Environmental Sustainability: Science VS. Policy? Choosing the Best Track for You

Woman exploring plants near a river

As careers focused around the environment continue to grow, you can choose to focus on either environmental science or policy. What are the differences between these two pathways and how do you know which is the right path for you?

Environmental Sustainability: Science VS. Policy? Choosing the Best Track for You

Jobs focusing on the environment and the impact we have on it are continuing to grow – largely due to climate change – particularly in the past decade. More and more organizations are becoming focused on green initiatives to address climate change with more CEOs showing interest in sustainability. While careers in sustainability all center around attempting to solve complex environmental and sustainability problems, there are different paths which focus on varying aspects of these problems – and how to address them. Two of these paths for the Environmental Sustainability and Decision Making, Master of Arts from St. John’s University are the policy track and the science track. What are the differences between these two pathways and how do you know which is the right path for you?

Foundations of Environmental Sustainability

While each pathway is different, the curriculum is grounded in its core coursework. Every student must complete courses on Environmental Principles and Methods of Environmental Analysis and Sustainability, regardless of the track they pursue. This ensures all additional coursework, research, or studies are centered around these concepts.

Environmental Policy Focus

Britannica defines environmental policy as “any measure made by a government or corporation or other public or private organization regarding the effects of human activities on the environment, particularly those measures that are designed to prevent or reduce harmful effects of human activities on ecosystems.”

At St. John’s University, the coursework for the policy track is aimed at government and political theory. Without understanding the governmental bodies at play and how policy is constructed, you cannot make a significant impact in the environmental sector. However, even within this track you can choose to focus more on the political aspect or on environmental management. Below are some of the electives you can choose to study within this track:

Woman looking at plant

Environmental Management Focus

-Geographic Information Systems
-Project Management and Nongovernment Organizations
-Current Topics in Waste Management
-Impact of International Organizations in Global Development
-Sustainable Food Systems, Water, and the Environment

U.S. Capital building

Political Focus

-American Governmental Process: The Legislature
-Global Environmental Politics
-Global Energy Politics and Policy
-American Political Parties and Interest Groups
-Public Policy – American
-Green Political Theory

Environmental Science

Environmental science draws on multiple disciplines including: ecology, geology, chemistry, and engineering. It studies environmental problems and the human impact on the environment. It differs from the policy track as it delves into the science impact of environmental changes. For example, an environmental scientist may conduct research on soil contamination and what is contributing to it where someone focusing on environmental policy would more likely address potential practices to improve soil quality and provide farming recommendations. There are multiple electives an environmental science student can select. Some are centered around the quantitative aspect and others more on the environmental and scientific aspect.

Solar panels on hillside

Quantitative Focus

-Scientific Literacy and Integrity
-Instrumental Methods of Analysis


Environmental Focus

-Environmental and Occupational Toxicology
-Global Environmental Sustainability and Health
-Separation Techniques in Chemistry
-Geographic Information Systems
-Environmental Health Sciences

Pursue an M.A. in Environmental Sustainability and Decision Making from St. John’s University

No matter which track you choose, St. John’s University has a program suited to your interests. Learn more about the Master's in Environmental Sustainability and the different tracks available.

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