Online sustainability degree: Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science?

July 02, 2018 · 6 min read · By ASU Online
“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.”

Arizona State University's online Bachelor of Arts in sustainability or online Bachelor of Science in sustainability can help students develop the skills, knowledge and global context necessary to help create this prosperous future.

But which program is right for you — a BA or BS in sustainability? Though seemingly identical, there are differences between the two. 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 graduates with professional qualifications in their areas of study.

Differences come into play, though, in terms of focus. As the name implies, BS programs are rooted in science and involve more technical knowledge and skills than BA programs. In contrast, 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 — to educate students on the issues facing a sustainable world and how to overcome them. Students of both programs will examine what economic, environmental and societal solutions are viable for improving global sustainability. They can 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 students 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.

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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.

In order to succeed in their respective tracks, students enrolled in a BS typically have to complete additional math courses compared to their BA counterparts. Conversely, the latter group 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.

In summary, the BS is best suited to students who are more interested in natural sciences, economics, engineering or related fields and who want to gain hands-on experience in these areas. Students 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, on the other hand, is best suited to students who 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.

Careers in sustainability for BA and BS students

Both an online BA and BS in sustainability can prepare students to pursue careers in a wide variety of organizations. Some general positions that either degree could qualify graduates for are outlined below.

  • Sustainability coordinator – These professionals work on company initiatives to reduce environmental impacts or establish sustainable business practices. Sustainability coordinators earn a median wage of roughly $47,000, according to Payscale.
  • Sustainability analyst – Sustainability analysts measure the results of sustainability efforts to gauge success and determine improvements. According to Payscale, these professionals earn a median wage of roughly $52,000.
  • 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 students for the following technical specialties:

  • Hydrologist.
  • Urban planner.
  • Field researcher.

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

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

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, like 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.

How to choose between an online BA or BS in sustainability

So, how do you choose between a BA or a BS in sustainability? We've looked at similarities and differences in degree type, course subjects and career opportunities. But how do you make the best decision for yourself?

You can choose whether to enroll in the BA or BS in Sustainability by considering your personal interests and passions, the subjects you enjoy learning most about, your talents, the skills you want to develop and the career path you would like to follow. In general, if you are interested in the technology and mechanics behind sustainability and environmental issues and enjoy math and science subjects, then you may prefer the BS program. On the other hand, if you enjoy studying sustainability-related issues in a manner that examines environmental implications for society, prefer to look at issues from a policy perspective and value communication skills over technical abilities, then you may lean toward the BA program.

Either program, however, can give you the opportunity to develop your skills, expand your worldview, gain specialized knowledge and pursue your chosen career.

Learn more about the online sustainability degrees from ASU

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, students in the BS program will follow one of these three tracks: economics of sustainability, sustainable ecosystems or sustainable energy, materials and technology. Conversely, BA students will 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 or sustainable urban dynamics. Furthermore, 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, a Bachelor of Arts in sustainability or a Bachelor of Science in sustainability, you'll be exploring the methods and strategies needed to help create a brighter future for all.


ASU Online – Bachelor of Science in Sustainability Page
ASU Online – Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability Page
ASU Online - Salary and career outlook stats
Payscale -Sustainability Analyst Salary
Indeed - Sustainability/Solid Waste Manager
Indeed - Senior Sustainability Planner
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