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Online Colleges for Environmental Science

Many take for granted the safety of the air we breathe and the water we drink. But well-publicized lead pipe problems in Flint, Michigan, and persistent smog in Beijing demonstrate that much work still needs to be done to improve conditions in the U.S and around the world. Air and water safety are no accident: they are the result of individuals working in the field of environmental science.

Those who wish to start a career in the field of environmental science should first consider pursuing an online degree program in the subject, alternately called environmental science, environmental studies or environmental management, to name a few. Once you have a degree in hand, you’re likely to spend time “in the field,” to monitor the quality of our air, water and soil, then develop, propose and implement solutions to clean our environment and reduce negative impacts on our natural resources.

Best Online Colleges for Environmental Science

While many schools may offer degree programs in environmental science or environmental studies, how do students know which program might be best for them? In order to help students know which schools offer the best programs, we collected data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and utilized a custom methodology to ascertain the ten best schools for environmental science in the United States. Details on our methodology are at the bottom of this page; details on our list are directly below this paragraph.

1

American Public University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$6,880
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
100.00%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
140
School Type
4-year

American Public University consists of the American Military University and American Public University System. The university, founded in 1991 by a retired U.S Marine Corps major, retains a high number of military enrollments. The university's online Bachelor of Science in environmental science degree program is designed for students who wish to study environmental policy and analysis and environmental management. The program's goal is to educate students about pollution management, hazardous materials, natural resources stewardship, and management of fish and wildlife ecological systems. American Public University lands in the top spot on our list due in no small part to the high number of environmental science degrees it awarded in 2015, causing it to seize second place in our prominence score. It also ranked sixth out of 29 colleges for cost of in-state tuition, and eighth in graduation rank.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

School Location:

111 W. Congress St.
Charles Town, WV 25414
2

Oregon State University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$10,107
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
34.31%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
43
School Type
4-year

Oregon State University's Ecampus offers more than 20 fully online degrees and more than 1,000 online classes. The university's online B.S. in environmental sciences degree path provides flexibility so students can choose a discipline that best suits their interests. Concentrations include:

  • Earth systems
  • Environmental agriculture
  • Environmental policy and economics
  • Environmental water resources
  • Conservation, sustainability and natural resources
  • Aquatic biology
  • Aquatic ecology

The program has starting times in the spring and the summer. Students need to complete 180 credits to satisfy B.S. degree requirements. Coursework includes credits in science and math; environmental sciences; a specialization; and experiential learning. A minimum of 45 of the last 75 credits earned in the degree path must be completed at OSU. Oregon State University was ranked ninth out of 29 schools for cost of in-state tuition, and the university was fourth in graduation rank with nearly 65 percent graduation rate in 2015.

Accreditation:

  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

School Location:

1500 S.W. Jefferson Ave.
Corvalis, OR 97331
3

Columbia Southern University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$5,175
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
100.00%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
46
School Type
4-year

Columbia Southern University's history is rooted in environmental management: it's one of the first two bachelor's degrees that was offered by the college at its inception in 1993! Nowadays, Columbia Southern University serves more than 29,000 students each year. Students need to complete 120 credit hours to satisfy degree requirements, including:

  • 36 credit hours in general education
  • 36 credit hours in major requirements
  • 48 credit hours in elective courses

Those who complete the degree requirements can earn the Associate Safety Professional and Certified Safety Professional certificate from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. Columbia Southern University also offers a Master of Science in occupational safety and health-environmental management degree program for students who wish to continue their educational journey past the undergraduate level. The program requires an additional 36 semester hours to complete.

Columbia Southern ranked fifth out of 29 schools for cost of in-state tuition and fourth in our prominence ranking.

Accreditation:

  • Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)

School Location:

21982 University Lane
Orange Beach, AL 36561-9000
4

Florida Gateway College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$3,100
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
N/A
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
5
School Type
4-year

Florida Gateway College's A.S. in Environmental Science Technology is designed for students interested in working in the water and wastewater field or for current employees in the field who are seeking to advance their careers through higher education. Students must complete 64 credit hours to satisfy degree requirements. All classes can be taken online, the college notes, except for the required technology practicum elective where students gain college credit for working at a wastewater treatment facility or environmental laboratory. Students are required to earn between 1-4 credits in the technology practicum elective, although they can earn up to 12 credits depending on how many instructor-approved working hours they log.

Seeing as Florida Gateway College achieved second place for cost of in-state tuition and ranked No. 8 in prominence, it's no surprise the school rates so highly on this list.

Accreditation:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

School Location:

149 SE College Place
Lake City, FL 32025
5

Everglades University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$16,648
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
64.09%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
10
School Type
4-year

The Bachelor of Science degree in environmental policy and management from Everglades University prepares students to work in environmentally related positions in either the government or the private sector. Everglades University places particular emphasis on building business, management and critical thinking skills in this program, as well as environmental regulation and policy and sustainability. Students need to complete 123 credits to satisfy degree requirements, including:

  • 30 credits in general education
  • 18 credits in lower-division required courses
  • 21 credits in interdisciplinary studies
  • 54 credit hours in upper-division requirements

The university ranks fifth on our list due to a combination of solid rankings in graduation rate, admissions and cost of in-state tuition.

Accreditation:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Commission on Colleges (COC)

School Location:

5002 T-Rex Avenue, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431
6

Columbia College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$6,999
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
66.87%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
37
School Type
4-year

Founded in 1851, Columbia College has 36 campus locations in 13 states and serves more than 29,000 students each year. The college's fully online Associate in Science in environmental studies degree focuses on a wide variety of environmental issues and perspectives, from environmental science, to environmental policy and politics, to environmental law and management. The program requires 60 semester hours for completion, including 12 semester hours in elective courses, 21 in major classes, and 24 semester hours in general education requirements. Columbia College lands in the sixth spot on our list of the 10 best online schools for environmental science degrees due to favorable rankings in cost of in-state tuition and graduation rate for 2015 students, as well as their open admissions policy.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

School Location:

1001 Rogers St.
Columbia, MO 65216
7

Ashford University

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$10,720
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
99.04%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
64
School Type
4-year

The Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies at Ashford University takes 208 weeks to complete, but students who enroll in the program can transfer up to 90 approved credits. The degree takes a more political and social approach to the subject, emphasizing the relationship between humanity and its environment, with special focus on humanity's impact on nature and natural surroundings. Courses discuss topics such as ecology, biology, energy production, public policy and ethics. As of July 2017, students must complete 43 credits in the program major, which consists of 11 courses in environmental studies, and additional classes in geography, political science and science. Other requirements include 52 credits in general education and 32 credits in elective courses.

Ashford University ranked highly on our list due to securing tenth place in both tuition and degree prominence on our metrics. The university is also admirably accessible; its admissions policy does not require entrance exams.

Accreditation:

  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

School Location:

8620 Spectrum Center Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92123
8

Kaplan University-Maine Campus

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$11,250
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
86.92%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
54
School Type
4-year

The Bachelor of Science in environmental policy and management from Kaplan University's online campus has multiple start dates each year. By examining case studies, research and knowledge in the fields of sustainability and energy, students explore the complex relationship between society, the environment and economics in both the public and private sectors. The program focuses on:

  • Global environmental issues
  • Social responsibility and leadership
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental research methodologies
  • Environmental law and policies

The program requires 180 credits to complete, including 33 core credits, 95 major credits and 52 open elective credits. Kaplan lands in the eighth spot on our list with its open admissions policy and the favorable number of environmental science degrees awarded by the university in 2015. The university also offers reduced tuition for military members and their spouses.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

School Location:

265 Western Ave.
S. Portland, ME 04106-2415
9

University of Maryland-University College

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$7,056
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
96.87%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
106
School Type
4-year

The Bachelor of Science in environmental management degree is available in either entirely online or hybrid format for students who can access on-campus classes. The program is structured to provide education regarding the following:

  • Identifying and evaluating energy, water, air and land resources for sustainable solutions
  • Ensuring that environmental management plans and operations are compliant with all types of regulations
  • Creating and enacting environmental management plans that adhere to environmental laws and standards

Students need to complete 120 total credits to satisfy degree requirements, though up to 90 credits can be transferred from a comparable college, the university notes. The degree path requires 34 credits of general education classes and 30 credits in the program major. University of Maryland-University Campus ranked seventh of 29 institutions for cost of in-state tuition and is another college that boasts an open admissions policy, which is good news for students who are considering applying here.

Accreditation:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

School Location:

3501 University Blvd.
East Adelphi, MD 20783-8010
10

University of Phoenix-Arizona

Tuition & Fees/Year Tuition and fees per year refers to the average in-state tuition and required fees for full-time undergraduates and, if applicable, graduate students as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
$11,003
Distance Education Participation Distance Education Participation refers to the percentage of students taking either some or all of the courses via distance education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
97.74%
Number of Programs Offered Number of programs offered refers to the count of degrees and certificates offered via distance education at any level as of 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
115
School Type
4-year

Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in environmental studies program at University of Phoenix study current environmental events, controversies and concerns. The program aims to foster deeper understanding of how environmental impacts and scientific principles are intertwined through coursework that includes deep immersion in biology, chemistry, environmental law and environmental risk assessment. Additional coursework involves study in energy, hydrology, public policy, sustainability, and related subject matters. Students who complete the 120-credit program may find themselves well prepared to find work in governmental or private positions. The degree requires 42 hours of general education credits (60 for students in Arkansas) in addition to core degree requirements. University of Phoenix rounds out our top 10 due to its solid ranking for in-state tuition costs and degree prominence, as well as its open admissions policy.

Accreditation:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

School Location:

1625 W. Fountainhead Pkwy.
Tempe, AZ 85282

Degree Overview: Environmental Science

In order to prepare for jobs in this field, online colleges for environmental science often offer a rigorous curriculum designed to foster scientific expertise and strong skills. This section explores possible courses students may take and the skills they should hone in preparation for a career in understanding and improving the environment.

Online Environmental Science Courses

Online education for environmental science is designed to prepare students for using scientific principles in real-world situations. In order for students to acquire the theoretical foundation they need to solve problems, they may be required to take some of the courses below.

  • Hydrology: Hydrology courses provide an understanding of the water on the earth's surface or in the atmosphere. Students might learn about topics such as groundwater, precipitation, evaporation, runoff and infiltration. Laboratory work may be required, depending on the school students attend.
  • Climate change: With increasing concerns about the impact climate change will have on the earth, and the sustainable practices that can combat it, students enrolled in online environmental science degrees may be interested in taking this course. Specific topics might include greenhouse gas emissions, environmental policy and strategies for mitigating climate change.
  • Environmental toxicology: This field explores the relationship between toxins and how ecosystems function, focusing on substances such as pesticides, heavy metals and biological contaminants.
  • Environmental chemistry: Even someone with only a passing knowledge of chemistry could probably tell you that there are many chemical interactions happening in the environment at large, but understanding the extent of those interactions requires study in environmental chemistry. The curriculum may cover ozone depletion, soil chemistry, toxic organic compounds and water pollution.
  • Geology: Geology addresses the earth's materials and the relationship that human beings have to these resources. Course topics may include plate tectonics, geologic hazards and time, resource extraction and the rock cycle.

Career-Related Skills to Develop

Online colleges for environmental science have many specialized skills they wish to impart in order to help prepare students for the workplace. The following are some of the skills graduates should pay attention to refining as they complete their degree programs.

  • Research: Professionals in this field conduct studies on the environmental impacts of specific activities, as well as the effects of conservation initiatives, so they need strong research skills to be successful. Environmental scientists must know how to construct studies, formulate hypotheses, collect evidence and interpret data.
  • Discipline: Environmental scientists may spend long hours alone in labs during the course of their work, and it's not uncommon for days or even to go by with little to no success in a given project. As a result, environmental scientists need the discipline to stay focused and motivated without someone else pushing them to get things done.
  • Problem-solving skills: People in this field must often provide recommendations on how to solve problems in the environment, as well as the health issues that can result from such problems. Even in situations where no good solution exists, the environmental scientist must be able to work with the best of a bad lot to find the most advantageous outcome.
  • Communication: From giving interviews for scientific articles that need to be simple enough for laypeople to understand, to giving exhaustive presentations in front of peers and professionals who are analyzing their every word, there's no question that strong written and verbal communication skills are critical to the environmental scientist's career.

Environmental Science Specializations

Workers in the environmental science field who want to demonstrate their expertise in order to impress potential employers, become eligible for promotions or negotiate a raise might want to consider earning a professional certification. The following are a few of the designations available.

  • The Board Certified Environmental Scientist from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists is for those who have a relevant degree and professional experience. Candidates must pass written and oral examinations.
  • The National Registry of Environmental Professionals certifies different types of work experience, including specializations in environmental auditing, safety compliance, environmental management, safety and logistics, and storm water compliance.
  • Professionals in the early stages of their careers can earn an Environmental Professional In-Training (EPI) credential from the Institute of Professional Environmental Practice. In order to qualify, applicants must pass a written test.

Environmental Science Career Outlook

The world of environmental science offers numerous career options, and the increasing interest in protecting our environment is causing those options to expand. Here are a few of the opportunities available in this growing field.

Environmental Science Professors
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$88,880
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
1,800
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
8.6
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Doctoral or professional degree

A university professor broadens the minds and experiences of students. A scientist broadens the breadth and understanding of a particular field. An environmental science professor weaves these two goals together: in addition to plotting lesson plans and conducting research, these professionals might take their students into the field for hands-on study, work closely with students on conducting research, or serve as a mentor to those who plan to create a career in the environmental science field.

In most cases, post-secondary teachers must hold a PhD in their field. Those seeking the best options for environmental science professor careers should also have a strong background of research and study in the field, including published works.

Environmental Analysts
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$75,360
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
39,300
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
10.7
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Bachelor's degree

Also known as environmental scientists or specialists, environmental analysts examine a variety of natural elements, such as water, air and soil, to determine what steps might need to be necessary to protect the environment and human health. Duties might include taking samples of soil, food, water, air, and the like; analyzing the results of a variety of tests run on the samples; determining the best ways to clean or preserve a given area; and securing proper funding, workable plans and alerts for public health, if necessary.

Environmental analyst careers can take many forms. They might work as climate change analysts, industrial ecologists, environmental chemists and much more. A bachelor's degree in a natural science is the minimum requirement; many employers prefer to hire those who hold a master's degree or higher.

Geological and Petroleum Technicians
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$62,240
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
8,000
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
11.8
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Associate degree

When seeking out and extracting natural resources, scientists and engineers rely on the help of geological and petroleum technicians. These technicians maintain equipment, collect samples and conduct tests on them, create data reports and maps, monitor wells and document activities.

Some work in the field, where their hands-on expertise helps them collect the proper geological data. Others work in the laboratory, where they analyze samples and report their findings. Those who work in laboratories usually stick to a daily schedule, but those in the field might work long hours, sometimes in very remote areas.

An associate degree or two years of post-secondary training is required for entry-level work in the field. Some employers seek out those who hold a bachelor's degree in a science-related field.

Forest and Conservation Technicians
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$38,630
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
13,700
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
-5.7
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Associate degree

Forest and conservation technician careers all focus on one important thing: the health and quality of forests across the world. From overseeing forestry and conservation activities and ensuring they are carried out in the best way possible, to negotiating plans and contracts with governments and landowners so forest lands can be harvested and regrown safely, a forest and conservation technician works hands-on with the natural world. There are even options for those with a fire science background, as forest fire is a serious concern in most wilderness areas.

A bachelor's degree is usually required for forest and conservation technician careers, and a degree from a program that has been accredited by the Society of American Foresters or another similar organization is recommended.

Environmental Economists
Average Salary Average salary refers to the 2016 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
$112,860
Projected Job Openings Projected job openings refers to the estimated number of job openings from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
7,000
Projected Job Growth Projected job growth refers to the estimated rate of increase in the number of jobs in this profession from 2014-2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
5.7
Entry-level Education This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
Master's degree

For an individual who is intrigued by numbers and budgets but also cares about the future of our planet, the ever-changing economics of the environment may be the ideal field. Environmental economist careers typically require a keen understanding of the Earth's natural resources and the costs of utilizing these energy sources. With this knowledge, environmental economists estimate the costs of managing any end waste products, and strive to devise the best, most efficient way to handle the needs of our civilization and the situations that can result from those needs. They may assess the financial benefits of using alternate energy sources or implementing alternative energy programs; these may include renewable resources, such as solar power or geothermal energy. Additionally, their insight may be important to developing new policies or improving old ones. Many environmental economists have doctoral degrees, although others entered the field with a master's-level education.

Sources and Methodologies

Methodology

To be included in these rankings, all colleges had to meet the following criteria for the specific subject being ranked:

  1. Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor's) in that subject online
  2. Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2014-15

Once we had our list of schools for each subject, we ranked them on five criteria:

  1. In-state tuition, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  2. Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  3. Accessibility, based on the admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2014
  4. Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
  5. Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015

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  4. Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management, Columbia Southern University, accessed March 2017, http://www.columbiasouthern.edu/online-degree/safety-emer-services/environmental-mgmt/bs-envir-mgmt
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Sources and Methodologies