Green Mountain College 2007 Campus Sustainability Leadership Award Application


Four-year and graduate institutions under 1,000 student FTE

A farm producing electricity from manure
Students in a Green Mountain College environmental chemistry class tour a local dairy farm that produces electricity from methane extracted from cow manure. On its quest toward carbon neutrality the College has committed to purchasing more than half of its electricity from Cow Power. The power company estimates that Green Mountain's participation in Cow Power is the equivalent of removing 760 cars from the road. Unlike other carbon offset programs, Cow Power offers a direct way for Green Mountain College and other customers to help sustain the regional economy by adding a new revenue source to farmers while simultaneously helping them cut their operational costs. Additionally, Cow Power benefits the physical environment through displacing carbon-derived power and through removing pathogens in the manure that could be harmful to local watersheds.


Jesse Pyles
Sustainability & Service Coordinator
One College Circle,
Poultney, Vermont

Governance & Administration

More then a decade ago, Green Mountain College transformed its mission to focus on environmental sustainability. We define “environment” broadly to include our social and natural communities - our environs.

Mission: Green Mountain College prepares students for productive, caring, and fulfilling lives by taking the environment as the unifying theme underlying its academic and co-curricular programs. This innovative interdisciplinary approach to liberal arts education is grounded in the institution’s strong tradition of effective teaching and mentoring, and is complemented by a diversity of community-oriented campus life opportunities. Through a wide range of liberal arts and career-focused majors, the college fosters the ideals of environmental responsibility, public service, global understanding, and lifelong intellectual, physical, and spiritual development.

The environmental mission drives all hiring, program development, and operations. The commitment to sustainability begins with President John Brennan, who was the first Vermont signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. He convenes the cabinet, which ensures that college activities reflect the mission.

A Campus Sustainability Committee, consisting of faculty, staff, students and the provost coordinates all sustainability initiatives and brings new initiatives to the cabinet for action. A full-time sustainability and service coordinator provides leadership and infrastructure for these initiatives and advises the student director of the Campus Greening Fund. This student sits on the student senate, which allocates roughly $25,000 per year for student-initiated greening projects.

Since our Greening Program Committee completed its first comprehensive environmental assessment in 1998, several of the College’s strategic plans have guided advances in the areas of land use, purchasing and acquisitions, resource use and energy conservation, recycling, and green education. The recently revised draft strategic plan sets ambitious new goals for major initiatives in energy conservation, local purchasing, sustainable curriculum development, and community outreach. The Board of Trustees has played a key leadership role in advancing a sustainability agenda in these plans.

Several other committees have responsibility for specific aspects of campus sustainability:

  • The Land Use Committee has developed a campus natural area policy and an invasive species management policy. This committee reviews every new proposal for permanent projects on campus grounds and must grant approval prior to the start of a project.
  • The Environmental Liberal Arts Program Committee oversees the development and assessment of our sustainability-themed core curriculum, the 37-credit environmental general education program.
  • The Cerridwen Farm crew governs the operation of the College farm.
  • Green Mountain College is a founding member of the Eco League, a consortium of six colleges committed to sustainability education. The consortium offers a robust student exchange in which a student can start at any one institution and attend two others without loss of financial aid or progress towards a degree.


Green Mountain College has been a regional leader in modeling sustainability in its operations. Students and faculty continually experiment with new ways to reduce energy, purchase locally and shrink our ecological footprint.

The College was the EPA’s first Energy Star Showcase Campus (1998), a recognition earned when the school completed a campus-wide retrofit of its light fixtures for fluorescents, and installed low-flush toilets and low-flow showers.

The College purchases more than half of its electricity through the Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) “Cow Power” Program. The College has paid a $50,000 per year premium in energy purchases to support Vermont dairy farms that sequester methane from manure to produce electricity. Although more expensive than other renewable energy credits, cow power is integrated into the curriculum and enhances economic and social sustainability in our bioregion. This commitment, coupled with other energy programs, has earned the College recognition in the EPA’s Green Power Partnership program (2007) at the “Leadership Club” level.

A student initiative brought wind power to the campus farm, and grid-tied solar panels feed into the campus electrical system from atop the student center.

To increase thermal efficiency, the facilities team has replaced underground steam pipes, installed remote control thermostats, and is replacing windows in residence halls to decrease heat transfer.

In 2006, College officials worked with students to contract an engineering feasibility study for the conversion of the current campus heating system to a biomass cogeneration facility.

Custodial and grounds staffs support the efforts of a paid student recycling crew, and volunteerism in recycling is high. In addition to weekly collection from residence halls, offices, and public areas, the College recycles scrap metal, cardboard, furniture, and electronics waste as needed.

The College owns two large-scale Earth Tub composters. Student volunteers work with dining services and the campus farm to collect and manage organic waste in the campus composting program.

The College’s dining services – operated by Chartwells – annually purchases 13% of its food locally. The College has adopted food purchasing guidelines which will increase this to 30 % by 2010. Chartwells encourages food waste reduction through Project: Clean Plate, and promotes environmentally sensitive practices in its own operations through Project: Green Thumb.

In the past four years, all new residence hall and office furnishings have been purchased from local and regional manufacturers, using sustainably harvested Vermont-grown and milled forest products ($200,000), and all new carpeting is made from recycled products.

The College’s 18-acre farm is a living sustainability laboratory. The farm runs a CSA program with organically grown vegetables and flowers, and raises sheep, chickens, ducks, and two draft oxen. It regularly supplies the campus dining hall with eggs and produce in season.

The College maintains an 80-acre nature preserve for field study and recreation – and actively engages in the protection and restoration of the Poultney River riparian zone through invasive species management and use restriction policy.

Curriculum & Research

Green Mountain embeds sustainability throughout the curriculum; it is at the heart of the Environmental Liberal Arts Program (ELAP), several of our undergraduate majors and our two graduate programs. Since all College faculty teach in ELAP, they share an understanding of the institution’s core values. All academic departments include faculty with expertise in environmental areas, and more than 50% of the 47 full-time faculty members have research programs on aspects of sustainability.

The ELAP is guided by the philosophy that a thorough understanding of natural and social environments, coupled with the skills, knowledge, and courage necessary to act as responsible citizens in a globally interdependent world, are central to the development of a person’s intellect and character. ELAP consists of four core courses (15 credits): Images of Nature, Voices of Community, Dimensions of Nature, and A Delicate Balance and seven distribution courses in math, science, the arts, philosophy, history, and health. A sampling of ELAP distribution courses includes: Simplicity & Sustainability, Garden Design, World History & the Environment, Environmental Chemistry, Sustainable Development, Environmental Math in the Real World, Sense of Place, A Homesteader’s Ecology, Nature in Theatre and Film, and Food, Society & the Environment.

Environmental Studies is the College’s largest major, with concentrations in:

  • Environmental Education
  • Fine Arts & the Environment
  • Human Sciences, Policy & the Environment
  • Natural Sciences and the Environment
  • Recreation and the Environment
  • Sustainable Agriculture and Food Production

A Natural Resource Management major, an Environmental Management major and an Adventure Recreation major serve students who seek a career-focused education relating to sustainable business and resource use.

Green Mountain College offers two online graduate degrees: a master of science in environmental studies (MSES) and an M.B.A. in sustainable business.

Green Mountain’s educational philosophy is best described as field-based, interdisciplinary, and service-oriented. This is particularly evident in the College’s annual block course offerings, in which 3 - 5 faculty co-teach an integrated project-focused set of courses. Blocks have included The Northern Forest (15 credits), The Champlain Basin (15 credits), The Hudson River (15 credits), Vermont Wilderness (9 credits) and The Adirondacks (15 credits). Recently, a course on Food, Agriculture and Community Development in the Northeast (9 credits in Anthropology, Economics, and Ecology) explored ways of offering more local food in the College dining hall.

Green Mountain strongly supports faculty and student research and has a number of well published researchers on sustainability topics. For example, Dr. Steven Letendre, a nationally recognized expert in the field of plug-in hybrid vehicle technology, is conducting an economic analysis of performance and efficiency using a vehicle loaned to the college by the local electric company. Other active research programs include Public Participation in Federal lands Planning (Gregory Brown); Genetic Resistance to Beech Bark Disease (Natalie Coe); Larval Fish Ecology and Aquatic Health (Meriel Brooks); Sustainable Business Strategy (Jacob Parks); Environmental Literature (Laird Christensen); Ecological Restoration Ethics (William Throop), and Ecological Imagination (Steven Fesmire).

Campus Culture

Green Mountain College’s distinctive environmental mission program has attracted a student body particularly committed to sustainability. One example of this commitment is the Student Campus Greening Fund. Begun as part of a class project in 2004, the Greening Fund was created after 93% of all students polled voted to increase their activities fee by $30 per year for student-proposed, student-approved greening initiatives.

To date, the fund has allocated $45,354 through two grant cycles for projects including the following:

  • Biomass assessment
  • 5 Farms/5Days local food project
  • Withey Hall solar upgrade
  • Farm Drying and Storage Area
  • Purchase of double-sided printers
  • Chemistry lab water distiller
  • Farm Hoop House extension
  • 2007 Local Food Program
  • Recycling equipment/bins

Greening Fund projects demand support from a wide range of campus departments and ensure that student voice is being heard.

Students living on the Sustainable Living floor explore personal sustainability practices in a residence hall community. They share cooking responsibilities, manage the campus composting program, and frequently facilitate workshop and service activities around environmental themes.

The student-staffed recycling program earned recent recognition on campus as the 2005-2006 Student Organization of the Year. In the past academic year, the recycling crew secured volunteer service from fourteen different class groups and more than 25 individuals outside of class. They also guide the College through the RecycleMania competition, during which the main campus recycled more than two tons of paper, cans, glass, and plastics in 2007.

The College actively recruits students who have a strong commitment to social change. The Demonstrated Excellence in Environmental Practice (DEEP) scholarships and the Make a Difference scholarships attract students who have exhibited character and leadership. These students (and many others) have designed projects that improve our operations.

In spring 2007, twenty-three students participated in a special topics environmental studies Campus Sustainability class as the College’s first campus Eco-Reps. They engaged in alternating sessions of discussion and campus outreach devoted to energy, water, waste, transportation, and consumption. Outreach activities include door-to-door computer “sleep-mode” campaign, a water savings brochure, an online campus rideshare board and a biodiesel demonstration. The Service-Learning & Sustainability Office will present class findings in a student campus sustainability guide.

Each year in April Green Mountain College organizes “Earth Week” activities to expand on the traditional Earth Day celebration. The week is filled with sustainability themed student presentations, guest lectures, artwork installations, musical performances, job and graduate school recruiters, and service opportunities. Earth Week 2007 featured a keynote address by environmental economist Jon Isham on Focus the Nation, a “Get Outside” campaign to keep participating students outdoors for five consecutive days, the 3rd Annual Garlic Mustard Pull along the Poultney River, and a farm service project with alums. Student academic contributions to Earth Week have included poster displays on “green” chemistry and biodiversity, recycled sculpture, food preparation by Organic Agriculture classes, and alternative energy debates from Environmental Economics students.

Community Service & Outreach

Green Mountain sees the strong connection between service and sustainability and links them explicitly in the Service-Learning & Sustainability Office staffed with two full-time positions.

In 2004, the College earned the Vermont Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence and an EPA National Campaign Award for a class service-learning project called Change A Light. Students in this course partnered with Efficiency Vermont to make Poultney the first town in the U.S. to have every household change at least one light bulb from incandescent to fluorescent.

Students performed 6,978 hours of service as part of their class work during the 2006-2007 academic year.

Over 50% of faculty annually include service-learning in one of their courses. For example, in an Environmental Advocacy course every student provided at least twenty hours of direct service to organizations including Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and the Association of Vermont Recyclers.

The College draws regional audiences into dialogue through a lively Family Farm Forum series. Several times a year, a high-profile speaker (state agriculture secretary or national organic standards expert, for example) will give a keynote talk, followed by a discussion between the audience and a panel of local farmers.

The College is a regional resource for sustainability information, and it brings to campus national figures like David Brower, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Bill McKibben, David Orr, Gary Nabhan, and Janisse Ray who generate rich community dialogue about environmental issues.

College faculty and students have contributed hundreds of hours to a Nature Conservancy clayplain forest restoration project.

Students run an after-school Nature Club at the local elementary school, and environmental education students delivered a three-month science curriculum to the third grade in the spring of 2006.

The College annually hosts the Watershed Partnership’s Eco-Expo which brings more than 500 area fifth- and sixth-graders to the campus each May for a series of interactive workshops about their watershed. The program included presentations from the Bio-Enviro club, and Bioregionalism, Environmental Science and Place-based Education courses.

Each summer, the campus farm holds a grant-funded, weeklong GMC Farm Camp for area youth that teaches holistic farming practices through a variety of fun activities.

Faculty members perform important service to non-profit organizations in the area, serving on the boards of The Vermont Nature Conservancy, Vermont Association of Conservation Districts, The Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, Solarfest, several local school boards and planning commissions.

The College provides an office, volunteers, and student interns to the Poultney-Mettowee Natural Resources Conservation District.

The College is frequently represented by members at demonstrations promoting sustainability such as Bill McKibben’s 50-mile Global Warming march from Ripton to Burlington, VT, and the 2005 UN Climate Conference in Montreal.

Students often far exceed their civic engagement requirements in courses. In spring 2007 first-year composition students surprised the Town Manager with their dedication to raising awareness about recycling at the town transfer station.