Ecological Economics

Ecological Economics Track

Our economy is a subsystem of a larger ecological life support system.  Ecological economics examines the interactions between ecological and economic systems while striving to create an ecologically sustainable, socially equitable, and economically efficient future. Students will learn ecological economic theory, analytical techniques, and practical application.

Key areas:

  • Principles of ecological economics

  • Systems modeling

  • Social-ecological systems

  • Quantitative methods for ecological economics


The three Ecological Economics core courses are also eligible for the separate Graduate Certificate in Ecological Economics.  See here for more information on how to earn this as part of the MSLS degree or as a standalone certificate program.


Required Leadership for Sustainability Core Courses

Leadership for Sustainability – 3 credits
This summer residential/online hybrid course addresses fundamental competency areas common to all Leadership for Sustainability students and will focus on three central themes: 1) Ecological/systems thinking, 2) Sustainability, and 3) Leadership skills. The cornerstone experience of this course is a week-long residential program at Vermont’s Shelburne Farms that will provide an experiential and theoretical orientation to foundational practices, principles, skills and questions at the heart of this program.

Power, Privilege & Catalyzing Change – 3 credit
This winter residential/online hybrid course focuses on frameworks and intercultural skills for actively engaging with issues of diversity, power, and privilege as leaders in organizational and community-based settings. As the course unfolds, we will turn our attention toward processes, frameworks, and practices for catalyzing and facilitating change at individual, community, organization, and larger system levels. Course content will be actively applied to each student’s home community/organization and will support the development of their Masters project concept and proposal.

“The major problems of the modern world are a result of the difference between how nature works and how people think.”

Gregory Bateson

Required Ecological Economics Courses

Ecological Economics Theory – 3 credits
Ecological economics is an ongoing effort to reconcile economic theory and policy with accepted knowledge from other disciplines. This foundational course develops (1) a core understanding of the basic tenets of neoclassical economic theory, (2) an interdisciplinary critique of economic behavior and production models, and (3) a transdisciplinary foundation for problem-solving in the context of the scale and complexity of 21st century social and environmental problems. Students research, write, and present a paper that meets an academic conference/journal standard of review.

Ecological Economic Method – 3 credits
Ecological economics considers the human economy as embedded in a social system and constrained by the biophysical world. As such, problem definition, analysis, and synthesis draw from many disciplinary perspectives. This course reviews key analytical tools used by ecological economists, then develops methods for interdisciplinary synthesis such as dynamic systems modeling, multi-criteria analysis, input-output analysis, and spatial modeling of ecosystem services. Students develop a model of coupled human-natural systems to investigate a current management or policy decision.

Ecological Economic Practice – 3 credits
The full problem-solving process includes both credentialed experts and experiential knowledge in defining, analyzing, synthesizing, and communicating solutions. This hands-on course brings together students, faculty, and stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to address a specific local, regional or global environmental problem. The problem for each semester is chosen in collaboration with a sponsor, and involves an intensive, residential workshop. Students learn to apply the principles and methods of ecological economics to messy, complex, real-world problems. Outcomes include collaborative research papers, grant proposals, and policy/management support.

Competency Areas
Students can meet required competency areas as well as pursue coursework in areas where they seek additional training through elective coursework. Content and competency areas that must be met by electives and/or previous training:

  • Applied ecology – advanced understanding of ecological principles and systems
  • Applied social processes (some course/experience that provides advanced understanding of social principles and systems)
  • Management and planning principles

Two-Year Timeline 

Year One


  • NR311: Leadership for Sustainability (3 cr)
    • August: 7-day residential componentbirds
  • NR341: Ecological Economics Theory (online, 3 cr)


  • NR312: Power, Privilege, and Catalyzing Change (3 cr)
    • January: online component
    • Early January: 7–day residential
  • NR342: Ecological Economics Methods (online, 3 cr)
  • Master’s project proposal due


  • Residential Retreat: Leadership for Sustainability Practicum
    • Late July: 7-day residential
  • NR389: Leadership for Sustainability Practicum (online, 3 credits)

Year Two 


  • Elective  (online, 3cr)*
  • Comprehensive Exam
  • Master’s Project, (3 cr)
    • 1st Formative Assessment (September)
    • 2nd Formative Assessment (December)


  • Elective (online, 3cr)*
  • Master’s Project, (3 cr)
    • Summative Assessment (March)


  • Elective (online, 3cr)*
  • NR389: Ecological Economics Practicum (3 cr)
    • Late July/Early August: 7-day residential component
  • Sustainability Leadership Summit: Juried Poster Session: Student Presentations and Assessments.
    • Late July/Early August: 2-day residential

*Students choose the timing of electives based on course offerings and individual time management.


Example Online Elective Courses

  • CDAE295: Leadership Practicum
  • NR242: Advanced Geospatial Techniques
  • NR327: Human Dimensions of Land Management
  • NR328: Law & Policy, Land conservation
  • NR385 Ecology for Sustainability
  • NR385: Systems, Sustainability, and Landscapes
  • PA385: Human Resource Management
  • PH303: Biostatistics I: Applied Research
  • PH304: Environmental Public Health
  • PH311: Global Public Health
  • PH312: Food Systems and Public Health
  • PH314: Environmental and Risk Communication
  • WFB352: Population Dynamics and Modeling

Additional electives are currently being developed in partnership with many of our professional affiliate organizations and will be co-taught by instructor practitioners who are on the front lines of many innovative change-making initiatives.  For more information about electives under development, please contact us!