With a reputation of excellence, Green Mountain College cultivates a learning environment dedicated to teaching the next generation how to make a difference through social, economic, and environmental sustainability. Learn more about how you too can realize personal and professional success through a sustainability-focused education.
The United Nations defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But exactly how do we achieve sustainability? In reality, this is a very complex question to answer because it requires a deep understanding of the levers of environmental, social and economic sustainability and the ability to embrace change.
At Green Mountain College (GMC) we are focused on authentic sustainability. This means that not only do we teach sustainability, we live it every day. We strive to move beyond solely “limiting negative impacts”, and begin giving more than we take.
Authentic sustainability is an ongoing effort, not simply a one-time project. This means transforming the way we live daily life and share resources, to restore our “account balance.” It is crucial that we evaluate our efforts along the three dimensions of the triple bottom line: Environmental Capital, Social Capital, and Economic Capital.
A temptation of our modern culture is to view the world through personal, one-dimensional lenses. If we are going to thrive as a society, as opposed to simply surviving in the generations to come, we must begin to understand the Earth as a complex system upon which all living beings rely.
We must learn to live in ways that are respectful and responsible to others. What we do today, affects our neighbors both now and in the future. Just as poet John Donne said, “no man is an island,” none of our actions are isolated, impacting only ourselves.
For more than 20 years GMC has been at the forefront of teaching sustainability and incorporating it into everything we do. In almost every employment sector, there is an immediate demand for leaders who understand authentic sustainability and its relation to complex systems and our students graduate ready to take on these challenges and opportunities.
The Princeton Review, in describing GMC’s relationship with authentic sustainability said, “‘Going Green’ is more than just a catchphrase at Green Mountain College – it’s the raison d'être."
It is true, it is our reason for being. It is so much a part of our identity, that every student at GMC takes courses relating to one or more aspect of sustainability. We are committed to living authentic sustainability, and have a plan to do so by the end of the decade.
Through innovative education and research, GMC will give back more natural, social, and financial capital than we use, by the year 2020. We have taken concrete steps to do so, and will continue in our pursuit - not because of idealistic notions, but out of necessity.
Cerridwen Farm is our small-scale diversified animal and vegetable farm, located on campus. It is student-motivated and faculty guided, and seeks to add to our students learning experience by providing them with an opportunity for hands-on learning.
On the farm, students learn about soil health, the wellbeing of our farm animals, the importance of food justice and the needs of future generations.
We use our farm to make an impact, setting and living the example of sustainability and environmental integrity, adopting and evolving the examples set forth by those before us.
In 2011, Green Mountain College became climate neutral. GMC is only the second college in the nation to achieve this goal, and the first to do so through a significant reduction in on-site emissions achieved through efficiency, adoption of clean energy, and purchase of quantifiable local carbon offsets. We have also divested entirely from fossil fuels in our endowment.
This is important to us because by taking responsibility for our behavior in our own lives and communities, we can live more mindful, sustainable lives. We hope to set an example for other colleges and universities to follow.
The Renewable Energy and Ecological Design (REED) program at GMC is at the forefront of our economic and ecological sustainability efforts. All projects are the result of student ingenuity and design. The REED program drives a Green Revolving Loan Fund (GRLF) of $30,000, which is used to finance energy efficient improvements and sustainability projects.
To date, three projects have been funded using the GRLF: replacement of outdoor lighting fixtures with energy efficient LEDs, installation of a solar PV array providing electricity for our community car charging station, and the transformation of Two Editor’s Inn to be a model for energy efficient, older residential buildings in Vermont and the North-East region.
The REED program has also created many on-campus buildings to address sustainability concerns. The Olwen Garage on the farm, was built by REED students in 2014, and features a passive heat design. The building has no mechanical heat source, meaning it doesn’t heat with electricity, oil, natural gas, or even wood. It is simply heated by the sun.
The Champlain Valley Native Plant Restoration Nursery on campus, was created through cooperation between the Nature Conservancy and the Poultney-Mettowee Watershed Partnership in 2002. The mission of the nursery is to produce high quality container-grown seedlings from local seed stock for restoration and buffer plantings in the Champlain Valley.
Students of the REED program built a shed to serve as a water source, work area, greenhouse and storage space for the nursery. They created this system with the vision that it could be adopted anywhere. They named the system Occupy Vacant Lots, or OvaL Shed.
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When we evaluated our energy consumption, we found that our largest carbon output was due to fossil fuels burned for heat. So, we changed that. Now, more than 85% of the heat on campus comes from our biomass plant, were over two-thirds of the wood chips burned in the plant are locally harvested, within 50 miles of the campus.
Our campus also utilizes many forms of renewable electricity. A solar charging station for electric vehicles was added to campus in 2013. Students built a solar garage to power our fully electric truck used for farm chores, and a solar photovoltaic system (solar PV) was installed on the farm to provide our greenhouse with electricity.
These alternative energy systems have both environmental and economic advantages. In addition to honoring the environment around us and preserving as many resources as we can, each system has a payback date, or a time by which the program will have paid for itself in the money saved.
GMC takes its commitment to social responsibility seriously. In 2013 we created the Community Income Equity Fund, to help narrow the gap between top and bottom earners.
By inviting employees earning higher wages or salaries to contribute to a fund that compensates workers earning less than a living wage, GMC is making a very real commitment to social sustainability as expressed in the 8-year master plan - Sustainability 2020.
We believe that sustainability begins at home and this is one way to live it out, directly help our neighbor, and foster a strong sense of social responsibility in our students.
Sustainability-focused education equips students to go beyond theory and talk; it arms them to take action. Our students spend countless hours in the classroom, studying sustainable theory, learning from the successes and failures of those who have come before them, and dialoguing about their role in the future of sustainability.
However, our students take sustainability a step further when they venture outside the classroom and into the real world. At GMC, students are already making a real world impact, using real world solutions, before they graduate and enter the professional workforce.
Throughout their studies, undergraduate students are encouraged to seek to understand the big picture, in all its complexities and interconnections. There is an emphasis given to understanding the structure and dynamics of social and natural systems, and their interrelationships.
In understanding the complexities of these systems, it allows students to respond to changes within them.
An interdisciplinary focus and hands on approach helps students to best understand these complex systems. By focusing on interdisciplinary work throughout their studies, students are trained to see the connections between an array of fields.
As a result, they seek out and can intuit the links between systems. Similarly, a hands-on approach allows students to learn through using the tools and skills they discover in the classroom.
Concept and theory are reinforced through tangible experiences, affording students the opportunity to encounter their studies in a dynamic way.
For example, our Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems undergraduate major and Master of Science in Sustainable Food Systems programs enable students to tackle the complexities of what happens on the college farm and in the dining hall with a hands-on, interdisciplinary approach. This provides students with the skills and understanding they need to practice the craft of farming while also ensuring that they have the tools to comprehend the ecological, economic, and policy arenas in which any given farm exists.
Lily Bergstein ('18) chose GMC because we move beyond talk, and into action. She is double majoring in sociology/anthropology and wilderness & outdoor therapy, and is passionate about peace education and food justice. When asked why she chose to attend GMC she said, “I really appreciate the small-scale size of GMC because I think it’s important to learn how to execute the environmental initiatives we’re doing on campus, then being able to translate that and transition that to a large scale. So I like to say ‘this is the perfect training ground.’”
Another example of one of our students who took classroom teaching and theory and embraced a hands-on approach is Corey Fletcher (‘16). Corey is a business major and an education minor from Philadelphia, and wants to open his own school someday, featuring the same kind of experiential learning he’s encountered at GMC. In reflecting on his experience, Corey said, “I love the fact you can put your knowledge to use right away here.”
While at GMC, Corey launched his own line of clothing called the Exponent Clothing Collection. Through this hands-on learning experience, Corey discovered his strengths and the areas he needed to improve upon, a lesson he has taken with him into his professional career.
A liberal arts education is “an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. It provides students with broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g. science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth study in a specific area of interest.”
A liberal arts education provides an effective platform for learning authentic sustainability, because it allows sustainability to be incorporated into all areas of study, while tying them together and highlighting the connections between the disciplines.
At GMC, regardless of major, you learn how social, economic, and ecological sustainability are relevant and meaningful through coursework that stresses critical thinking, writing, and analysis. Outside of class, you put theory to the test in outings and service learning projects.
This integrated focus creates a shared sense of purpose — because here, sustainability is 100% relevant to every field.
Students will also understand the factors contributing to our domestic and global ecological challenges and demonstrate the ability to evaluate proposals for creating a more sustainable future.
We are using a variety of education initiatives, combined with the blended learning model, to give students a competitive edge in their chosen fields. Students are taught through hands on projects and experiential learning, entrepreneurship opportunities, group and collaborative learning, the integration of community service, all with an emphasis on lifelong learning skills.
Our professors employ the blended learning model, emphasizing the important balance of face-to-face traditional classroom learning and integration of digital media.
At GMC, the fact that we are a sustainability-focused college sets us apart from other higher education institutions, because it gives students a keen awareness of their place in natural and social systems, and provides them with the opportunity to take responsibility for our shared home.
By focusing on being first in sustainability, it also ensures that our students are prepared to answer the future challenges our world will face, and are already inventing those solutions.
Our students are the most revolutionary part of our culture of sustainability, because they are the engine that drives meaningful change and the source for new, bold ideas. Our students are already impacting the world, beginning with our campus.
Take for example our biomass facility, it was the result of students in an honors seminar investigating ways to reduce GMC’s ecological footprint. This is only the beginning of the impact students are having on our college and the world.
College is a great time for trial and error, in effect to learn by doing. The immersive learning program at GMC offers students hands on experience in and outside the classroom. We are forming individuals who are ready to step across the stage at graduation, and step out into the real world, into the workforce, and create solutions as the future leaders in sustainability.
Immersive learning experiences are invaluable for future leaders in sustainability, because it provides students with the opportunity to engage in reflective conversation and to learn from their gathered realizations. For example, students working with our dining services to explore options for sustainable purchasing and food consumption, might - through that immersive learning experience - come to new conclusions about their own behaviors and habits.
Likewise, experiential learning is used at GMC to provide students with the opportunity to learn new skills. Experiential learning is simply learning through doing. It introduces students to a new concept, typically through hands-on interaction.
Students can then reflect on their experience and draw conclusions based on what worked and what did not, before experimenting again. The experiential learning model benefits future leaders in sustainability, because it encourages learning through trial and error, as well as continually reevaluating and improving upon their efforts.
There is an increasing market for ‘green jobs’ and a growing demand for employees who can bring skills and sustainability minded practice to revolutionize the workplace. Some green jobs are projected to experience more than 100 percent job growth in the coming years. GMC graduates are uniquely qualified to step into these professional fields.
Many of these graduates are actively using their GMC sustainability focused education in their chosen professional and social networks. Preliminary baseline data from the 2012 class indicates that 43% of graduates spend more than 10 hours per week deliberately enhancing the social fabric of their communities and 72% report that their lives reflect the college’s environmental mission.
As a prospective college student, a question that looms in the back of your mind as you choose where to attend is: how will my college experience prepare me to be hired? Specifically, how will choosing GMC give me a competitive advantage in the professional world.
Energy Efficiency/ Renewable Energy Generation - A job that is research driven, and works to develop innovative technologies that will make renewable energy sources cost competitive with traditional energy sources.
Green Designer, Green Builders, Urban Growers - An approach to building and growing that works to minimize harmful effects on human health and the environment, while safeguarding and maximizing the utility of natural resources.
Energy Analyst - Analysts will be required to research, test, study, and synthesize trends and technology within the industry, explore ways to improve this technology, make recommendations for increased productivity and sustainability, as well as be able to present their findings.
Research, design, and consulting services - These are “indirect jobs” to the green economy, and include employment opportunities such as energy consulting, research, and other business-related services.
Additionally, our graduates are employed by notable leaders in the field of sustainability, and hold jobs such as: Environmental Protection Specialist for the Federal Aviation Administration, Science and Protection Technician at Apple, and Fisheries Technician at Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.
Many have also gone on to pursue further education at prestigious graduate schools including Mayo Clinic Graduate School and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Green Mountain College is the most highly awarded college in the nation for sustainability. We have been recognized as the nation’s top baccalaureate institution for sustainability by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The AASHE also awarded GMC the #1 spot in sustainability-based curriculum.
For more than 20 years, GMC has been focused on environmental, social and economic sustainability. We use sustainability as the organizing principle for our undergraduate and graduate program curricula and operations.
We are focused on system-based changes.
We seek to help all students answer the question: How do we educate people to change systems, not just solve problems?
It is not enough to solve a problem. Here students are encouraged to solve the system that created the problem, thus preparing them to be a leader and innovator in a rapidly changing world.
They are transforming society and the world, by changing the narrative about sustainability from a negative, restrictive way of life, to a positive, creative experience of living life to the fullest potential.
GMC Sustainability Director, Ryan Ihrke put it best when he said, “GMC continues to serve as a model for campus sustainability while equipping the next generation of students with the skills they need to lead and succeed in a world that is being transformed by climate change and social justice.”
At GMC we offer many majors and programs, which highlight unique areas in the field of
Video: Sustainability 2020