Environmental Policy and Planning


Climate change, biodiversity loss, inefficient land use patterns, overconsumption, and reliance on unsustainable sources of water, energy and food have created a set of problems for both developed and developing nations that many policy analysts view as the greatest challenge facing our generation. Many of these environmental problems have been caused by ineffective decision making and outdated policies and organizations.

Creating more sustainable societies requires new public policies and visionary plans, along with innovative decision-making processes and well-managed organizations. The Environmental Policy and Planning field of study builds students' professional skills to design and implement effective policies and plans while considering the human and institutional behaviors that underlie environmental problems.

In addition, students develop the ability to create decision-making processes that are scientifically credible, involve a diverse set of interests and lead to the development of organizations that can move society in a more sustainable direction. Those who are interested in planning also acquire a familiarity with spatial analysis and design in rural or urban settings.

“Our students are effective because they are grounded both in the science underlying a particular environmental issue and in the political, economic and institutional factors that can be used to promote change. They graduate with a toolkit of strategies for helping people and institutions move to more sustainable pathways," says Professor Steven L. Yaffee, coordinator of the Environmental Policy and Planning field of study.

What you will study

Working with an advisor, you will tailor your coursework to your specific needs. A typical curriculum includes courses in institutions, politics, law, policy analysis, and planning. They also acquire skills in negotiation and dispute resolution, along with other professional skills. Students are encouraged to develop expertise in specific issue areas, such as water, climate change and energy, public lands, biodiversity and ecosystem management, environmental justice, sustainable land use, forests and wildlife.

The Environmental Policy and Planning curriculum provides a superb foundation for joint-degree programs with the public policy, urban planning, law or business disciplines on campus. About 25% of students in this field of study earn dual degrees.

Launching your career

Graduates work as policy analysts, advocates, planners, program managers and leaders in non-profit environmental organizations, land trusts, all levels of government, consulting firms and corporations.

The training provided by this field of study in collaboration and dispute resolution also opens up job opportunities in environmental-mediation firms and regional-scale partnerships. Some students decide to pursue research careers at academic institutions and with nonprofit organizations.

Other career options span the range of geographic scales, including community-based conservation, state-level environmental management and sustainability offices, federal policy-making in the United States and other countries, and international institutions, such as the United Nations Development Program and World Wildlife Fund.

For more information on Environmental Policy and Planning, contact snre.admissions@umich.edu.