Finding a good topic for your bachelor or master thesis can be really difficult. Maybe your supervisor has an idea or two they advise you to write about. You might even have a few of your own that you’re thinking could be relevant, but you haven’t decided one way or the other.
Well, this article will help you out. I have been in the exact same situation as you are now. Finalizing my bachelors in Business Administration (focusing on Sustainability), I ended up writing my final thesis with a classmate about a topic I never expected I would be interested in. Waste Management in the 28 core EU countries.
But before I decided on that, I went through weeks of research to find a decent topic. This is what this article is about. I will let you know about all the different topics that you might (or might not) want to write about.
How to find a good topic for your environment thesis
However, the process of finding a suitable topic to write about was quite long. We had to write about something related to environment & sustainability and in the same way, connect that to economic development. Interesting. Very interesting actually, but also quite complex. During this process, we probably came up with and discussed hundreds of potential topics. The ones we threw away were not necessarily bad, but having three people (myself, my classmate and our supervisor) agreeing on how to move forward is quite a difficult process.
So here they are, the topics you can write about in your bachelor or master thesis when you study something related to sustainability or the environment.
Topic 1: Waste management
Waste management might sound boring. But it’s not. There is a lot to write about on this topic.
PS! I have divided every “master topic” into smaller topics. Remember that a school thesis on bachelor/master level should be quite narrow. The biggest mistake you can do is try to cover too much in one project, e.g. “What causes global warming?”.
– Look at the correlation between GDP per capita and solid waste management in various countries. For instance, why do countries with higher population numbers tend to struggle with implementing a solid recycling system?
– Investigate how improved recycling policies and technology affect how much waste that ends up in nature or on landfills. This is a project that potentially could be divided into two groups. The first factor is related to political will. But you could also write about innovation within management system. We are (luckily) handling our trash in a more sophisticated way in 2019 compared to what we did in the 70’s.
A great example is what they do in Sweden where they turn their waste into heating:
– Look into how government regulations will affect certain waste types.*
– Food waste is a hot topic, and you could look into for instance how Denmark has successfully reduced their food waste by 40 % over the last few years. Look at both political factors and how the mindset of Danes have changed. This could be super interesting, but if you wrote a longer bachelor or master thesis on this topic, I would suggest that you did some research with Danish people and/or be staying in Denmark for a while.
*= A very good example here is the implementation of a tax that the Norwegian and British government both ruled out. The tax harmed consumers that wanted to buy single-use plastic items – and especially plastic bags from shops. In order to save money, people turned towards using reusable bags when they went shopping. And the result for the environment? Less plastic in the UK and Norwegian cost, according to scientists. Quite interesting.
Topic 2: Overpopulation
– You could look into the correlation between overpopulation and pollution. Comparing what happened in the UK during the industrial revolution to what happens in China is a very interesting topic. Many people claim that “it is fair that the developing countries pollute so much as the West did it during the industrial revolution“.
– Look into what causes overpopulation. And based on that, try to make your own projection of how the world’s population will look like in the future. There are even many topics within the topic of overpopulation that could be interesting:
1) Lower mortality rates
2) Improved medical help in developing countries
3) Government regulations
4) And many more.
“Will we even survive?” type of topics
– Try to project how long it will take before we do not have enough natural resources to keep people alive. This could be done on a national or regional level, e.g. look at a developing country that sees a huge population growth, but at the same time got limited clean drinking water.
In 2018, Independent wrote an interesting article. The title of the article was “Humans have used a year’s worth of Earth’s resources in just seven months“. In other words: we are already exceeding the use of natural resources. And it definitely does not help that overpopulation is a huge issue in certain regions of the world.
– Another idea would be to look at different projections for how many people there will be on this planet by year 2050. Hundreds of different scientists have made different projections based on what they believe will happen to humanity. Those can actually be quite interesting.
Topic 3: Food and drink
– How bad is it really to eat meat? A good question would be: what would happen to the greenhouse gas emissions if everyone replaced their beef with chicken? As you might already know, the beef industry is one of the industries that contribute most to global warming. In the famous documentary “Before The Flood”, directed by Leonardo Dicaprio, a scientist says that “if everyone ate chicken instead of meat, that would actually save the world”. Seeing if this quote is correct would be a very interesting bachelor or master topic.
I would point out that I have previously written a long article about this topic. It is called: “Why is eating meat bad for the environment?“. It contains a lot of useful information that you could use as inspiration to your thesis.
Another useful inspiration source is the previously mentioned movie “Before the flood”. If you got a couple of minutes, I would really recommend to at least watch the trailer:
– Is veganism good for the environment? Highly controversial and hot topic. Eating less meat is obviously a great thing for the environment. However, some reports have told us that vegan food is often traveling long distances before being sold and that it takes a lot more land to produce such food compared to non-vegan food.
– How bad are plastic straws for the environment? More and more cities and countries try to ban single-use plastic items, but how much damage do they really make? Also, are companies using the removal of single-use plastic items as a greenwashing tactic? We know that McDonald’s swapped out plastic straws with paper straws, but that doesn’t exactly make them an environmentally friendly corporation….
– Study the environmental impact of the global alcohol production. I have previously written an article about the impact that the illegal drug industry has on the environment. Doing research to that article was kind of scary. 🙁
On the positive side, certain beer brands have started to make their packaging more eco-friendly. I actually bought and tried out the “plastic free” packaging from Carlsberg, which you can read about in this article.
– Take a deep look into the avocado farming industry. “Rumors”, say that its huge environmental impact can be connected with high water usage and long-distance transportation to big markets such as Europe, North America, and Asia. Avocados do actually cause huge environmental and social problems in South America. There have been reported several incidents where people have been murdered because they fight against the water usage from the avocado farms.
Topic 4: Climate change
There are so many things to write about climate change. This is probably the number 1 topic when people are writing an essay or thesis about environmental issues. However, if you dig a bit deep into the topic, you might find some sub-topics that can be interesting to cover.
– What do people find difficult with climate change research? This could potentially be a topic that covers both the psychological aspect of accepting human-made climate change. There are some scientists that previously have done excessive research on why people tend to not care about global warming as much as they should, but you could look deeper into this.
– Do people really believe in climate change? And are some people more likely to “believe” than others? This research would be very interesting to do by including people from different occupations, age groups and from different geographical areas. Once they have been identified and contacted, you should invite them to an interview section to find out about their thoughts on climate change. Would probably need to narrow down the topic a bit, but it would be very interesting if done correctly.
– What will be the consequences of a rising sea level and/or rising sea temperatures? Most of our ecosystems will be affected: people living in cities close to the sea, coral reefs that are dependent on a certain and stable water temperature, polar bears, etc.
– Hot topic: climate change refugees. The first people are already forced to leave their homes due to increased temperature and sea level. You could potentially try to map out the most vulnerable groups on the planet and try to figure out how certain areas will become impossible to live in during the next 10, 50 and 100 years. Complex, but very interesting.
– For the economic freaks: how much will climate change cost the different countries in the future? Some scientists have already pointed out various types of costs and the report was published in national geographic: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/09/climate-change-costs-us-economy-billions-report/
PS! Very interesting read if you got a couple of extra minutes. You could also get some serious inspiration there.
– Could look into new “green jobs” that are popping up due to increased climate issues. Many engineers are now needed to develop solutions that will prepare communities and cities for higher temperatures.
Topic 5: Tourism and traveling
Did you know that about 11 % of the total greenhouse gas emissions globally can be traced back to people traveling? The aviation industry needs to take a huge blame, but other sectors contribute as well.
Some interesting topics to cover would include:
– Make a historical report on how traveling have contributed to global warming over the last XX years. People have not only started to travel more frequently and over a longer distance, but we have also changed the way of traveling. More airplanes, fewer trains (in general).
– Ecotourism is interesting. Destroying the earth has become a billion dollar industry in certain tourist areas. Bad air pollution and destroying of nature are just two reasons why we need less mass tourism and more ecotourism.
– What are the health and environmental benefits of biking to work?
– From a financial perspective, is it a good choice for the government to invest in bicycle infrastructure? You could use Copenhagen in Denmark and Amsterdam in the Netherlands as good examples.
– Are there any environmental benefits to people using “shared economy services” like AirBNB instead of hotels? And what about taxi/Uber? Do they contribute equally to the environment? Just to add a thought to the last topic: Uber is a service that is highly dependent on customer demand, where taxis will be driving around regardless of the number of passengers.
Topic: Wildlife population & similar high-intensive research projects
Some topics are more difficult to cover than others. That is not only related to the information you have available, but also the complexity of coming up with something new during your thesis. Let us say that you choose the topic: “Polar bear population – how will it look in the future?”. The only information you could use are some simple projections made by one single source on how it will develop. The chances of you coming up with something revolutionary is very small. Unless you have good connections that can bring you to Canada, Russia or the North Pole to do some hands-on research in these areas.
I would actually strongly recommend finding topics that:
1) Already have a lot of information available from various sources.
2) Presumably, a topic that has not been answered by any other research lately.
3) Something that does not require too much extensive research out in the field.
And if you try to fit your master or bachelor thesis topic into all these criteria, you will probably stay away from anything that is related to the population development of a certain species.
Topic research on Google & additional support
As you might already have noticed, a lot of the “master thesis databases” online can only be accessed behind a payment wall. In other words, you have to pay a certain amount to get access to previous essays and thesis written by former students. That is often a problem. I really like that information online is free, which is partly why I wrote this article in the first place.
If you are still not sure about which topic you should write about, I would suggest that you do one of two things:
1) Write quickly about your “master topic” and your thoughts in the comment section below. I promise to reply you quickly in order to make sure that you find a topic that could suit you.
2) Ask your professor if your school/university got some sort of “thesis database” that you can access for free. When we wrote our thesis, we would be able to access all bachelor thesis that had ever been written at Aarhus University. That helped a lot for inspiration.
Update! And book recommendation (August 2020)
I’ve seen a lot of great students in the comment section reaching out to me. And I’ve tried to answer all of you, which I will try to continue with in the future. 🙂
However, I also wanted to make life a bit easier for those of you who want to invest in a book that will help you out (a lot).
This book is highly interesting for those who want to find an environmental topic to their bachelor/master’s degree:
- Used Book in Good Condition
- Abel, Daniel C. (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 328 Pages - 12/27/2012 (Publication Date) - Pearson Learning Solutions (Publisher)
I know the price tag could be a bit of a boomer for some students. However, I am sure you can convince some of your classmates to go together and buy it. It literally lists an awful lot of the environmental issues that can be used in such a thesis. And it digs a lot deeper compared to what I did in this article.