Dr. Bill Throop can still remember the acrid odor of the defoliant being sprayed on the cotton fields in North Carolina almost 30 years ago. He was working at his first teaching job and recalls the planes soaring overhead and the smell of the chemicals being sprayed on the fields before harvest. “Even if you weren’t right next to the cotton fields and were quite a distance away, we could smell the defoliant. You got the sense of the toxicity that humans can and do produce in the environment”. This motivated Bill to see if there weren’t better ways to live.
Today, Dr. Bill Throop is the Former Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Green Mountain College (GMC). Located in southern Vermont, GMC is the first college in the nation to achieve climate neutrality through campus-wide efficiency, adoption of clean energy, and purchase of local carbon offsets. GMC has an eight-year plan, “Sustainability 2020”, which commits the College to an ambitious milestone: meeting all of their energy needs with 100% renewable energy by the year 2020.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
- Adopt an ambitious goal – Dedication to an ambitious goal can spark rapid action and drive accountability.
- Embed climate change in curriculum – The stability of our climate is tied to our social, political, and economic prosperity. GMC secures those ties by infusing environment-based curriculum throughout coursework, and all students complete a 37-credit Environmental Liberal Arts General Education Program.
- Involve your students – In addition to leveraging experiential and project-based learning, students are actively involved in and lead campus programs and outreach to the community.
- Engage faculty – By encouraging faculty to become involved in program development, GMC has successfully embedded sustainability in coursework that reflects student concerns.
Dr. Throop lives on a farm where he has sheep, cows and chickens. It’s here where he experiences the impacts of extreme weather and climate shifts on a daily basis. Too little rain and the crops don't grow; too much and the animals develop hoof rot. Perhaps it’s this sensitivity to the land, necessary to help plants and animals flourish on a farm, that makes him sensitive to the impact of climate change. It certainly has inspired the deep concern he has for the land on which people's livelihoods depend.
EMBEDDING CLIMATE IN CURRICULUM
The story of Green Mountain’s sustainability achievements began in 1995, when they integrated environmental responsibility into its liberal arts mission. The faculty created a 37-credit general education curriculum that focuses on teaching all students how to take responsibility for the health of their natural and social environments. They started by taking an integrated approach of weaving natural, social, and environmental issues through general education classes across a range of majors. This also stimulated students to push administration to “walk the walk.”
ENGAGING STUDENTS BY LEVERAGING PROJECT-BASED LEARNING
Enabling students and faculty to engage in collaborative project work is an important part of educational programming, and was the most effective way to build participation and support for GMC’s commitment to carbon neutrality. GMC advises school administrators who want to address climate change to engage faculty in program development so that sustainability is embedded at virtually no new cost and reflects students’ concerns.
STUDENTS LEADING BEYOND THE LECTURE HALL
With the knowledge and momentum from coursework and project learning, students at Green Mountain College are equipped to lead their peers and others in building healthier communities. The Student Campus Greening Fund is one of those tangible examples, a “student-run program designed to help put greening initiatives into action that increase awareness and decrease the school’s ecological impact.” Students compel themselves to support awareness-building projects, such as the installation of an interactive dashboard in the campus center that maps energy usage in residence halls, reflecting how individuals can take ownership of their energy consumption. “Trek Your Trash Week” is another Student Campus Greening Fund project in which students collect and weigh their “landfill worthy waste” at the end of the week from all participants. Simple and impactful projects like these inspire conversations and changes in behavior.