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Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sustainability

NYU Professors Lisa DiCaprio and Mary Leou were awarded a Green Grant from the NYU Office of Sustainability in spring 2013, to launch an initiative to help faculty integrate sustainability in their curriculum. This initiative was a response to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) that was signed by 671 college university presidents including former NYU President John Sexton.

The grant supported a series of faculty workshops. The first, entitled "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sustainability: Transforming Curriculum in Higher Education" was attended by over 40 NYU faculty from 5 NYU Schools, graduate students and guests. The workshop included an interdisciplinary panel discussion with faculty members from NYU Nutrition and Food Studies, Urban Planning, and the Center for Urban Science and Progress.

The second workshop featuring Ecological Footprints was held in spring of 2014 and featured presenters from the NYU Office of Sustainability, the Carbon Disclosure Project, and NYU Department of Nutrition and Food Studies.

These workshops enabled attendees to discuss future projects and consider ways in which they might integrate sustainbility concepts into their work. A list of useful concepts are listed below.


Sustainability Concepts 

Anthropocene Age

The proposed current geological age, in which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the natural environment.


The variety of life in an ecosystem. This can include flora and fauna.


Sustainable, artificial creations made to mimic natural patterns and strategies.


The instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems.

Clean/green economy

A sector of the economy that produces goods and services with a positive environmental impact and low carbon emissions.

  • Green Economy I UNEP
  • What is a green growth? I OECD

Climate change

A phenomenon where there are major climate fluctuations in a small period of time caused both naturally and unnaturally.

Climate change adaptation

Steps taken to lessen the lessen the impacts of climate change that has already taken place.

  • Global Climate Change I NASA
  • Climate Change Adaptation I UNDP

Cradle to cradle/closed loop design

A continuous cycle where products are created, broken down, and then recycled again to create new products.

Ecological footprints: carbon, water, forest.

The required amount of forest, water, and carbon a person, community needs to sustain their lifestyle.

Energy efficiency and conservation

Using less energy to provide the same level of energy services.

Environmental Education

A learning process that increases people's knowledge and awareness about the environment and develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges of environmental issues.

Environmental justice

The fair treatment of all people, even those that are underrepresented, in the process of creating and implementing environmental laws.

  • The Environmental Justice Movement I NRDC
  • Environmental Justice I EPA

Fossil fuels

A natural fuel such as coal, oil or natural gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.

Green buildings

A structure designed to mitigate negative environmental impacts through the entirety of the building’s cycle: from design to maintenance.

  • Green Building I EPA
  • What is green building? I USGBC

Green consumption

Practicing purchasing habits with a minimal negative environmental impact.

  • Shopping Green I FTC

Green products

Items with either a positive environmental impact, or a minimal negative impact. This takes into account the entirety of the product’s lifecycle: from raw materials to packaging.

  • Sustainable Marketplace: Greener Products and Services Share I EPA
  • Energy Star Products Energy Star

Green spaces

Areas set aside for the sole purpose of providing natural landscapes. These are most often found in cities, which lack more natural spaces.

  • What is Open Space/Green Space? I EPA

Greenhouse gas emissions

Gas in the atmosphere that is capable of absorbing infrared radiation, which traps and holds heat. The most commonly discussed greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide and methane.

  • Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions I EPA
  • Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions I EPA
  •  What are Greenhouse Gases I NOAA

Life cycle assessments and supply chain analysis

A technique used to assess the environmental impact of a product’s lifecycle.

  • Life Cycle Assessment I UNEP
  • Life Cycle Assessments of Energy Technologies I NREL

Limits of growth/planetary boundaries

The idea that Earth can only support so many living organisms, in this case, human beings.

Natural capital

Natural resources, including soil, air, water, etc.

Renewable energy

Energy that is collected from sources that are naturally replenished, such as sunlight, wind, and waves.

Resiliency sustainable agriculture

Agriculture designed to not only be environmentally sustainable, but also resilient to climate change.

  • What is sustainable agriculture? I UC Davis
  • Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture: A Real Alternative to False Solutions I ActionAid

Sustainability literacy

The knowledge and deep understanding of building towards a more sustainable future.

Sustainable urbanism

Designing and planning cities that are economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable.

Intelligent transportation systems

The application of advanced sensor, computer, electronics, and communication technologies and management strategies—in an integrated manner—to improve the safety and efficiency of the surface transportation system.

  • History of Intelligent Transportation Systems I USDOT
  • Urban Informatics I NYU CUSP

Urban Planning

The practice of development for cities, towns, and suburban areas.


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