Australia | Study Abroad | Sustainability | Environmental Policy

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action

Witness and investigate practical alternatives to current systems that are degrading the environment and increasing inequality and be inspired by the incredible natural beauty of Australia's World Heritage areas.

This program is designed to empower you to make a positive contribution in building more sustainable societies. You will witness and investigate practical alternatives to the current economic system, which is degrading our environment and leading to increasing inequality, and will be inspired by the incredible natural beauty of Australia’s World Heritage areas. You will learn how to apply the principles of sustainability, not only in your personal life, but in any career you choose.

Major topics of study include:

  • Sustainability
  • Sense of place
  • The natural environment and nature conservation
  • Social change and environmental action
  • Ecopsychology and environmental ethics
  • Aboriginal relationships with the environment 
Before this semester I lived the way I had been taught to live by my culture and had the feeling that I really couldn't change anything. After being in Australia the last three months, I am beginning to have a whole new outlook and realize that changing the way we live is feasible.

Australia program alumna

Hiking in TasmaniaAustralia: A model of sustainability

Learn how Australia’s successes can be applied in the United States and in your daily life.

There are few places on earth where the environment has had a stronger effect on both traditional indigenous societies and non-indigenous peoples than in Australia.

Australia has:
  • a climate governed largely by El Niño, rather than by the seasons;
  • a geologic history devoid of extensive glaciations or volcanism, which has resulted in very poor soils; 
  • a unique assemblage of marsupials and plants that have Gondwanan origins; 
  • a human occupation of the land extending back 50,000–75,000 years (earlier than the first humans in Europe); and
  • two centuries of ecological and social upheaval following the continent’s settlement by the English.

As a result of these characteristics, Australia began to suffer serious impacts from global climate change well before other developed nations and, therefore, environmental problems have a higher profile than in the United States. Australian economic, social, and political structures are similar enough to the US that it experiences many of the same sustainability issues, and solutions are often relevant to both countries. You will learn how Australia’s successes can be applied in public policy as well as in your own life and community.

Program components and themes

The program consists of a one-week orientation; a two-week homestay period in Lismore or a nearby rural location; local field trips and lectures around Byron Bay; three extensive field trips to Tasmania, Melbourne, and Sydney, and the Aboriginal camping trip; four intensive workshops; and a five-week period when students undertake an Independent Study Project (ISP). 

The program’s major themes are:
  • Sense of place
  • The natural environment 
  • Ecopsychology and environmental ethics 
  • Aboriginal relationships with the environment 
  • Sustainability 
  • Social change and environmental action

Live and study in beautiful Byron Bay

Sunrise over Lake St. ClairWhen not on excursions or in your homestay, you will stay in an apartment located two blocks from the beach in a quiet area of Byron Bay, a small coastal town of 9,000 people and the most easterly point of Australia. During your time here, you will participate in workshops, group discussions, lectures, and one-day field trips to witness firsthand the innovative ways in which people in the region are adopting sustainable living practices.

Byron Bay is situated at the center of a stunningly beautiful region. It’s known for its impressive ecological systems, strong sustainability ethos, and rich culture. Byron Bay was the town in Australia to directly elect the first Green Party mayor, and the party remains very strong in the region. Permaculture education and organic and sustainable farming are highly popular, and farmers’ and craft markets are a way of life. The region also boasts a large population of artists and musicians and has a strong Aboriginal culture.

Learn through interactive workshops

Most of the teaching on this program is done during educational excursions and in multi-day interactive workshops (described below).

  • tree with prayer flagsEcopsychology Workshop
    The quiet and majestic eucalypt forest around the Forest Haven Meditation Center is an ideal venue for the two-day workshop in environmental psychology. You will camp overnight in the forest and wake to a dawn chorus of bird calls. Dr. Elizabeth Bragg, an ecopsychologist, will explore with you ways to remain resilient in the face of serious environmental crises. She will also familiarize you with a range of philosophical perspectives on the natural environment, from economic rationalism to deep ecology and ecofeminism. This will enable you to begin to pinpoint and develop an understanding of your own individual environmental philosophy and to appreciate the need to understand the environmental philosophies of others.
  • Aboriginal World View Workshop
    Mary Graham, a Bundjalung elder who has been teaching with SIT Study Abroad since 1993, will lead this one-day workshop, which explores the way in which the land is central to Aboriginal identity. The workshop will examine differences in the way indigenous peoples view and relate to their environments. By coming to understand a radically different world view, you will be able to deconstruct dominant western world views and recognize how you affect our everyday actions and decisions. You will be led to critically analyze your own relationships with the environment and to reflect on what contemporary western societies can learn from indigenous cultures that might help them in their efforts to become more sustainable. The workshop is run in Aboriginal style with the group sitting in a circle and sharing stories.
  • Sustainable Futures WorkshopPeter Cuming, a leading sustainability planner and educator, conducts a two-day workshop exploring the culture, concepts, and language of sustainability. Concepts covered will include embodied energy, lifecycle assessment, ecological footprint, inter- and intra-generational equity, and the precautionary principle. The workshop will provide context and confidence for students you to personally engage in a range of practical measures to actively embrace sustainability. Peter instills in students a sense of excitement at the opportunities that exist to promote sustainability in all walks of life. Students You will undertake a number of practical exercises such as designing a sustainable house and community and developing a strategic plan to achieve a sustainability goal. The workshop is held in “The Crab," an inspiring and sustainably designed learning space by the beach. 
  • Social Change and Environmental Action Workshop
    This workshop, led by Dr. Elizabeth Bragg, will present models of social change and examine the type and scale of changes that are needed to solve our major environmental problems. It will present examples of successful environmental campaigns, and you will be introduced to a wide range of environmental activists. The workshop will provide you with practical tools to take effective environmental action at different levels: personal, community, and structural/political. You will explore ideas for projects you can undertake while still an undergraduate, or soon after graduating, and you will be encouraged to identify and value skills you already possess.

Independent Study Project PresentationsIndependent Study Project

For many students the Independent Study Project (ISP) is the highlight of their academic experience in Australia. The ISP allows you to apply the knowledge and skills you have obtained from the Sustainability and Environmental Action Seminar and the Research Methods and Ethics course to a sustainability issue. You will work with an assigned advisor to develop a proposal, and you will then spend the last five weeks of the program in the field and writing up your report. Projects can be undertaken anywhere in Australia that is appropriate and safe.

You will engage in direct research on a wide range of topics related to sustainability, undertake a practicum with a relevant organization, or develop a piece of creative work on a relevant topic.

Past ISP topics have included:
  • A feasibility study for the introduction of solar energy at Macquarie University 
  • An practicum with the Wilderness Society campaign for river red gums 
  • Developing a sustainability guide for students on the program 
  • Developing a map and track guide for the Royal National Park in Sydney 
  • A study of the voluntary simplicity movement in Melbourne 
  • Creating the artwork for a National Parks Service campaign on bell-miner related dieback 
  • A piece of travel writing on the Murray River and the meaning of sense of place 
  • A study of the transition town movement in Australia 
  • Practicums with community gardens, organic farms, environmental NGOs, and environmental education centers

Read how Sean Sullivan's ISP on the environmental impact of the surfboard industry made international waves and earned him a spot as keynote speaker at an international conference following his semester abroad.

The interdisciplinary coursework for the Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action program focuses on empowering students to make changes toward sustainability in their own lives and in society. The program does this by providing students not only with the knowledge to understand the nature of the ecological crisis, but also with the skills to effect change, as well as the inspiration and hope needed to motivate them to take action. Students examine not only the impact of human activity on the environment and ways governments, industry, and citizens are working to protect and conserve natural resources, but also the psychological and philosophical dimensions of these issues. Students interact with professionals, academics, conservationists, community members, and host families. During the final five weeks of the semester, students leverage their field study experience and research skills to complete an Independent Study Project.

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program.  Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Sustainability and Environmental Action Seminar – syllabus
(ENVI3000 / 8 credits / 120 hours)
An interdisciplinary course focusing on an analysis of efforts to pursue sustainability in Australia. The course is designed to empower students to make a positive contribution to making societies more sustainable.
Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH3500 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
A course in the concepts of learning across cultures and from field experience and the development of the research skills necessary to undertake the Independent Study Project. Material includes cross-cultural adaptation and skills building; project selection and refinement; writing a research proposal; referencing; appropriate methodologies such as interviewing, surveying, observation, and content analysis; field study ethics and the World Learning / SIT Human Subjects Review Policy; developing contacts and finding resources; gathering, organizing, analyzing, and communicating data; and maintaining a work journal.
Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 5 credits / 150 hours)
Conducted in northern New South Wales or in another approved location appropriate to the project. Students may undertake a traditional research project or, alternatively, produce a creative piece (e.g., art, film, creative writing), or undertake a practicum. All projects must relate to sustainability. Sample topic areas: effect of dolphin feeding on environmental perceptions of tourists; permaculture as an alternative to traditional agriculture; a feasibility study for the introduction of solar power at Macquarie University; creating effective urban community gardens; practicum with the Wilderness Society River Red Gum campaign; creating artwork for a National Parks Service campaign; sustainable housing; why farmers choose to convert to organic agriculture; the role of art in promoting sustainability; conceptions of wilderness in Tasmania; practicums with community gardens, organic farms, environmental NGOs and environmental education centers. A number of students have pursued highly successful creative ISPs, but students must apply for permission to undertake creative ISPs, and this will only be granted if the student can prove that s/he has adequate pre-existing skills. For example, if a student is majoring in the medium (e.g., creative writing), we accept that as evidence of pre-existing skills; if someone is not majoring in the medium, we ask them to provide proof of his/her skills. Proof of skills in a given medium will typically consist of things like writing awards won, exhibitions of work, publication of work, and so on. For more information, please inquire with the admissions counselor.


Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Most of the teaching takes place in the field (a total of around 25 days). Excursions are integrated with readings, workshops, discussions, and lectures. In each region the program visits, you will be introduced to climate, geology, geomorphology, soils, and flora and fauna, as well as its human history and culture in order to instill a sense of place and provide a basis for understanding the unique management issues of each region. 

Orientation: Lamington National Park and Seven Mile Beach

snorkelingYou will spend a five-day orientation at Lamington National Park in southern Queensland and at Seven Mile Beach south of Byron Bay. At Lamington National Park, the group will stay at the historic Grooms cottage and then move to camp at Linnaeus Estate, a 280-acre property with one-and-a-half kilometers of pristine beachfront recognized as one of the most beautiful privately owned properties on Australia’s east coast. During orientation, the group will review program goals and safety, learn about Australian cultural norms, and start the process of establishing a group bond. You will be introduced to the range of ecosystems and landscapes in northern New South Wales, from subtropical rainforests to beaches and reefs. 

Tasmania: A conservation hot spot

Experience stunning scenery and at one of Australia’s largest conservation reserves.
Tasmania is a geological and biological treasure where a billion years of Earth’s history are exposed to view. Tasmania was the last landmass to break away from the southern supercontinent, Gondwana, and today it has an extremely diverse ecology including grasslands, eucalypt forests, alpine heathlands, moorlands, and cool temperate rainforests. Its stunning scenery, Aboriginal heritage, and conservation values have resulted in 40 percent of the state being set aside in nature reserves, including the 3.5 million-acre Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, one of Australia’s largest conservation reserves and one of only two World Heritage areas to be listed under seven different criteria. Southwest Tasmania is one of the last true wilderness regions of the world. The program will also stay in the Tarkine region of northwest Tasmania, which was rated by CNN as the number one natural area in the world to visit.

But Tasmania is a conservation hot spot in more ways than one. It has a history of bitter conflict over the use and preservation of natural areas that is still very much alive. Tasmania has been the scene of some of the most epic environmental battles in Australia, which have shaped the national conservation movement. It was the birthplace of the world’s first green political party, and the state has the highest green vote in the nation. Tasmania also provides a case study of corporate corruption of government leading to poor policy outcomes, and a model for activist politics to combat the corruption of government policy. 

The program’s eight-day field trip in Tasmania includes walks in spectacular, glaciated scenery and magnificent forests, which include coniferous species of Gondwanan origin, extensive rainforests, and the world’s tallest flowering plants. You will meet forest protestors who battled to save old growth forests from logging. You will also examine the competition between nature conservation and tourism and the use of the land and resources for wood, minerals, and energy production. Traveling by bus, the group will visit key sites that illustrate these struggles and sustainable solutions. 

Examining local plants during the Aboriginal camping tripAboriginal Camping Trip

Acquire traditional ecological knowledge in the quest for sustainability.

The Aboriginal studies component of the program gives you insights into an entirely different way of looking at the environment and resources. The group will have a five-day camping trip on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales. The excursion will be led by Aboriginal guides who have long been associated with the SIT program and who enthusiastically share their knowledge of traditional and contemporary Aboriginal cultures. You will make traditional Aboriginal artifacts, learn hunting and gathering skills, experience Aboriginal customs, and hear stories about how to care for and live in the environment. 

Sydney and Melbourne

Examine urban sustainability in two of the world’s great cities.

With more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas, cities are a vital element in the study of sustainability. On the weeklong field trip to Sydney and Melbourne, you will attend a number of lectures and see examples of sustainability initiatives in urban settings. 

Local field trips around Byron Bay

During one-day field excursions around Byron Bay and Lismore you will visit a number of sites important to Australian conservation history and explore temperate and subtropical rainforests, sustainable house design, organic farming, permaculture, community gardens, and renewable energy technologies.

Peter BrennanDr. Peter Brennan, Academic Director

Peter designed the Sustainability and Environmental Action program and has been academic director of the program since its inception in 2000. An Australian national, Peter was born in Brisbane, just north of the program base in Byron Bay. He has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in ecology and geography from the University of Queensland, and a PhD from the University of Hawai‘i, where he was an East-West Center fellow. His dissertation was a study of the effects of forest fragmentation on the rainforest communities in Central Queensland. Prior to working for SIT Study Abroad, he worked for five years as an archaeologist in Hawai‘i and taught at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, the University of Hawai‘i, and Queensland University of Technology.

Peter served as academic director of the SIT Study Abroad program in Cairns, Australia, from 1993 to 1997. As academic director, Peter designs the academic components of the program, supervises the program staff and faculty, teaches courses, and serves as a resource to ensure students’ academic needs are met. He draws on his familiarity with the region as a resident of New South Wales and his passionate belief in field-based, environmental education. In his spare time, Peter likes to surf and is involved with a number of local environmental groups. 

Eshana BraggDr. Elizabeth (Eshana) Bragg, Assistant Academic Director

Eshana is an ecopsychologist and has been teaching with this program since 2000. She has an undergraduate degree in ecology and psychology from the University of Sydney, and a PhD from James Cook University in Far North Queensland. Her work and passion focus on understanding the psychological relationship between people and nature, and using this to motivate profound social change and effective environmental action. Eshana is a member of the editorial board of Ecopsychology, a peer-reviewed, international journal of environmental psychology. She has worked as a sustainability consultant with Sustainable Futures Australia, based in Byron Bay, since 1998. In this position, she specializes in the development of innovative educational materials and experiences as well as systems for organizational change, and has managed award-winning projects. Eshana collaborates with visual artists and photographers and uses creative and interpretive writing to create effective social marketing campaigns for sustainability. She works in partnership with government, industry, and local communities (including Aboriginal custodians). 

In her role with the SIT Australia program, Eshana provides support to the academic director by facilitating student discussion groups, setting essay topics and grading, teaching research methods, and supervising Independent Study Projects. She also leads a two-day experiential workshop on environmental psychology in a rainforest retreat center as well as an inspiring and practical workshop on action for social change. 

Gina Crane, Homestay Coordinator

Gina has been homestay coordinator for the Australia program since 2003 and prior to that was a homestay mother for six semesters. She is responsible for recruiting, vetting, and training homestay families; assigning students to homestays; and organizing social events associated with the homestay. 

Laura BrennanLaura Brennan, Lecturer and Program Assistant 

Laura has worked for the program since its inception in 2000. She handles accounting and behind-the-scenes organization. She also teaches various methods classes and has overall responsibility for the Aboriginal portion of the program. Laura has a degree in accounting and a master’s in Asian studies, has taught at Hawai‘i Pacific University, and was co-academic director of the Cairns SIT Study Abroad program for four years. 

Peter CumingPeter Cuming, Lecturer

Peter is a leading Australian sustainability planner and educator who has been teaching with this program since 2001. He holds an honors degree in urban and regional planning and a diploma in permaculture and has completed postgraduate work in coastal management and mediation. Peter is the founder and managing director of Sustainable Futures Australia, an award-winning firm established in 1987 and focused on sustainability planning, design, and education. He has 30 years of experience as an environmental planner, strategist, and facilitator of community-government-industry partnerships, planning processes, and organizational change. Peter has been chairperson and a member of natural resources management, education, health, and community development boards and advisory committees, and was an elected local councilor for two terms. He teaches a two-day workshop on sustainability.  

Mary Graham, Elder

Mary is a highly respected Kombu-merri elder, researcher, and former academic who has held numerous senior positions in Aboriginal organizations. She has been a member of the prime minister’s Reconciliation Council, an elected member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and a fellow at the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action. She is a member of the Ethics Council of the Congress of Australian First Nations. As part of this program, Mary teaches a one-day workshop on Aboriginal worldviews. She has worked with SIT Study Abroad since 1993. 

Russell Butler, Lecturer / Aboriginal Elder

Russell leads the four-day Aboriginal field trip. He is a Banjin elder who learned many traditional skills and stories from his grandmother. "I went to two schools — mainstream school and my grandmother's school.  … Now it's my job to teach my sons, to pass on that knowledge, and keep those skills and traditions alive," Russell has stated. Russell specializes in teaching students the cultural and material aspects of the traditional Aboriginal lifestyle. He uses stories, discussions, and bush walks to teach ethnobotany, tool making, and Aboriginal environmental philosophy. Russell is also a renowned artist and an actor. SIT has had the privilege of working with Russell since 1993.

Helena Norberg-HodgeHelena Norberg-Hodge, Lecturer

Helena is an author and filmmaker and a pioneer of the “new economy” movement. She is a widely respected analyst of the impact of the global economy on communities, local economies, and personal identity, and she is a leading proponent of “localization,” or decentralization, as a means of countering those impacts. Helena’s book, Ancient Futures, has been described as “an inspirational classic, together with the film of the same title. The book  has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold about half a million copies. Helena is also producer and co-director of the award-winning film The Economics of Happiness and the co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home and From the Ground Up: Rethinking Industrial Agriculture.

Earth Journal counted Helena among the world’s “10 most interesting environmentalists,” and in Carl McDaniel’s book, Wisdom for a Liveable Planet, she was profiled as one of “eight visionaries changing the world.” She has also been awarded the Right Livelihood Award, or “Alternative Nobel Prize.” Educated in Sweden, Germany, Austria, England, and the United States, Helena specialized in linguistics, which included studies at the University of London and at MIT. She is the founder and director of the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC), a founding member of the International Commission on the Future of Food and Agriculture, and a co-founder of both the International Forum on Globalization and the Global Ecovillage Network.

Helena has lectured in seven languages at universities around the world and has previously taught in SIT’s International Honors Program. As part of this program, Helena teaches classes on the impacts of globalization and on the localization movement.

Read an article about Lismore homestay families and their experience with SIT students. 

Byron BayHomestays are an essential part of SIT Study Abroad’s commitment to providing students with meaningful study abroad experiences that help them understand the realities of living in a particular country. Following orientation in Byron Bay, you will move into a two-week homestay with a family in Lismore or a nearby rural location in northern New South Wales. The homestay will provide you with insights into Australian culture and allow you to establish ties to the community. 

Lismore is a typical Australian country town with a population of 30,000 and is home to Southern Cross University. In rural areas near Lismore, you will stay with a host family on a farm or in a small village or hamlet. Many of these communities were settled by people seeking “alternative lifestyles” in the 1970s and more recently by "tree changers" relocating from cities. While in your homestay, you will attend lectures and workshops and undertake day trips in the surrounding area.

Lismore is best known as the gateway to the rainforests of northern New South Wales and the center of the alternative lifestyle movement in Australia. Many homestay families are very knowledgeable about the environment and sustainability, and you will benefit from their firsthand perspectives on the green challenges.

Other accommodations during the program include apartments, hostels, lodges, and campsites.

Listen to alum Rachel Erlebacher from Cornell on Australian Broadcasting Commission radio discussing her ISP project working with the NSW Department of Environment and Heritage to develop community acceptance for a bioenergy industry in this region.

During his ISP, alum Henry Brandes (University of Colorado-Boulder) contributed to an article that was published in the peer-reviewed journal Water ResearchRead an interview with Henry about his research.

Alum Noah Throop (Skidmore College) produced a short documentary film entitled Where the Food Grows for his Independent Study Project. Watch the film and read a discussion with Noah about sustainable food production.

Students on this program represent diverse colleges, universities, and majors. Many of them have gone on to do important work that connects back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.

Recent positions held by alumni of this program include:

  • Founder, Miracle One organic winery, Sonoma, California
  • Freelance environmental journalist and faculty member, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC
  • Marketing specialist, Stem Inc., Millbrae, CA
  • Campaign organizer, Environment America, Washington, DC
  • Environmental outreach coordinator, Minnesota Department of Agriculture

Program Dates: Fall 2016

Program Arrival Date:  Aug 24, 2016

Program Departure Date:    Dec 6, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   Jun 1, 2016


SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $16,850

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in: 
    • The natural environment 
    • Environmental philosophy and ethics 
    • Aboriginal relationships to the land 
    • Sustainability
  • Research Methods and Ethics course and Human Subjects Review 
  • All educational excursions to locations such as Tasmania, Melbourne, Sydney, plus an Aboriginal excursion, including all related travel costs 
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $6,400

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Byron Bay), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period. Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 
  • Homestay (two weeks in Lismore or a nearby rural location in northern New South Wales) 
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 115

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 200

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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