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Students travel to Vermont for hands-on learning in 2021 Advanced Study of Sustainability in New England

August 11, 2021

A group of students wearing high-vis vests and helmets stand in front of cubes of materials ready for recycling.

Dodd Galbreath, director, Institute for Sustainable Practice

Although solar energy continues to grow rapidly in the Southeast U.S., other sustainability practices are still evolving in the region. Therefore, graduate students in the Institute for Sustainable Practice travel to New England each July to examine European scaled sustainability that is highly diverse and geographically dense to further enhance the student's professional development and technical depth.

During July 10-17, 2021, 22 graduate students, faculty, and staff visited 27 advanced sustainability study sites. These included: four zero energy buildings, four LEED platinum buildings, one LEED platinum skyscraper, four zero energy possible residential developments, four commercial composting systems, two organic farms, one biodynamic farm, one city's renewable district heating system, four utility-scale renewable energy sites, one living wastewater system, one co-housing community with passive design homes and composting toilets, a national park/forest, a state capitol building, two food coops, and the first home in Vermont to install Tesla Solar PV roof shingles. 

Students get some shade under a gigantic solar panel on a bright summer day.

At the home of a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy, the group heard about the energy policy work of 3 former U.S. Presidents and examined the first Tesla Solar shingles to be installed on a residence in Vermont, in the shadow of a mountain where the first 1 MW wind turbine test sites dating back to the 1940s were sited. In Boston, vice president of sustainability for Boston Properties presented a briefing on corporate sustainability metrics in a conference room in the historic Prudential Building. As the largest publicly traded developer, owner, and manager of Class A office properties in the United States, the company was the first to construct two, LEED Platinum skyscrapers in downtown Boston.

Students look on as they learn about the unfinished houses in the background

These budding sustainability professionals also took time to note the leaders and deep history of the region. Near the burials of Henry David Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott, some took communion at the graveside of Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Others participated in individual Sunday devotionals and swam in Walden Pond. The group also relaxed at sunset on Lake Champlain on three sailboats. The graduate students also helped prepare a homemade pizza dinner with a climate scientist, hiked up Mount Tom with a forest health scientist, and visited the policy-making chambers of a 160-year-old state capitol led by a former Vermont legislator.

Students sit on steps of government building with tall columns as they learn

This year's student reflections included the following: 

  • " The biggest change is how much more important onsite training and visits are. I didn’t realize how much more you learn from experiencing something than just learning about it." 
  • "...what I saw in Concord with the shells of buildings and what it took to get those buildings as tight as possible seems to be replicable right here in Tennessee with the skillset I already have."
  • "...being around a group has made me realize I might have lost some of my empathy towards others ...I value groups more than I thought I did and socialized better than I thought." 
  • "I can see the direction of my life better."
  • "...this trip reaffirmed that sustainability is the way of the future. I am confident that with this degree, I will be valuable to any fashion company upon graduation."
  • "Our trip helped me to solidify my interest in gaining employment within a field that is working to make our world better." 

If you are interested in attending as a graduate student or guest, next year's study is scheduled for July 8-15, 2022. Admissions for graduate programs are available in August, October, January, March, and May. Just contact for more program details.


Learn more about the Institute for Sustainable Practice.