Sustainability: Research Methods

Explore the diversity of research methods in sustainability by perusing completed theses on Harvard’s DASH website (See: Sustainability: Formatting Your Thesis for Approval)

Sources of data for your original analysis include, but are not limited to:

  • Your own empirical research: you collect data from a set of samples measuring variables about ecosystems, species, buildings, watersheds, landfills, etc., or from surveys of people’s beliefs
  • Existing data or values for variables that you have derived from primary or secondary literature, internet or other public databases, or yet to be analyzed data collected by wildlife biologists, corporations or government agencies eager for collaboration

Methods of analysis include:

  • Statistical analysis of data comparing different classes or treatments of samples (e.g., ANOVA), evaluating relationships among variables (e.g., regression) or classifying samples into discrete groups
  • Population viability analysis (PVA) of endangered species
  • Life cycle analysis (LCA) and related techniques - quantify the direct and indirect ecological footprint of various materials and processes
  • Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and related techniques - evaluate net profitability of sustainability or environmental enterprises or investments
  • System dynamics modeling - future projections of outcomes from interactions among variables and driving factors
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) - analysis to examine associations of spatial features
  • Case study comparisons of businesses or other organizations - derive generalizations about environmental effects or green investments
  • Analysis of survey and other qualitative data - examine causal relationships about beliefs and attitudes
  • Policy analyses of impacts on environmental sustainability or environmental justice
  • In-depth analysis of single case studies of infrastructure project with strong environmental impacts
  • Combinations of these to investigate different aspects of complex problems