Sustainability & Economics

Viewing Sustainability through an Economics LensHow 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.

The lesson modules are designed as in-depth guies to major segments of sustainability. These are reference or backgrounder handbooks for teachers or students who want a deeper look at the topics covered in the classroom lessons.   There are five curriculum modules: An Introduction to Sustainability and Economics, Energy, Water, Food Systems, and Waste and Design.

Each module 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 module
  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 


Undergraduate Student Project Examples for Capstone:

Food Security Lesson:

Helpful Infographics:


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, Ethan Cherin, Mike Harris, James Redelsheimer, and Jamie Shaw who provided earlier versions of the lessons. Kimberly Byrd serves as the sustainability content expert for the project, while Kristine West is the Editor and Donald Liu is the Project Director. Additionally, Caitlyn Keo and Elizabeth Kula provided invaluable support for the project. 

Donald Liu, PhD  |

Kristine West, PhD  |

Kimberly Byrd, PhD  |