Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Sustainable Design & Construction

Gradient Background Banner Image
Degree information for

Sustainable Design & Construction

The Sustainable Design and Construction program prepares students for careers in the built environment.

Main content start

Program Overview

The Sustainable Design and Construction program prepares students for careers in the built environment: researching, designing, building, and managing sustainable buildings and infrastructure to maximize their lifecycle economic value as well as their net contribution to environmental and social functions and services.

Core and elective classes cover topics covering cutting-edge information technology such as sensor networks embedded in “intelligent” buildings and infrastructure, micro and macro strategy on infrastructure development across the globe as well as entrepreneurship and organization design for new businesses, and corporate or governmental initiatives aimed at enhancing the sustainability of the built environment.

Employers of past SDC graduates include architectural and engineering design firms, general contractors across a range of sizes and geographies, design-build firms and developers focused on delivering green buildings and infrastructure; energy and sustainability consultants; facility management and sustainability departments within large companies; clean-tech startups and venture funds. Several students have also targeted opportunities in the AEC industry by launching their own business directly out of the SDC program.

SDC Master’s Degree

Graduating from Stanford’s Sustainable Design & Construction program means you have the expertise to pursue various career paths in the built environment.  Alumni have gone on to join top tier companies in the AEC industry or start their own.

There are four tracks within the SDC MS degree program:  Management, Structures, Energy and Sustainable Urban Systems.

Engineer Degree

Students interested in additional coursework and independent study beyond the MS can pursue the Engineer Degree.

This degree is similar to the Master of Engineering degree offered at several other U.S. engineering schools. It requires 45 units of coursework beyond the original master's degree to address the student’s interests in a more specific area of applied research. The flexible degree must be designed by the student and an appointed advisor and accompanied by a 12- to 15-unit thesis. This degree can be completed in three quarters of full-time study after the MS degree.

Students typically enroll in the Engineer degree for one of two reasons:

1. Acquire state-of-the-art knowledge in a fast-changing field

Past Engineer Degree graduates have explored topics as diverse as designing, building and operating high-efficiency data centers; deploying large-scale photovoltaic solar arrays; developing innovative ways to finance global infrastructure projects; measuring the costs vs. benefits of deploying virtual design and construction methods and tools; and clarifying the legal liabilities of owners regarding construction accidents.

The program positions graduates to work as leading-edge practitioners or consultants in their newly won area of technical or managerial expertise.

2. Explore their interest in a particular research topic or research career and demonstrate their research abilities for potential follow-on PhD research to a prospective advisor

Students who already have an MS degree from another university and are interested in enrolling as PhD candidates in CEM are generally required to apply for admission as candidates for the Engineer degree first.

Stanford MS graduates sometimes enroll in the Engineer degree program to explore their interest in, and their motivation and ability to pursue, a career as a researcher/educator.

See the Engineer degree CEE department requirements page for more information.

SDC PhD Program

The PhD degree program through SDC is flexible in both methodology and topic area. Access to Stanford University’s broad base of academic resources and professional networks, the degree can perfectly position graduates for careers in formal research in academia or for unique technical roles in the AEC industry.

Historically, the PhD degree was the optimal path for a career in university education and research. This remains true — our PhD graduates are highly sought-after for faculty positions by the top universities in our field worldwide. More recently however, partially due to SDC’s focus on project partnerships and the practical applications of its research, leading-edge companies and government agencies have been recruiting our PhD graduates to serve as eminent leaders in the adoption of new technologies and management approaches across the industry. 

Degree Requirements

The PhD degree requires 90 units beyond the MS degree (or 45 units beyond the degree of Engineer), including a dissertation that is judged by the student’s dissertation advisor and committee to make an original contribution to knowledge.

It is theoretically possible to complete the PhD Degree in six quarters of full-time study after the MS degree. A handful of our students have enrolled full-time with support from their own funds, or from an external or internal fellowship, and completed all of the requirements for the PhD in two years. However, most of our PhD students receive 50-percent-time research assistantships and can thus enroll for up to 10 units per quarter, so the PhD degree takes a minimum of 9 quarters after the MS degree to complete, and more typically requires from 12 to 16 quarters of enrollment. History shows that few students complete the PhD within the minimum unit requirements, and prospective doctoral students should plan for about four years. The combined faculty of the Construction Program must approve the program of study.

See the Doctor of Philosophy CEE Department page for more information.

Major Degree Milestones

1. Admission to the PhD degree program.
An SDC faculty member must agree to admit the student to the PhD program and start to serve as the principal research advisor for the student. Admission usually requires that the student get to know the faculty member and vice versa. So the Construction program almost never admits students from other universities directly to PhD candidacy without the student enrolling in the MS or Engineer degree at Stanford or a peer institution, and/or one or more visits to Stanford by the student to get acquainted.

2. A problem analysis and a theory paper that demonstrate the student’s ability to do both practical and theoretical work.
This requirement has two components:

a. Perform a short problem analysis exercise or “charrette” of approximately one week, in which they observe a design, engineering or construction management project in practice, or they interview multiple parties involved in some area of construction industry practice and then demonstrate their ability to describe a real engineering or business problem and use modern analysis methods to address the problem. Students must submit a written summary of up to 5,000 words that describes the problem, the student’s response to the problem, and the student’s assessment of the appropriateness of the response to the problem.

b. Conduct a critical literature review that describes and analyzes prior approaches in the theoretical literature that relate to their observed problem and comment on the strengths and limits of different aspects of the theoretical literature. The written literature review should be approximately 5,000 words.

The two deliverables will be submitted together and must be reviewed and accepted by a committee consisting of the principal advisor plus at least two other faculty members proposed by the student and approved by the CEM-DCI-SDC program coordinator. The problem analysis may become part of the practical motivating test case for the dissertation, and the literature review may become part of the theoretical point of departure for the dissertation, but there is no requirement that they should do so. Students have a maximum of two opportunities to get the problem analysis and paper approved by the committee. PhD students will not be allowed to continue studies beyond 60 post-MS units without completing this requirement.

3. Qualification examination for advancement to candidacy for the doctoral degree.
The qualification examination normally includes a written proposal for the doctoral dissertation and an oral presentation and defense of the integrity of the proposed research. The proposal should not be longer than 10,000 words. The student should again propose the examination committee for approval by the program coordinator, and must comply with departmental and university guidelines for committee composition. In completing this milestone, the student and committee establish a consensus that the proposed work, if completed successfully, will lead to a contribution to knowledge in the area of CEM, DCI or SDC that satisfies the fundamental requirement for a doctorate. In addition, the committee certifies that it finds that the student is intellectually, technically and personally qualified to complete the doctorate. Students may take the qualification examination up to two times before completing 90 units of post-MS coursework and independent study (ideally, the qualification exam is passed well before reaching 90 units).

The candidacy is valid for four calendar years from the time of advancement to candidacy (through the end of the quarter in which candidacy expires), unless terminated by the department for unsatisfactory progress. Ideally, though, the dissertation defense and acceptance by the reading committee of the written dissertation should occur around the end of the fourth year of doctoral program studies.