Sustainability Curriculum

Sustainable Summer prepares today’s teens to become environmental leaders and innovators. Our programs focus on project-based learning, applied sustainability, and personal growth and discovery.

Program Goals

Sustainable Summer Program Goals

  • eco-literacy” and critical thinking about sustainability
  • understanding of the interconnectedness of human and natural systems; the linkages found in nature and those connecting economic systems, environment, and society
  • ​the ​analytic, communication, ​interpersonal, ​and positive risk-taking skills necessary to create change in their local and global communities
  • passion towards and commitment to social and environmental justice and of their own role and responsibility as a global citizen/li>
  • an appreciation of the necessity and difficulty of making ethical choices
  • insights into their own academic, professional, and personal opportunities and goals

What is Environmental Leadership?

We focus on developing three pillars of environmental leadership in our students.


Taking action starts with building knowledge. Participants — through discussions, workshops, site visits, and fieldwork — will investigate important concepts in the field of sustainability. An essential question guides this process on every program. By the end of the program students will have made gains in eco-literacy and built a solid foundation in principles of sustainable development.


We emphasize the application of knowledge to practical, real world problems through a project-based approach that allows for an in-depth investigation of an authentic and complex environmental problem. Knowing about something is very different from knowing how to do something. We structure our projects to bridge this gap, developing functional, transferrable skills in the process.


A Sustainable Summer program is an authentic space for students to explore their own value structures, professional and intellectual interests, and how their beliefs inform their environmental ethic and activism. It is a a space for youth to engage in their own sustainability journey with other like-minded peers. Our students are part of an emerging global community passionately committed to protecting human and planetary health and creating a more sustainable world than the one that exists today.

Our Values

Learning Should Be FUN!

This isn’t to say that learning shouldn’t be challenging or that you occasionally need to slog through some not so fun stuff to get to the really good stuff, but we aim to design programs that engage students and balance theory and application in a way that puts a smile on your face every single day.

Nature is a great teacher

Shakespeare said that nature is the best teacher and (s)he might be right. Certainly, for an organization concerned with matters of the environment, this is true. But more importantly, we know that spending time in nature can teach an awful lot about oneself. Our programs reflect this value every day.

We respect and value diversity

A healthy ecosystem is incredibly biologically diverse. We similarly believe that a healthy community respects and values human diversity.

Let’s keep it real!

We are focused on applications of knowledge, including helping students understand career opportunities within the green economy.

A great staff and great students are by far the most important ingredient

We put a great deal of resources into our curriculum and programming, but a brilliant syllabus has a lot less value in the hands of an incapable teacher or uninspired students.

We are teachers and facilitators

Teachers impart knowledge to students. Facilitators build on the knowledge base of a group of students to enable discovery. We teach and we facilitate, but we think the latter is the really exciting part of education.

We know and believe that our students are capable of remarkable things

We design programs that respect the intelligence and potential of our students, which, in our experience, already know more than the vast majority of adults about climate and environmental issues.

We aren’t bound by standards

Unlike traditional schools, we do not have the same concern towards grades and educational standards. We design programs for students that are interested in the interdisciplinary application of knowledge. We prefer problems with no one “right” answer.

We embrace uncertainty and risk

We design curriculum to be experiential and dynamic. There is an important place for appropriately managed risk in education.

We are lifelong learners

No one is an expert in everything. In fact, few people are experts in more than a handful of things. It is the desire to learn and the experience of learning that forms the basis for a meaningful life.

Learning Strategies

Project-Based Learning

All programs feature intensive group project work focused on an in-depth investigation of an authentic and complex environmental problem. The project is aligned with the thematic and conceptual focus of the program. Student teams learn about design thinking methodology and apply this methodology to their particular problem. This a collaborative learning experience in which educators and students work together to learn about compelling issues, propose solutions to real problems, and take action. This approach asks students to reflect on their learning and the impact of their actions and publish their solutions to a worldwide audience.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

Our students are intellectually curious, passionate about sustainability, and have diverse viewpoints and life experiences. Teaching others results in one of the most effective methods for retention (90%).

Pre-Program Assignments

An introductory pre-program mini-course is designed to build a common foundation in key concepts. Most students will require 3 – 4 hours of total time to complete the pre-program coursework, which varies by program but generally consists of short readings, videos, and reflections.

Field Activities & Experiential Learning

Activities frequently take place in the field. We visit interesting and relevant local sites and organizations. We tinker with small-scale energy technologies. We get our hands dirty.

Refection & Discussion

Students are encouraged to think critically about the issues at hand, and to share their opinions regularly in small group discussion. We will frequently reference our essential question for the program, which provides some structure to our experience discussing sustainability and help connect seemingly disparate concepts. Students are assigned short writing assignments to help stimulate purposeful engagement with the experience and critical reflection.

Case Studies, Stakeholder Maps, and Simulations

It’s easy to be green when you have the time, resources, and autonomy to do so. But the real-world is far more complicated. We use case studies and simulations to help students understand complex systems. We develop stakeholder maps so students can better understand the process of negotiation and compromise that is needed to implement sustainable solutions. Multi-stakeholder negotiations bring representatives of different interest groups (local business, industry, conservation, government, citizens, etc.) together to attempt to find common ground and equitable outcomes to problems.

Sustainability Action Plan

Ultimately, we want students to be able to transfer what they learn on the program back to their home community and be prepared to engage in an effort that results in positive change. Students will develop a personal Sustainability Action Plan (SAP), which will document the steps they would like to take when they return home to live more sustainably. The SAP should detail changes they will make on a daily, monthly and yearly basis, and will also outline steps to encourage members of their family, peer groups and community to adopt similar measures.