BA vs. BS in sustainability: The differences between the two

April 18, 2023 · 6 min read · By ASU Online
Learn about the differences between Arizona State University's online BA and BS in sustainability degrees and how to choose the right one for your career goals.

“Sustainability is more than just a major,” said Dean Chris Boone of the Arizona State University School of Sustainability. “It is also a value — a set of principles by which to live one’s life, treating humankind and the Earth in a way that helps create a prosperous future for everyone.”

ASU Online's Bachelor of Arts in sustainability or Bachelor of Science in sustainability can help you develop the skills, knowledge and global context necessary to help create this prosperous future.

But which program is right for you? Let's take a closer look at each path.


How do BA and BS degrees compare?

BA and BS programs, in general, are similar in that they can be completed in four years at most educational institutions. Both degree types are valued by employers and provide you with professional qualifications in your areas of study.

  • As the name implies, BS programs are rooted in science and involve more technical knowledge and skills.
  • BA programs take a humanities-focused approach to the subject. The curriculum may involve examining materials through historical and social contexts.


How a sustainability BA and BS are similar

Sustainability BA and BS programs are typically similar in their goals of educating you on the issues facing a sustainable world and how to overcome them. In both programs, you'll examine what economic, environmental and societal solutions are viable for improving global sustainability. You'll learn how to engage a variety of stakeholders who make decisions and explore what the most effective and beneficial paths toward progress may be. Furthermore, these programs aim to teach you how to create future projections and anticipate challenges to sustainability.

In terms of courses, both types of programs generally start with an introduction to sustainability courses, followed by classes that explore sustainability in more detail within various settings, such as urban, governmental and business settings.


How a sustainability BA and BS are different

The primary difference between the programs is the contrast in tracks or challenge areas. Typically, the courses included in the BS program have more of a scientific, specialized and technical focus than the BA program, which is more centered on the broader, interdisciplinary impacts and contexts of sustainability in today's world.

Students enrolled in a BS typically have to complete additional math courses compared to their BA counterparts. While the BA students may have to complete more communication courses. Overall, the Bachelor of Science aims to educate students in areas of quantitative skills, while the Bachelor of Arts leans toward verbal communication proficiencies.

  • The BS is best suited to you if you're more interested in natural sciences, economics, engineering or related fields and you want to gain hands-on experience in these areas. You'll learn concepts that are relevant to the sustainable use of environmental resources and to the evaluation of sustainable technologies, environmental regulations and policies.
  • The BA is best suited to you if you aspire to work with people, policy or planning and who are most interested in social sciences, humanities, planning and related fields. Students learn material that is relevant to the sustainability of environmental resources and social institutions and to the evaluation of legal frameworks, property rights and culture.
A sustainability student works with plants in a lab setting.

Careers in sustainability for BA and BS students

Both an online BA and BS in sustainability can prepare you to pursue careers in a variety of organizations. Some general positions that either degree could qualify you include.

  • Sustainability coordinator: These professionals work on company initiatives to reduce environmental impacts or establish sustainable business practices.
  • Sustainability analyst: Sustainability analysts measure the results of sustainability efforts to gauge success and determine improvements.
  • Sustainability program manager/sustainability planner: Professionals in these roles may be responsible for directing projects from inception to completion. This can include developing processes to implement sustainability initiatives and coordinating with team members, government agencies, clients and others.

A BS in sustainability, perhaps with related experience, certificates, or more comprehensive education, such as a minor or double major, may help to prepare you for the following technical specialties:

  • Field researcher.
  • Hydrologist.
  • Urban planner.

Graduates of a BA in sustainability, on the other hand, may choose to enter careers such as:

  • Environmental education specialist.
  • Green marketer.
  • Policy consultant.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental scientists and specialists had a median annual salary of $76,530 during 2021.

Overall, professionals with degrees in sustainability can work in numerous sectors, including private industry, academia and education, government or non-profit organizations. Graduates can pursue jobs with companies that directly focus on sustainable efforts, such as Honeywell, NRG, Solar City or Fair Trade USA, or they can seek employment with companies that provide other goods and services but may have internal sustainability departments, such as Boeing, General Motors or U-Haul.


Earn your sustainability degree from ASU Online

ASU Online offers both BA and BS degrees through its School of Sustainability, the first of its kind in the nation. The programs are taught by qualified faculty who have academic and professional experience in the areas of business and policy, renewable energy and environmental science.

To place emphasis on technical aspects of sustainability, you'll follow one of three tracks in the BS program:

  • Economics of sustainability.
  • Sustainable ecosystems.
  • Sustainable energy, materials and technology.

As a BA student, you'll choose from one of four tracks focused more on the societal facets of sustainability:

  • International development and sustainability.
  • Policy and government in sustainable systems.
  • Society and sustainability
  • Sustainable urban dynamics.

Additionally, the BS program requires additional math courses while the BA includes additional language courses.

The differences in online sustainability BA and BS programs are important to keep in mind when choosing the best program for your skills, interests and career aspirations. Whichever program you choose to pursue, you'll be exploring the methods and strategies needed to help create a brighter future for all.

Everything you need to know about ASU Online classes and degree programs

We’ve compiled what you need to know about online classes and degree programs at Arizona State University. Read on to learn all about what to expect from the ASU Online learning experience.


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