Education and Research


Sustainability, climate change, water scarcity and other crucial issues relating to the survival of people, animals and ecosystems on Earth: this is the focus of Science for Sustainability, one of VU Amsterdam’s core themes. The theme is closely linked to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). VU Amsterdam researchers are working hard on solutions that will bring us closer to achieving these goals, and the knowledge arising from their research is being passed on to students in the various degree programmes. Students who would like to make sustainability a part of their studies at VU Amsterdam can choose from 10 Bachelor’s programmes, 9 minors and 19 Master’s programmes. Look for the sustainability education options that best suit your study wishes.

In our new recruitment campaign, ‘Change your world, study at VU Amsterdam’, launched in 2018, we call upon prospective students to think about sustainability issues.


Within the Science for Sustainability research theme, we connect fundamental scientific knowledge with knowledge about implementing changes in society. We study aspects of climate change, energy generation and the management and responsible use of water and increasingly scarce energy sources. We are also expanding our understanding of the ways in which we can bring about necessary changes in human behaviour and society at large that will help to create a sustainable world.

Around fifty research groups at VU Amsterdam are currently working on studies that centre around sustainability. Green Office has compiled an inventory of sustainability topics in VU research.

Inventory of Research on Sustainability at VU >


  • Earth Sciences and Economics
    Developments such as climate change, economic crises and population growth are having an ever-increasing impact. If we are to overcome the associated challenges, we will need to combine our knowledge about natural changes in the Earth system, economic processes and social developments.
  • Earth Sciences
    Challenges in the area of sustainability cannot be addressed without thorough knowledge of the Earth system. These top-rated programmes focus on mountains and rocks, fossils and minerals, ice caps, rivers and oceans, and climate change in the past, present and future.
  • Biology
    Our broad top-rated Biology programme teaches students all about the nature system, equipping them to make a valuable contribution to issues such as sustainability, the global food problem, landscape use and urbanisation.
List of Bachelor's programmes >

In the academic year 2018-2019 we launched a pilot for A Broader Mind for Students, aimed at 500 first-year students. This programme focuses on the students’ broad academic, personal and social development. Those taking part will learn to approach complex social themes from a range of disciplinary perspectives and engage in Community Service Learning to use their knowledge to solve current social issues. The themes are based on the SDGs, covering topics such as sustainability, poverty and the digital condition. 


  • Earth Sciences
    The Earth Sciences Master’s programme is divided in three main specializations: Geology and Geochemistry, Earth and Climate, and Global Environmental Change and Policy.
  • Specialization Global Environmental Change and Policy
    Create solutions for the sustainability challenges of the anthropocene.
  • Ecology
    Understand System Nature and develop the tools to predict and combat problems caused by pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. Research-oriented programme.
  • Environment and Resource Management
    The Master Environment and Resource Management (ERM) is designed to train the next generation of environmental decision-makers to work on the sustainability challenges of our time.
  • Hydrology
    Water is crucial for sustainability in many ways. Drinking water for all. Agriculture. Climate change. Biodiversity. In the Top-rated master’s programme in Hydrology you get the tools to help solve the world’s water problems.
  • Specialization in Software Engineering and Green IT 
    Software for a sustainable digital society. This is a track in the Master Computer Science

List of Master's programmes >

VU-alumnus Stijn connects nature conservation with economic development in his work on Bonaire. Stijn has a Master's in Environment and Resource Management.

Issues such as sustainability, digitalization, globalization, and inequality are so multi-facetted and concern so many different parties that they can’t be addressed effectively from a single perspective. The Interdisciplinary Community Service Learning (i-CSL) module can be followed by master students from any program and gives you the opportunity to work on these 21st century challenges together with other students and partners outside the university. As such, you get the chance to experience real-life research.
  • In the Designing Innovations for Sustainability honours course, students from different Bachelor’s programmes spend two months working in groups to develop plans for a more sustainable university. This course focuses on the topics of water, energy, food and waste, and delivers results that are already being used by various parties on the VU campus.

  • The Climate Change honours programme presents the aspects of climate change, ranging from the scientific facts to the social and economic implications.

The Sustainability: Global Challenges, Interdisciplinary Solutions minor appeals to a broad spectrum of students. The idea is that students step outside their monodisciplinary comfort zone and learn to bring the different disciplines in their academic background together in order to develop solutions for a sustainable future. Students learn about topics such as people, profit and prosperity, before then going on to explore their own area of interest. The minor takes half a year to complete. 

List of minors >

Since 2016 the VU Summer School has offered the sustainability course titled Governing Climate Change: Theory and Practice. Students from all over the world spend two weeks learning about climate change and the history of climate management and agreements in lectures, discussions, simulations and excursions.

Overview of courses given at the VU Graduate Winterschool (including courses on Software and Sustainability, and on Product Development 2.0)

Research Institutes

IVM’s mission is to contribute to sustainable development and to care for the environment through excellent scientific research and teaching. A unique feature of the institute is our capacity to cut through the complexity of natural-societal systems through novel interdisciplinary approaches. IVM's mission is combining scientific excellence and societal engagement.

Examples of IVM's research:

The Amsterdam Sustainability Institute (ASI) provides an inclusive umbrella for sustainability-related research at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Inspired by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ASI seeks to build bridges among VU researchers and with the wider community to increase our scientific and societal impact. The motto is: ‘Integrating knowledge for sustainable societal choices’.ASI actively promotes cooperation between related but traditionally divided disciplinary approaches across VU faculties. It further develops and strengthens relations with societal partners and users of its knowledge in order to deliver timely and relevant research to society as well as to receive feedback and input to its research.
The Athena Institute is a research and education department at the Faculty of Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Athena’s mission is to scientifically study and design interfaces between science and society, with the aim to:
  • increase academic and societal understanding of key factors in innovation processes 
  • enrich science with increased societal legitimacy and improved research utilization
  • improve societal awareness of how innovations may benefit the sustainability, equity and fairness of societies. 
Athena focuses on science and technology developments that are specifically – but not exclusively – related to health and life sciences and on the analysis of problems and innovations.
Bringing together students, scholars, and members of the general public interested in humanities perspectives on the environment, the new Environmental Humanities Center at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam aims to foster an exchange of ideas. Grounded in the realization that today’s environmental crisis calls for an interdisciplinary approach, we wish to stimulate conversations among the humanities and the natural and social sciences.
Amsterdam Water Science is a unique programme on Water Sciences aiming to create synergies between research, teaching and stakeholders in the water sector. Researchers from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and University of Amsterdam work on scientific and societal challenges related to biological, chemical and physical processes in aquatic systems. It offers internationally recognised Bachelor and Master programmes in water sciences, biology and earth sciences.