Germans were interested in Dal’s unique program.

“They all thought it was an interesting way to harness the energy that students coming out of high school have for issues surrounding environmental sustainability,” said Mannell, adding his was the only team from Canada or the United States.

The program offers courses in the Environment, Sustainability, and Society department as part of a combined honours or double major degree, said Mannell. 

In the first year, students take two core courses in sustainability. This “foundation year” is taught by a variety of professionals from an array of departments, said Mannell. Students engage in discussions with architects, biologists, and historians in order to develop an informed opinion about sustainable issues from multiple perspectives.

This interdisciplinary approach is essential to understanding sustainable issues, said Mannell. Sustainability only works when everyone works together, he explained.

And the students are as diverse as the faculty. Students can take courses from six faculties:


  • architecture and planning
  • computer science
  • arts and social science
  • science
  • management
  • journalism 


Rob Macneish, and second-year International Development Studies and sustainability major said his two disciplines go hand in hand. 

“I’m going to be focusing most of my IDS projects on environmental sustainability… this will definitely apply to what I want to do,” he said, citing his involvement in environmental groups.

International student Metzner said he likes the way the course is taught – hands-on and situational – but said the dry run of the introductory course needed some fine tuning. He said the structure and outline was confusing, but was most likely due to the interdisciplinary nature, and because it was a brand new course.

Macneish said he recommends the course to everyone.

“I think it almost should be mandatory,” he said. “With the environment being one of the most important things that people should be understanding, you should have to take a course that tells you what you’re doing in your day to day life that affects it.” 

Mannell said although the past year has been “phenomenal,” the future of the program rests with those interested in sustainability.

“It’s a bit like a dinner party – you make everything ready and you kind of know what you want to happen but it still depends a lot on who shows up.” 


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I was one of the international participants at UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development. After a 5 minute conversation with Steven Mannell I realized that Dalhousie’s College of Sustainability was some steps ahead in the journey for an effective Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in Higher Education. I research ESD and I am a business professor in Brazil: Dalhousie is THE international example that I show in my speeches related to ESD and interdisciplinary courses. Congratulations Steven, staff and students!!

Posted by George R. Stein | Jan 27, 2022