The relationship between human societies and the planet have created many of today’s most intractable global challenges. The search for new social, spatial, and technological systems that do not require undue and increasing amounts of finite resources is known as sustainability. Over the past 50 years, Earth’s human population has doubled, to 6.8 billion people, and is projected to increase to 9.2 billion by 2050. When multiplied by a growing per-capita rate of consumption, the resulting effect is an accelerated depletion of natural resources, loss of natural capital, worldwide water and energy shortages, pressure on global food supplies, loss of precious biodiversity, increasing global health challenges, and social upheaval. These issues threaten human well-being and the Earth's ecosystems.

The Global Environments + Sustainability program prepares students to research, innovate and lead efforts to sustainably transform the physical environment.

Director + Faculty

Professor Phoebe Crisman AIA

Please contact Prof. Crisman at crisman@virginia.edu or sign up for office hours here if you'd like to discuss the GSVS program. Office hours will be in Global Grounds B002 (in Hotel A across from the UVA Chapel) in Fall 2020.

Our distinguished faculty are experts in their disciplines and skilled in transdisciplinary thinking, research and practice. Drawn from disciplines and departments across the University, they are dedicated to working with students to explore the wicked global challenges of our time. See the Faculty section for more details. Five University Sustainability Fellows, supported by the University Committee on Sustainability, make particularly significant contributions to the program.

Program Structure

The pan-university Global Environments + Sustainability (GSVS) program is a track or concentration within the interdisciplinary Global Studies major. Students gain knowledge through a diverse range of courses across the University focused on multifaceted sustainability concepts, challenges and possible solutions. They deepen their understanding of these issues by working collaboratively in both the Global Sustainability foundation course and the Capstone Seminar. The Global Studies major was approved in February 2014 and the first class of GSVS students graduated in May 2016. 112 students have graduated from the program as of May 2019. The program attracts a diverse array of undergraduates from the College and Schools across grounds and the number of students applying to GSVS has steadily increased. Students apply in the spring of their second year and complete the major in their third and fourth years. GSVS students address issues associated with human transformations of the earth through the triple lens of sustainability: Environment, Equity, and Economy. These three pillars of sustainability are described by the US EPA and others as the three P's: Planet, People and Prosperity. Sustainability students study:

-  environmental, social, and personal behavior and ethics

-  earth system science, environmental sustainability, ecosystem restoration and environmental conservation

-  economics, development, natural capital, resource allocation and externalities

 human settlement patterns, rapid urbanization, and affordable housing

-  fresh water and sanitation production, consumption, and infrastructure

-  energy production, consumption, and infrastructure

-  agriculture, food systems, and food security

-  public health challenges connected with the built environment

-  environmental impact of material science and production

-  transportation technologies and logistics

These issues threaten human well-being and the Earth's ecosystems. This integrated and interdisciplinary track provides foundational knowledge on the multifaceted aspects of both problems and solutions, and challenges participants to deepen their understanding of global sustainability issues through applied research.


What is sustainability and what are the dimensions of our physical environment in need of serious research and action?

What is the relationship between the constructed and natural environments and how do diverse global cultures inhabit and transform their physical environment? What are the factors that have led to past and current conditions?

What are the material, ethical, and economic relationships between the rapid pace of global urbanization and the depletion of natural resources?

What values are implicit in what we create? What are the ways of thinking and skills necessary to positively change the physical world? What traditional knowledge and new technologies are most promising for a sustainable future?

Knowledge and Skills

Students develop multiple skills and competencies necessary to understand and develop strategies for solving complex environmental issues:

-  knowledge of historical and current environmental conditions

-  cross-cultural translation and comparison

-  statistical literacy, visual literacy and the visualization of data

-  systems thinking and design thinking skills to address complex, open-ended problems

-  applied, project-based problem-solving

-  research methods for collaboration across diverse disciplines (scientific, technical, social, aesthetic, economic)

-  communication, community engagement and leadership skills


Admission to the Global Environments + Sustainability program is selective. See the Requirements section for more details and the Admissions section for the online application portal. Second-years in AY 2020-21 must submit their applications by early March 2021.  See this link for more information on the associated Minor in Global Sustainability: www.globalsustainability.virginia.edu


Students in the Global Environments + Sustainability program learn to be effective researchers, leaders and collaborators in a range of institutional and academic settings, international and domestic governmental agencies, the nonprofit sector, and private business.Together we are building a strong alumni network to enrich the program and to advise current students about career opportunities. See the UVA Career Center's Global Studies webpage for more information.

Student Comments from the GSVS program survey:

“I love this major because it allows me to study sustainability through a variety of different lenses, taking classes from many different departments at UVa. I don't feel limited whatsoever in what classes I can take but still feel like they all relate to one another. I also feel this major is an important and necessary one for UVa to have, especially in this age and time, and will help me become a qualified applicant for jobs post college.”

“The GSVS major combines multiple areas of study that fit together nicely, and allow each student to personalize their academic career depending on their interests and long term goals. Environmental Sustainability isn't a simple topic, thus the major shouldn't be simple. An interdisciplinary major like this one draws from all different areas, and in my opinion, prepares students to enter the work force with a well-rounded background. I feel better prepared then some of my cohorts that have "environmental studies" majors at other universities, mostly because I've been able to study many different global topics from many different angles. It's not JUST limited to environmental issues, and I think that is so valuable for students who want to make a real difference in the world one day.”

“I love this major because of its interdisciplinary nature. When fulfilling my requirements, I have the option to take classes in the departments of Civil Engineering, Environmental Sciences, Urban and Environmental Planning, Anthropology, Politics, Economics, and many more. This major has helped me to feel like I have a broad, well-rounded grasp on principles environmental management and sustainability. If placed in an environmental leadership/managing position, I now know how to frame the situation from all angles - strategic design, implementation, economic effects, related science, human rights concerns, and more.”

“I love the Global Environments and Sustainability major because I have been able to shape my classes to best fit my career goals after college. Since I am dual-majoring in the school of Commerce at UVA, I have structured my education to explore green businesses. On the other hand, I love that the major has exposed me to new classes I wouldn't have taken. I feel like I have gained a more global perspective from the classes required in the major.”

“What I love about the GSVS major is that I really get to explore a wide variety of classes and pretty much build my own curriculum based on my interests! This gives me the freedom to take classes I never thought I would take and it adds so many different perspectives to the way I understand global development.”


GSVS Approved Electives Spring and J-term 2021

GSVS Approved Electives Summer and Fall 2020

GSVS Approved Electives Spring and J-term 2020

GSVS Approved Electives Summer and Fall 2019

GSVS Approved Electives Spring 2019

GSVS Approved Electives Summer and Fall 2018

GSVS Approved Electives Spring 2018