Sustainable Systems Master of science degree

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Students in the MS degree in sustainable systems will develop an understanding of basic sustainability principles and have the expertise to analyze and solve complex sustainability issues.

The program focuses on developing sustainable production systems, which create goods and services using processes that are non-polluting, conserve energy and natural resources; support economic viability; and ensure health and safety for workers, communities, and consumers.

Course work and research occur at a systems level and are interdisciplinary. This approach ensures that production changes are positive and impactful industry wide.

Plan of study

Students must complete 24 credit hours of course work plus a 6 credit hour thesis or capstone project.

Full-time students may complete the degree in one year (two semesters plus one summer term).


Students may choose one of the following tracks:

  • sustainable manufacturing
  • sustainable mobility
  • sustainable energy systems
  • sustainable built environments.

Students also may create additional tracks using elective courses (selected in consultation with an adviser) from a variety of courses offered by the Golisano Institute for Sustainability or any RIT college.


  • Oil and Gas

  • Manufacturing

  • Utilities and Renewable Energy

  • Research

Latest News

  • May 10, 2019

    GIS Commencement honors Class of 2018-19 grads

    GIS Commencement honors Class of 2018-19 grads

    Twenty-three advanced degree candidates were honored by the Golisano Institute for Sustainability during commencement ceremonies held on Friday, May 10, in Sustainability Institute Hall on the RIT campus. This year's degree candidates included six Ph.D. in Sustainability, five MS in Sustainable Systems, and ten Master of Architecture students.

    See photos ›

  • November 12, 2018

    RIT researchers take a bite out of food waste

    The Golisano Institute for Sustainability is employing food waste treatment technology and equipment in its new food waste utilization testbed—the goal of which is to share results with businesses—by using excess food from RIT’s dining halls.


Sustainable systems, MS degree, typical course sequence (semesters)

Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
First Year
Fundamentals of Sustainability Science
This course prepares students to conduct original research related to sustainable production and consumption systems and apply the scientific method in an integrative, team-based approach to graduate research. This course introduces the fundamental concepts of industrial ecology, ecological economics, ecosystem health and social ecology that are essential to understanding the interaction of industrial and ecological systems. Successful students will understand multiple perspectives on sustainability such as strong and weak formulations, the importance of sustainability as an ethical concept and a life-cycle approach to organizing research related to sustainability. It is a core course within the Sustainability Ph.D. program.
Industrial Ecology
Industrial ecology is the study of the interaction between industrial and ecological systems. Students in this course learn to assess the impact and interrelations of production systems on the natural environment by mastering fundamental concepts of ecology as a metaphor for industrial systems and the resultant tools from industrial ecology, including life cycle assessment, material flow analysis, and energy and greenhouse gas accounting. This is a core course within the Sustainability Ph.D. program.
Economics of Sustainable Systems
The goal of this course is to introduce students to economic concepts and analysis pertaining to sustainable systems. This course offers a nontechnical introduction, but based on rigorous economic reasoning. Additionally, a thorough treatment of models relevant to each topic is provided. The over-arching goal is for students to gain an appreciation for the logic of economic reasoning while teaching economics as it pertains to sustainable systems.
Risk Analysis
This course examines risk identification, quantification, and management from the standpoint of the three key components of sustainability science (economics, environment, and society). Economic subjects include cost-benefit analysis, value of information, time value of money, basic decision analysis, value functions, monetizing challenges for ecosystem services, and sustainability risk management. Environmental subjects include toxicological perspectives such as fate and transport and dose-response relationships including an overview of EPA's current practice. Policy and societal subjects include utility theory and lotteries, risk perception, ethical issues in risk quantification, and impact statements.
Sustainability Practice
This course covers theoretical and practical issues associated with analysis and progress towards sustainability. Methods and concepts covered include optimization, stochastic analysis, multicriteria decision-making and resource economics. Societal perception and response to sustainability is covered sector by sector (industry, government, academia and civil society) and through integrative case studies of particular sustainability issues (e.g. natural gas fracking). Emerging sustainability governance mechanisms are explored, in particular environmental certifications and standards (e.g. LEED, EnergyStar) and multilateral agreements.
Technology Policy and Sustainability*
Public policy is a multidisciplinary field aimed at understanding how policy and regulation can be used to achieve certain social goals. These goals may include the notion of sustainability, whereby society’s present needs are met without compromising the ability to meet society’s future needs. This course introduces students to public policy and its role in building a sustainable society. The course places particular emphasis on the policy process; the relationship among technology, policy, and the environment; and policy mechanisms for addressing market and government failures that threaten sustainability.
Choose one of the following:
An independent project in sustainability serving as a capstone experience for students completing the non-thesis option. This course requires a formal proposal and a faculty sponsor.
Independent research in sustainability leading to the completion of the MS thesis. This course requires a formal proposal and a faculty sponsor.
Total Semester Credit Hours

Admission Requirements

To be considered for admission to the MS program in sustainable systems, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Complete a graduate application.
  • Hold a baccalaureate degree (or equivalent) from an accredited university or college from an accredited institution.
  • Submit official transcripts (in English) of all previously completed undergraduate and graduate course work.
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 (or equivalent).
  • Have fulfilled the following curriculum requirements: one year of college science and one year of college mathematics (inclduing calculus and statistics). 
  • Submit scores from the GRE.
  • Submit a personal statement of educational objectives.
  • Submit a current resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Participate in an interview with the academic department.
  • Submit two letters of recommendation from academic or professional sources.
  • International applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. A minimum TOEFL score of 100 (internet-based) is required. A minimum IELTS score of 7.0 is required. The English language test score requirement is waived for native speakers of English or for those submitting transcripts from degrees earned at American institutions.

Learn about admissions and financial aid 

Additional Info

Non-matriculated students

An applicant with a bachelor’s degree from an approved undergraduate institution and the appropriate background is permitted to take graduate courses as a non-matriculated student. If the student is subsequently admitted to the graduate program, a limited number of credit hours from courses taken at RIT as a non-matriculated student can be transferred to the degree program. Any applicant who wishes to register for a graduate course as a non-matriculated student must obtain permission from the chair of the graduate program and the course instructor.