Masters of the (sustainable) universe

Firsts, facts and futures


First things first; the inaugural Master of Environment and Sustainability course has begun in 2017 at Monash University. It’s the first cross-faculty Masters course at Monash. It’s also the first time a Masters unit in behaviour change has been offered in Australia. The first group of graduate students has completed their first semester, and all have passed!

One specialisation on offer is Leadership for Sustainable Development (run by Monash’s Sustainable Development Institute) and within this unit is ‘Understanding Human Behaviour to Influence Change’. With the initial intake of 15 students presenting their projects on 25 May, it’s time to celebrate this historic occasion for BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA).

These future leaders in sustainable development come from every continent and range in ages from 22 to 60. According to the course guide, they are committed to implementing ‘sustainability solutions in a range of contexts’, and that’s exactly what they presented; behavioural change approaches to sustainability issues.


They also presented a surprising range of facts to back up their interventions, such as did you know –

  1. Every 30 days, the sun emits enough energy to equal all the energy gained from fossil fuels?
  2. Otters are one of the least hated animals?
  3. There is a ‘micro-season’ for fashion every single week of the year?
  4. A ‘maven’ is not a bird, it’s is an expert or enthusiast?

The 15 students in the BWA unit, in groups of three, took an environmental issue and gave it the ‘BWA approach’; applying the overall BehaviourWorks process of exploring the problem, deep diving into the background behaviours that contribute to it, and applying options and interventions to bring about change for good.


Each had a few minutes to share their insights, tools for change and sustainable solutions to behavioural problems like poor employee engagement with recycling, solar uptake in Victoria, office power consumption, beef consumption in the US and reducing the overconsumption of fast fashion.

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While they may be locally focussed, these issues point to the big sustainability challenges of our time, as consumption of resources by developed societies is having global impacts. The course sets out to build an understanding of individual behaviours and identify opportunities for change by targeting specific drivers of behaviour. And although many principles of behavioural science are taught, the outcomes are designed for practical application to real-world problems and real-world solutions.

With the Sustainable Development Goals, outlined by the United Nations as being critically important, this particular unit (possibly one of the first of its kind in the universe) is equipping graduates with the behaviour change skills needed to take on the challenges of sustainability and create a future we all want to live in.