An initiative of the National Council for Workforce Education, the Sustainability Education and Economic Development Center (SEED) supports community colleges and their partners with curriculum and resources to transform educational programs for a sustainable future.

Key Strategies for Green and Sustainability Programs

The following strategies have been used at community colleges throughout the nation to help green and make sustainable development concepts come alive in the classroom, in the campus environment, and in the broader community. There are 15 specific practices that will energize green and sustainability programs on your campus and strengthen your college’s position as a sustainability leader in your community.

First Steps

  1. Form a Sustainability or Green Committee.
    • Include representatives from the following parts of the campus: students, faculty, business office, purchasing, facilities, bookstore, community partnerships and strategic planning. Make an institutional commitment to focus on sustainability and green policies and behavior in curricula, facilities, purchasing, community partnerships, student life and strategic planning. Hundreds of sustainability committees already exist on community college campuses. Many have Sustainability Directors reporting to Presidents or Vice Presidents who catalyze a culture of sustainability on campus.
  2. Assess your existing academic programs, practices, and policies on sustainability and green education.
    • Use the results to create and implement a sustainability plan that helps the college be environmentally, economically and socially responsible while modeling for the larger community. See the AASHE Sustainability Tracking and Rating System at for a useful assessment tool.
  3. Create signage and a communication plan to educate students and the public.
    • Highlight campus sustainability efforts in facilities, purchasing, job training, and other areas. For example, signage in a renovated building can provide educational touchpoints for energy efficient lighting, recoverable water systems and green building materials.

Core Strategies – Establishing Program Fundamentals

  1. Create effective and inclusive community and industry partnerships to build a more sustainable economy.
    • Community colleges can respond to market demand and be catalytic in helping to build market demand for clean energy technicians and greener employees. Colleges often act as convenors, bringing together stakeholders from government, business associations, non-profit and other community sectors, coordinating efforts to build a sustainable economy and drive employment opportunities.
    • Partnerships also enable stakeholders to overcome outdated policies that can create artificial barriers, making it seem easier to use fossil fuels than to install renewable energy. Many college-led groups have come together to replace outdated codes and pass renewable portfolio standards removing outdated codes.
  2. Incorporate green principles into existing technical programs.
    • Many graduates of traditional technical programs go to work for companies who have yet to make the transition to newer, clean technology. However, many companies are now transitioning to a balanced workload. For example, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) programs should incorporate curricula on choosing and maintaining traditional heating and air systems while starting to meet the demand for more heat pump service and installation. Diesel service companies still need to work on traditional technology, but many of the newer equipment are utilizing for EV technologies and alternative fuel sources. Therefore, community colleges need to at least expose their learners to these new technologies in their training programs to prepare them for future changes in their occupations.
  3. Utilize the resources of the SEED center to learn about promising curricula, job predictions, competencies and certifications, and more. The SEED Center resources are a curated collection of information designed to help educators develop and advance quality green job training programs and courses. They include the most up-to-date resources and have been vetted for quality.
  4. Encourage use of the SEED and other online learning communities by your faculty and staff.
    • Participate in real-time discussions and get instantaneous answers to questions about a variety of related topics, from lab equipment to assessment tools, new curricula to market information. The time to build a green economy and a green workforce is now. The more we work collaboratively across the country, the more productive our work will be.
  5. Develop new technical programs based on regional industry demand.
    • Given the uncertain renewable energy and efficiency industry outlook, and rapidly changing technologies, access to the most up-to-date employment projections – and strong partnerships with industry on the ground will be critical.

Core Strategies – Strengthen Program Depth, Reach, and Effectiveness

  1. Integrate green and sustainability principles across academic disciplines–not just technology programs.
    • Each academic discipline has a unique and important role to play in educating all students to make healthier and greener choices. Learners need a level of sustainability literacy to engage in solutions, regardless of their discipline or degree type. Therefore, it’s important to include sustainability concepts in all existing degrees and certificates. There is a growing number of community colleges infusing sustainability concepts throughout their curricula.
    • Don’t just focus on technicians – sustainability education needs to spread to salespeople, green business owners, green policy makers and green investors and consumers as well. Colleges can include a sustainability focus in the general education core or in cross-curricula initiatives. Colleges can also designate course sections with a green or sustainability focus. Students may even earn a concentration or minor in sustainability.
  2. Reach out and educate contractors and other business owners to build a green economy.
    • When we educate these groups, we are building our students’ future employers.This can be done dually, through procurement policies that offer to educate new and existing contractors as well as targeted offerings in continuing education and flexible for-credit programs to help business owners and professionals understand the possibilities to grow their businesses. Outreach through chambers of commerce, builders, mechanical contractors and other associations generates not only a larger student body, but also more internships and job placements. Presentations that highlight not only the college’s green offerings but include green business opportunities are very effective, as are downloadable resources that are available to meet the busy schedules of contractors and business owners.
  3. Create staff and faculty development opportunities in green and sustainability education.
    • Get your instructors and your curricula approved by industry recognized accrediting bodies (e.g., NABCEP for solar, AWEA for wind,ASE for automotive and trucks, and NEC for electricians)
    • Include targeted professional development for your technical faculty. Have your technical instructors participate in the online learning community for instructors
    • Involve all faculty in professional development (webinars, conferences, peer networks, faculty grants to convert courses, etc.)
    • Provide faculty with Professional Development to integrate Culturally Responsive Teaching into courses and programs.

Leadership Strategies

  1. Include sustainability thinking and actions as an expectation in all institutional job descriptions and annual reviews.
    • College of Lake County and Lane Community College (OR), to name a few, have moved in this direction with positive results. Check the Resource Center for examples of and links to internal campus templates that colleges may use to develop similar protocols.
  2. Be aware of changes that will dramatically affect the marketplace and take action to overcome barriers to energy efficiency and clean energy production.
    • Changes to regulations and policies, in areas such as carbon pollution, state renewable portfolio standards or utility regulation quickly change the outlook for renewable energy, finance and certainly workforce demands. Include these issues in curricula and in your governmental relations efforts to inform legislation for a cleaner and greener and more robust green economy.
  3. Educate the public.
    • Offer courses and seminars to the local community (both credit and non-credit) on sustainable practices and green technology will spread the word about new technologies and build market demand for both new technologies and the basics, such as energy audits and weatherization. Work with community stakeholders to help educate the public about these and other possibilities.
  4. Use the campus and the community as a living lab for sustainability to engage both students and the public in sustainable solutions. [Penn State Living Lab and Sustainability] [MIT Living Lab and Sustainability]
    • Many of the best community college programs create assignments and activities that engage in real world sustainability projects in the local government, business and non-profit sectors. Such activities can impact facilities, purchasing and strategic planning, as well as energy production and consumption, and drive the level of environmental and social responsibility in policies and practices. Students, staff and faculty learn how to work systemically with the broader community to support the development of a stronger, greener economy.
      • Convene: Community members from business, non-profit, government and education sectors.
      • Analyze: Ask them to evaluate their goals and priorities based on the triple bottom line.
      • Plan: Identify the actions they would take if they had more assistance.
      • Act: These ideas become sustainability projects that students can participate in for credit or as volunteer or paid work.


In the realm of higher education, community colleges are best able to implement these strategies quickly and educate the citizenry needed for a sustainable future. Successful sustainability education and economic development programs will accelerate the transition to a green economy by catalyzing partnerships, identifying opportunities, and raising awareness among contractors, government agencies, community planners, nonprofits, and all consumers.