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
IN-2: Innovation 2

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 1.00 / 1.00 Aaron Witham
Director of Sustainability
Sustainability Office
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Title or keywords related to the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:
Sustainable Forests, Sustainable Communities: Assessing the Impacts of a Community-Scale Wood-to-Energy Project

A brief description of the innovative policy, practice, program, or outcome:

In the spring of 2013, students in Assistant Professor Sarah Mittlefehldt’s Forest Policy and Management class crafted preliminary recommendations to the College about ways to measure and assess the impacts of the College's biomass facility on natural, economic, and social/cultural systems in the surrounding region. Results from this class project, entitled "Sustainable Forests, Sustainable Communities: Assessing the Impacts of a Community-Scale Wood-to-Energy Project in Poultney, Vermont", helped the College to work toward its goal to “systematically build human and social capital of GMC and the region” as outlined in the Sustainability 2020 Strategic Plan.

Throughout the semester, students explored different ways in which Green Mountain College’s biomass plant potentially affects local forests and the communities that depend on them. As part of this service-learning project, students worked in teams to explore one of the following three questions: 1) What impact does the College’s biomass plant have on regional biodiversity and ecosystem health? 2) What are the economic impacts of the College’s biomass plant in Rutland County and the local region? 3) What impact does the College’s biomass plant have on social capital in the region? These questions were directly tied to different parts of the Sustainability 2020 metrics framework. Students in the class worked on refining and honing ways to systematically measure and assess various impacts of our biomass plant on natural, economic, and social capital stocks in the coming years.

Students first worked individually to write an annotated bibliography and develop an extensive literature on a more finely honed research question related to their broader topic (impacts on regional biodiversity and ecosystem health; economic impacts; or socio-cultural impacts). For example, one student in the ecological dimensions group researched potential impacts on local soil resources, while a student in the socio-cultural group examined how public perceptions and attitudes towards biomass energy might affect GMC’s standing in the community. As part of their research, students learned how to conduct semi-structured interviews with regional stakeholders and experts to gain a deeper understanding of their topic. These interviews provided some preliminary data on how the Poultney Woodshed Project and how the College’s sourcing of local biomass has affected the local economy and community perceptions about the College’s decisions. Then, working in teams, students compiled their research results into a coherent public presentation around their shared topic. They presented their research at a public forum at the end of the semester. Each group also crafted recommendations to the College about how it should systematically measure and assess the impacts of the biomass facility. This project provided important learning opportunities for students to connect their in-class learning to an issue that has both immediate applications and global implications.

For more information, contact:

Sarah Mittlefehldt
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Green Mountain College
One Brennan Circle
Poultney, VT 05764
(802) 287-8384


A brief description of any positive measurable outcomes associated with the innovation (if not reported above):
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A letter of affirmation from an individual with relevant expertise:
Which of the following STARS subcategories does the innovation most closely relate to? (Select all that apply up to a maximum of five):
Yes or No
Curriculum Yes
Research Yes
Campus Engagement No
Public Engagement Yes
Air & Climate No
Buildings No
Dining Services No
Energy Yes
Grounds No
Purchasing Yes
Transportation No
Waste No
Water No
Coordination, Planning & Governance No
Diversity & Affordability No
Health, Wellbeing & Work No
Investment No

Other topic(s) that the innovation relates to that are not listed above:
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The website URL where information about the innovation is available:
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For more information, contact:

Sarah Mittlefehldt
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
Green Mountain College
One Brennan Circle

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