Viewing Sustainability through an Economic Lens

Sustainability & Economics

Viewing Sustainability through an Economics Lens: How to be Green While Staying in the Black is an economics curriculum for high school teachers in social studies, business, agricultural education, and science-related fields. The curriculum aims to equip high school students with a basic understanding of selected sustainability issues and inspire them to champion innovative solutions to address environmental, ecological, and related economic challenges facing the planet and its people. Students are challenged to find sustainable solutions in energy, water, waste, and agriculture and food. The final lesson encourages social entrepreneurship as students use their entrepreneurial talents to solve social, cultural, and economic problems related to sustainability.


Each lesson follows the following structure of topics and sections:

  1. Where are we now?

    • Environmental and ecological conditions at planetary or national levels

    • Impacts on people, including social and economic systems

    • Ethical implications that may impact global stability, poverty, or issues of justice

  2. Where do we want to be?

    • An examination of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals that relate to that lesson

  3. How will we reach our goals? What needs to change?

    • What options are there for different production, use, disposal, and design alternatives?

    • What are the economic, social, human, and environmental benefits and costs of these alternatives?

    • Which policy approaches (market, regulatory, or voluntary) would be helpful or appropriate for this issue/

    • What can we do as individuals or as a school to make a difference?

These lesson plans are designed to work as a unit or as individual, stand-alone, lessons. Each lesson connects sustainability themes to one or more economics standards and contains references and links to other useful resources.

Pro tip: Each lesson plan is formatted as a Google Document. One of the advantages of this format is that teachers can make personalized edits to the lessons based on their class. Click: File > Make a Copy

Lesson Plans

Undergraduate Student Project Examples for Capstone


These are a few visuals that might be of interest as teachers introduce topics of sustainability.


The curriculum is brought to you by the Minnesota Council on Economic Education. The lessons are the product of the shared efforts of five high school social studies teachers and three university faculty experts. The teachers are Emily Anderson (Blaine High School), Ethan Cherin (St. Paul Central High School), Mike Harris (Richfield High School), James Redelsheimer (Armstrong High School), and Jamie Shaw (Champlin Park High School) who provided earlier versions of the lessons. Kimberly Byrd, PhD served as the sustainability content expert for the project, while Kristine West, PhD - Associate Professor in Economics at St. Catherine University is the Editor and Donald Liu, PhD - Professor of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota is the Project Director. Additionally, Caitlyn Keo and Elizabeth Kula provided invaluable support for the project.


The Minnesota Council on Economic Education would like to gratefully acknowledge those organizations whose support for the development and dissemination of the Viewing Sustainability through an Economic Lens curriculum has made this project possible.

Development of the curriculum was partially funded with a grant from the Minnesota Department of Education using federal funding, CFDA 84.027A, Special Education – Grants to States. Classroom-based beta testing and further refinement of the curriculum was supported by the State of Minnesota, acting through the Commissioner of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources through the Energy Education at the Local Level Grant Program. A grant from the Xcel Energy Foundation supports teacher professional development workshops related to the curriculum.

The contents are those of the Minnesota Council on Economic Education and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by the federal government, the State of Minnesota and the Department or Education or the Department of Commerce, or Xcel Energy Foundation.