Global Sustainability Education

Central College students and professor Russ Benedict.

When we say "sustainable," this is what we mean: We find ways to meet our needs without compromising future generations' ability to meet theirs. Our vision has many dimensions: social justice, economic prosperity and environmental integrity.

At Central, all students have opportunities to learn and foster sustainable habits. Sustainability education is infused throughout our academic curriculum and everyday life. We live and learn in green buildings, develop sustainability research and service projects, work in our college garden and eat local foods in Central Market.

of Central Students take a course in Global Sustainability
Committed to green energy practices
Campus garden provides food and education for the college and community

The Real World

Successful Careers

Sustainability education supports many careers: business and entrepreneurship, non-profits and public service, teaching and research, and more. Here's what a few Central graduates are doing with their passions for sustainability:

  • President, Silicon Energy, solar energy manufacturing company, Marysville, Wash.
  • Senior environmental specialist for climate change, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Des Moines
  • Assistant professor of sustainable living, Maharishi University of Management, Fairfield
  • Solutions specialist in recycling, forestry and compost equipment, Vermeer Corporation, Pella
  • State policy organizing director, Iowa Citizens for Community Involvement, Des Moines
  • Visitor services associate, Museum at Prairiefire, Overland Park, Kan.
  • Land stewardship specialist, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Des Moines
Central College student

Get Involved on Campus

  • Volunteer in Central's organic garden
  • Join S.C.A.T.E. (Students Concerned About the Environment)
  • Submit a project proposal to the Green Fund, a student organization giving thousands of dollars each year to student-led sustainability projects.
  • Live in McKee Hall, our LEED-rated residence hall
  • Take part in sustainability retreats and leadership events

Get Experience

You can complete internships and community service close to Central and around the world. to deepen your sustainability knowledge and experience.

  • Habitat for Humanity of Marion County, Knoxville
  • Blank Park Zoo, Des Moines
  • USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Knoxville
  • Iowa Interfaith Power and Light, Des Moines
  • Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City
  • Prairie Roots Organic Farm, Otley
  • Global Greens Refugees in Urban Agriculture, Des Moines
  • Pella Food Shelf
  • Women’s Environmental Network, London
  • Community Health Center, Merida, Yucatan

Get a Global Perspective

Learn about sustainability around the world during short-term trips and semesters abroad. Many programs feature courses, internships and community service focused on global sustainability:

  • Learn about tropical ecology in Belize and Costa Rica
  • Explore nature and culture in Cusco, Peru
  • Study sustainability in the city in London, England
  • Focus on global health in Mérida, Yucatán
Central College student

Faculty & Courses

The Basics

Central College prepares you for complex sustainability challenges. By nature, sustainability requires interdisciplinary thinking and creative problem solving – skills you’ll develop through Central’s liberal arts curriculum. All students take at least one course focused on global sustainability, and you'll encounter these topics throughout our full range of academic disciplines. Whatever your chosen major, you can also add a minor in Global Sustainability.

Central College student

Faculty & Staff

Many Central College professors focus on issues of global sustainability. Leadership and coordination of Central’s sustainability education commitment is provided by:

  • Anya Butt, B.A., M.S., Ph.D., Professor of Biology
  • Paul Weihe, B.S., M.S., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology
  • Jim Zaffiro, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Professor of Political Science


We offer more than 30 courses focused on global sustainability, including:

  • Community, Consumer and Global Health
  • Ecology and Evolution
  • Environmental Problems and Midwest Ecosystems
  • Global Sustainability
  • Globalization, Development and Social Change
  • Natural Hazards & the Human Dimension
  • Nature Writing and Environmental Literature
  • Principles of Ecology

Learn more in the course catalog.

Rare Research Opportunities

You’ll have opportunities to conduct hands-on research with Central faculty members and others to gain early and significant experience in sustainability topics. Develop original projects with your professors during the academic year or our intensive summer research program. Our students' recent projects include: genetic studies of native bees, energy audit of theater lighting, developing molecular compounds for carbon capture and more.

Study in the Outdoors

Carlson-Kuyper Field Station is our 62-acre nature preserve and “outdoor laboratory.” Located about 12 miles from campus, it is adjacent to extensive wildlife areas around Lake Red Rock, Iowa’s largest lake. The field station features an environmentally friendly laboratory/classroom building for research from ecology to creative writing. The field station is also home to Prairies for Agriculture Project, a long-term faculty-student research study investigating the benefits of native tallgrass prairie plants for both farms and nature in the Midwest.

The Central Difference

Legacy of Sustainability

We have a long tradition of commitment to sustainability, ever since Central's founding immigrants began planting trees on the prairie in the 1850s. During the Civil War, World War I and Great Depression, the college creatively conserved resources to survive difficulty times. Students paid tuition with produce from family farms and established student businesses selling furniture, toys and tulip bulbs to help support the college. Student leaders began organizing for energy conservation and recycling in the 1970s and 80s. Today, we're still leading the way for sustainability in higher education with LEED-rated buildings, conservation research, local food and resources, and academic opportunities around the world.

Public Commitments & Collaborations

Central College belongs to AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education), UMACS (Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability), the Talloires Declaration, ACUPCC (American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment) and ARC (Alliance for Resilient Campuses).

Our Commitment Against Climate Change

Central College has committed to become carbon neutral by 2053, our 200th anniversary. We are working to track campus greenhouse gas emissions and develop a Climate Action Plan to guide energy conservation and renewable energy projects in the years ahead.

Explore Sustainable Energy

Energy is key to sustainability education at Central. You can explore renewable energy in academic courses from physics and engineering to political science. You'll soon be able to track your energy consumption in real time on our campus-wide energy dashboard — and compete for energy conservation between residence halls.

Local, Sustainable Food

Sustainable food is an obsession at Central. Our dining services continually expand the amount of food from local farms and producers, and we regularly celebrate fresh, local foods with All-Iowa meals. Students also track local, sustainable food purchasing as part of the Real Food Challenge. Students and faculty also explore sustainable food systems in classes and co-curricular programs on campus.

Central College Garden

Students and faculty have planted, tended and harvested our college garden together for more than fifteen years. We expanded the garden in 2015 to include intensive organic vegetable production, permaculture, native prairie plants, beekeeping, a certified monarch waystation and more. Next, we're designing and building a kitchen classroom here as a hub for campus and community sustainable food education.

Sustainable Buildings

Central College has long been a leader in green building.

  • Vermeer Science Center – LEED Silver, the first LEED certified building in Iowa (2003).
  • McKee Residence Hall - LEED Gold, home to the Green Pod residential community (2005).
  • Roe Center – LEED Platinum, the first in Iowa to achieve this highest rating, (2009).

Central College Labyrinth

Central College has mown a labyrinth in the prairie area on the south end of the school’s cross-country course. A labyrinth is a spiritual tool used symbolically as a walking meditation. The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many different cultures and used by people around the globe. Unlike a maze, it has only one path and no wrong turns. A maze is designed to make one lose oneself whereas a labyrinth is used to help one find oneself. The labyrinth is located on the western-most point of Central’s campus at the end of Independence Street. Continue west past the soccer field and practice field to find the labyrinth.