Graduation Date


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department or Program


Department or Program Chair

Elizabeth Truesdell PhD

First Reader

Jennifer Lucko, PhD

Second Reader

Shadi Roshandel, PhD


In light of the increasingly devastating consequences of climate change and the generational inequity involved, there is an urgent need to educate our youth on environmental issues and empower them with opportunities to effect positive change. This research focuses on the problem of inconsistent sustainability programs on school campuses, investigates causal factors and identifies areas for transformation. While many prior studies address the significance of sustainability and the key components of successful school waste reduction, energy conservation and environmental education, this study builds on prior research by considering school sustainability programs through a lens of equity and organizational systems. This research utilizes a mixed methods approach, including open-ended interviews and non-experimental survey data, to provide a multi-dimensional view of the state of sustainability programs from a site, district and county systems level. The results of this study reveal how a trajectory of local political decisions and processes contributed to an inequitable structure of school sustainability programs across one county. Within this structure, schools in the same region have substantially different access to resources, support and practice opportunities related to sustainability. Despite the inequity inherent in the structure, individual schools have made significant progress to effect change. Individual and collaborative agency at one school in particular demonstrates how factors such as buy-in, communication, coordination and priorities can contribute to a comprehensive sustainability program. Information gained in this study will benefit school leaders, science teachers and policy makers alike in providing students with equitable opportunities to both learn about environmental responsibility and engage in stewardship for a more sustainable future.