Overall Rating Gold - expired
Overall Score 76.45
Liaison Ryan Ihrke
Submission Date Oct. 17, 2014
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

Green Mountain College
AC-8: Campus as a Living Laboratory

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.00 / 4.00 Aaron Witham
Director of Sustainability
Sustainability Office
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Is the institution utilizing the campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in the following areas?:
Yes or No
Air & Climate Yes
Buildings Yes
Dining Services/Food Yes
Energy Yes
Grounds Yes
Purchasing Yes
Transportation Yes
Waste Yes
Water Yes
Coordination, Planning & Governance Yes
Diversity & Affordability Yes
Health, Wellbeing & Work Yes
Investment Yes
Public Engagement Yes
Other No

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Air & Climate and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The transportation footprint of the biennial greenhouse gas inventory is completed with the help of classes in order for students to gain surveying skills, while helping the College find innovative ways to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation. In 2013, an ELA core curriculum class (Voices) helped create and implement the transportation survey. After results were collected, students in a GIS class analyzed the data, looking for patterns that could be used to expand carpooling opportunities.

Over 2014-2015, GMC aims to involve classes in the research and selection of a carbon offset provider sufficient to meet the College's needs and mission when it completes its greenhouse gas inventory in the summer of 2015.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Buildings and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2012, the Renewable Energy and Ecological Design program held a block class of 15 credits that built a garage on campus to model energy efficiency and renewable energy. The Olwen Solar Garage boasts a 3.8 kW solar PV array on the roof, a passive heat system from a ground slab, and a large south facing glass wall designed for germinating seeds for the campus farm. The class learned everything from how to design a green building, to how to pour a concrete foundation, to how to install solar.

In 2013, a weatherization class conducted a thermal audit of the College's Two Editor's Inn, which was paid for by the Student Campus Greening Fund, a group run by students. The audit discovered that approximately $12,000 in renovations could save the college 40% on its energy bills. The Sustainability Office then proposed the project to the Campus Sustainability Council for consideration for green revolving loan funding. The CSC and Cabinet approved the project in the spring of 2014 and the renovation was completed by early summer. As part of a media internship, two students were involved in documenting the renovation process and showcasing the building's features. They produced a video, which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x0LTXh7p40 as well as a professional plaque that will be hung in the living room. Quantitative classes will also be involved in testing the energy efficiency performance of the building, with special attention to the cold climate heat pump that is projected to offset a large percentage of the heating load from the oil boiler.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Dining Services/Food and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Several related class projects have focused on analyzing the environmental impacts of food purchasing and trying to display those impacts to the wider campus community. In 2012 and 2013, students in a Delicate Balance class created a proposal to install a food dashboard in the dining hall that would display embodied energy, distance shipped and other impacts associated with food being served. The project received funding from the Student Campus Greening Fund in 2013 to hire a local food assistant and build a live food dashboard. The local food assistant began working on a system to track the embodied energy and embodied carbon. A Master's student in sustainable food systems also helped with the project. In collaboration with the director of Chartwells (The dining services provider) the group found a beta tool being tested by the Chartwells company that tracks energy and carbon from food. This tool has the potential to streamline much of the data needed for the project. As of 2014, the director of Chartwells is still working with the tool to understand how to incorporate it into a dashboard. The student-run Slow Foods & Center of the Plate Club have taken on the responsibility of seeing the project completed.

Meanwhile, in 2013, a class analyzed the embodied energy in specific types of food being served in the dining hall (e.g. chicken, milk, cookies, apple sauce, etc.) and made several displays that can communicate these impacts to patrons. One of the methods displayed the embodied energy in terms of its equivalent of miles driven in a car.

As an outcome of both of these initiatives, the dining hall now has data they can use to make more informed decisions about food purchasing and display useful metrics to patrons. They want to begin making greenhouse gas mitigation plans for their monthly purchases.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Energy and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Various classes have analyzed the College's fuel purchases and helped to set goals for improvement over the last couple of years. In 2013, students from an energy and environment class analyzed data of fossil fuel use on campus to compare it to the global production rate of renewable energy. They were following the principle outlined in the College's strategic plan that GMC shouldn't use fossil fuels at a rate greater than that at which renewables are being developed.

In 2013, a natural resources class did a comprehensive environmental, social, and economic analysis of the College's biomass fuel supply to understand the impacts it has. In 2014, another class examined the biomass plant itself and analyzed the various narratives surrounding its use to determine which were accurate and which were not.

All of the information gathered through these projects is useful to the Sustainability Office, the Campus Sustainability Council and the Sustainability 2020 Steering Committee in making decisions about energy sourcing.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Grounds and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

For the last three years, the natural areas crew has worked closely with a botany professor to actively control invasive species on campus grounds. Several of these efforts have been associated with environmental science classes. The crew also hosts an invasive species pull during Earth Week to educate the broader campus community about invasives. Every year, a similar educational program is carried out during orientation to teach incoming students about the problem. The result of all of these efforts is a strong ethic on campus to control invasive species and a high awareness among students of the problems with invasive species. As students graduate, others take their places and shepherd the project.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Purchasing and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2013, a quantitative environmental analysis class developed an environmental footprint analysis of the aggregate of all college purchases. The analysis covered a range of impact factors such as energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and toxic pollutants.

In 2014, a group of students in a public policy class used the analysis to help guide creation of a new purchasing policy that would put more weight on higher impact sectors of college purchasing. This purchasing policy was passed by Cabinet in August of 2014.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Transportation and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2013, a student helped form a focus group on transportation as a class project. The focus group was tasked by the Sustainability Office and Office of Student Involvement with thinking about how to increase carpooling on campus. The focus group met four times for an hour each over the course of the spring semester. Participants included students, staff, and faculty members. The group helped to design the transportation survey, which included questions about carpooling and roadblocks to taking alternative modes of transportation. Based on the focus group's brainstorming and analysis of the results of the survey, a series of important recommendations were made including which online carpool program to use, how to promote it effectively, and how to shift behavior surrounding other modes of sustainable transportation. The carpooling program Go Vermont was chosen.

In 2013-2014, a Delicate Balance project, proposed by several students, received $10,000 in funding to build a bike shelter centrally located on campus. Construction was completed in the spring of 2014. The purpose of the bike shelter is to promote more bicycle use on campus and help to display the bikes available for rental through the free Green Bikes program.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Waste and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2013-2014, the student reuse manager in the Sustainability Office carried out a cost-benefit analysis as part of a business class project to analyze the impact of shifting from solitary waste bins to a more streamlined waste station models containing three waste streams in a each location (recycling, composting, and landfill). Meanwhile, the student sustainability office manager and a member of the waste crew started researching various models for the three bin system. They began plugging the numbers into the cost benefit analysis model to run scenarios.

In 2014, a group of students in an advocacy class built a prototype for the three bin station and displayed it during Earth Week. They received funding for the project from the Student Campus Greening Fund. Two staff in the facilities department helped mentor them through the construction process. The prototype was made from over 90% recycled materials. The students in the Sustainability Office then began an experiment, testing the prototype in one of the residence halls to see if it would change behavior. They collected data on waste disposal amounts before the station was installed and then after it was installed. Results of this effort showed a 39% drop in the trash stream by weight after the waste station was installed.

In the fall of 2014, students earned another SCGF grant to fund the building of 26 additional waste stations, enough to cover every floor in every residence hall on the main campus in Poultney. The bins are now being constructed with a majority of recycled material by students and staff working together.

Also in 2014, students in an advocacy class launched a campaign to educate the campus about the impacts of paper towel use in the bathrooms. They produced several videos which can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/events/668745343192644/. As part of the campaign they held a Go Towelless competition during Earth Week.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Water and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2013-2014, a student carried out a project to ban the sale of bottled water on campus through her delicate balance class. Steps included interviews with stakeholders who could potentially be affected by the ban, a water tasting event to see if students could tell the difference between bottled and tap water, production of a video documenting the campaign, and collection of a list of signatures supporting the ban. The campaign was successful and on August 15th, 2014, the College banned the sale of bottled water. The dining services company Chartwells and the vending machine company PepsiCo both signed on to the ban.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Coordination, Planning & Governance and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Students have been involved in every step of the development and implementation of GMC's strategic plan, Sustainability 2020. Students served on the committees that decided on goals and later chose metrics for measuring progress. The broader student body voted on the plan as well in 2012. In 2013, the metrics for those goals were shared with the campus body through a community conversation attended by over 100 people. The student who served on the metrics committee helped organize the event and take notes during the event, while another student spoke at the event giving her perspective on the metrics. A third student helped organize the following community conversation in 2014, where the first results of data collection were shared. This student also spoke at the event, sharing her ideas about how to advance the plan. Several classes were involved in developing portions of the surveys used for data collection. Many other classes were involved in analyzing the data afterwards. The outcome of these efforts is a broader and deeper engagement of the student body in the College's mission and future plans.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Diversity & Affordability and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2013, a psychology class developed the diversity and inclusion section of the College's social capital survey that was then implemented in 2014. The class discussed the diversity and inclusion goals of the College's strategic plan, Sustainability 2020, and then researched which questions would best measure progress toward those goals. After the survey data were collected, several ELA classes and a leadership class were involved in analyzing and discussing the results in order to brainstorm ideas for increasing diversity and inclusion on campus. Many of these students attended the community conversation in the spring of 2014, where they shared their ideas on big sheets of paper. Those ideas were later transcribed into a list that was emailed to the entire campus community to spur change in relevant areas. The Sustainability 2020 Steering committee also addressed many of the ideas in the list. Additionally, the leadership class produced a separate list of ideas for leveraging change, which were shared with top officials in relevant areas, including the sustainability director.

In regards to affordability, a 2013 class was involved in analyzing the data from the annual alumni survey which asks about financial ability to cover general household expenses including student loan debt.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Health, Wellbeing & Work and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2013-2014, a group of students launched a student-run health and well-being program to provide information about alternative health to the campus. The project received $7,000 of funding from the Student Campus Greening Fund and included three paid positions to implement the program. This program, known as SWELL, launched in the spring of 2014 and since then has carried out multiple workshops on campus and released regular newsletters.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Investment and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In 2013, a group of students led a divestment campaign to convince the Board of Trustees of the College to divest endowment holdings from fossil fuel companies. Students, staff, and faculty, learned a lot from the campaign about how to work together across various sectors of the College to accomplish a goal. A major part of the campaign was a teach-in that featured three prominent professors with economic and environmental backgrounds. One of these was Bill McKibben, who spoke at the event via Skype. At the end of the semester, the Board of Trustees voted to divest from its fossil fuel holdings, following the criteria of 350.org's list of the 200 companies with the largest holdings.

The educational process continues as the CIR works on issues of making more positive investments, such as creating an ESG framework. Two students serve on the CIR committee.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Public Engagement and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

In the spring of 2014, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Jason Schmitt, taught a class called Media Advocacy and Campaigns. The class challenged his students to attempt real campaigns on campus, most of which were related to sustainability topics. Many of the projects impacted campus in tangible ways through engagement in the College's fuel sources and waste habits.


This course will provide the scope to the complexities associated with informing and empowering social movements and societal behavior. Investigating mediated tools (videos, photos,Vines, Twitter, Facebook, geo-location, etc.) and learning how these tools alter perception, change awareness, inform populations and ultimately become change catalysts is the cornerstone of our course. In addition to investigative reading and researching in the field of advocacy, the course will also create and execute real world campaigns designed to make the student of this course aware of both theoretical implications and practical tools revolving around advocacy work.

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory in Other areas and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The website URL where information about the institution’s campus as a living laboratory program or projects is available:

Green Mountain College serves as a living laboratory for many topics. The examples described here are only a portion of the projects that are relevant to this credit.

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution or simply email your inquiry to stars@aashe.org.