Water and Sustainability

Course Description

This three-unit course is a comprehensive treatment of the environmental, social, and economic concerns associated with water and sustainability. Participants examine key issues, including water science, aquatic ecosystems, water pollution, human water systems, the global water crisis, water footprints, and sustainable water technology. The course is appropriate for newcomers, as well as those who have familiarity with the topic and want a greater breadth and depth of understanding.

Dates and Times

This online course is self-paced and will take about 3.5 hours to complete. Students must have an internet connection and access to GEF's learning management system in order to complete the course. Course access expires after 90 days of enrollment.

Instructional Resources

The 3.5 hours of directed instruction is accessed online through any internet connection. The course consists of three sequential units which contain all of the instructional resources participants will need to complete the course. These include a variety of instructional formats, such as video, animations, presentations, guided activities, and readings.

$175.00 Individual price.Add To Cart Smlr 

$10.97 for 1 year student license*

*Classroom price only, minimum purchase of 25 students rquired. Email requests to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Click here to download the course outline PDF.

Course Outline

Unit 1: Why Water Matters

Essential Question

Why is water central to sustainability?

1.1 The Big Idea

Civilization depends on water, but a large proportion of the global population, especially in the developed world, takes the availability of clean water for granted—in much of the world, the water supply is uneven, unreliable, and often contaminated. Due to poorly designed water systems, perverse incentives, and lack of knowledge, water is frequently wasted or used unsustainably. The proper understanding, care, and management of water systems is central to the development of sustainability. As learners, an awareness of the primary role of water is essential in cultivating a sustainable framework for looking at the world.

1.2 The Big Idea

Water is essential to life on Earth, and it has unique chemical and physical properties. It dissolves and carries nutrients and wastes, moderates temperature, and transports chemicals that are essential for biological reactions and ecosystem functions. The water cycle is the movement of water through earth systems such as the oceans, atmosphere, groundwater, and ecosystems. Aquatic ecosystems are vital for human well-being and biodiversity. Watersheds, land areas that drain water, are an important framework for improving water management. Understanding water science and natural water systems is a vital component of developing sustainable water use.

Topics Covered:

  • Your Relationship with Water 
  • History, Civilization, and Water  
  • Water in the Developed and Developing Worlds
  • The Global Water Crisis
  • Moving toward Sustainable Water Systems
  • Water Physics and Chemistry
  • The Water Cycle and Aquatic Ecosystems
  • Water Pollution and the Watershed Framework

Unit 2: The Global Water Crisis

The Essential Question

What are the pressing global challenges of water sustainability? How do water pollution, unsustainable use, climate change, and waste impact people and ecosystems?

The Big Idea

Today, about one-third of the Earth’s population is suffering from lack of access to clean fresh water. In many regions, people are forced to rely on polluted and unsafe water sources, placing a severe burden on health and limiting opportunities for economic development. Surface water, groundwater, and aquatic ecosystems are under heavy pressure as populations grow and people appropriate growing amounts of water for agriculture, industry, and domestic use. Climate change is also altering the supply and distribution of fresh water due to increased drought, flooding, and melting glaciers. All of these factors are coming together in a global water crisis that is beginning to spark conflicts between people around the world. However, meeting these challenges is also inspiring international cooperation and innovative ways of thinking about water use, conservation, development, and equity.

Topics Covered:

  • Water Scarcity, Health, and the Developing World
  • Water and Climate Change – Droughts, Floods, and Melting Glaciers
  • Global Water Instability and Conflict
  • Water Economics - Water Markets, Virtual Water, and Privatization
  • Water Governance and Collaboration

Unit 3: Toward Sustainable Water Systems

The Essential Question

What choices and tools do we have to create awareness and strategies to respect and sustain local and global water resources?

The Big Idea

The challenges of the global water crisis are motivating individuals, communities, and businesses to develop more sustainable water systems using a wide range of tools and strategies. A range of organizations are using water footprints and water audits to identify areas of water waste and new approaches to water conservation. Businesses are learning that sustainable water use improves their bottom line in addition to helping communities and ecosystems around the world. Green buildings and innovative technologies are making water conservation an essential component of our homes, schools, and businesses. Entrepreneurs are working with communities around the world to develop pioneering solutions to problems of water scarcity and pollution. Finally, educators are promoting water awareness and creating a culture of resource-conscious decision makers for a sustainable future. These forward-thinking approaches across different organizations and scales are combining to present viable solutions to growing water challenges.

Topics Covered:

  • Assessing Water Use and Waste – Water Footprints and Audits
  • Water Sustainability for Businesses
  • Water Sustainability for Agriculture
  • Water Sustainability for Industry
  • Green Buildings and Water Conservation Technology
  • Water Stewardship and Innovation around the Globe
  • Water Sustainability Education and Outreach