Sustainable Summer is a program run by Sustainable Learning Inc., a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit incorporated in the state of New York. SL also designs and runs custom programs for schools and other institutions, including the US government.
In 2012, we (Sustainable Summer founders Anne and Jeff) traveled to Ecuador for a one-month intensive course in sustainable agriculture. Jeff had previously spent a lot of time in Ecuador having conducted research there on dams for his Master’s thesis and was always looking for reasons to return. Anne, to this day a committed gardener, was keen to expand her knowledge of food production systems and game for living in rustic conditions on a rural farm in the tropics. Our own sustainability journey up to that point reflected the typical behaviors that one might expect from a young eco-conscious couple living in a progressive city: cohabitation in a tiny apartment, stashing our food scraps in the freezer until we could take them to a community composter, eschewing a car for bikes, and selecting the “green energy” option for our electric supplier.
Although we both possessed advanced understanding of sustainability, learning and living on the farm led to many thoughtful conversations about issues related to agriculture, such as land use and development; energy and water; global markets and supply chains; biodiversity loss; and climate change. These were topics that were supremely interesting to us and yet we rarely found the time to think critically about them. Being in a community and a place that was able to support our own educational goals and interests was paramount in helping us identify other opportunities in our own lives to reduce our ecological footprint. Perhaps more importantly, it was that “why” moment that led to the founding of Sustainable Summer upon our return to the U.S.
At the time we were both working for separate companies in the education field. During the trip we discussed the fact that there were few, if any, summer programs for teens that focused on sustainability in any meaningful way. In the study abroad category there were numerous opportunities for students to learn a language or engage in community service, but “environmental” programs were mostly just volunteer experiences with a conservation twist. Similarly, while there existed a plethora of pre-college programs for motivated teens, the option for intensive study of sustainability was practically non-existent at the time. While there are now other options for the aspiring environmental scientist, social entrepreneur or climate activist, Sustainable Summer was founded to be a space for youth to engage in their own sustainability journey with other like-minded peers so that they find meaning and solace in community and, together, create a more sustainable world than the one that exists today.