Education Green

EPA Applauds Work of Bennington College Students to Help Community Increase Energy Efficiency, Battle Climate Change

North Bennington, VT – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a short video that applauds the voluntary efforts of a professor and students at Bennington College to help their local community combat climate issues by analyzing energy use of municipal streetlights and working with the local power utility to dramatically increase efficiency, saving the town thousands of dollars and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2012, EPA’s New England office began an informal partnership with Bennington College to work with students in a class called “Solving the Impossible.” The class, taught by Professor Susan Sgorbati, charges students to study difficult policy problems and develop the skills to identify and implement solutions. EPA helped Professor Sgorbati by identifying environmental public policy problems for the students to address. One recent class tackled the issue of climate change.

“Through this partnership between Bennington College and EPA, students were able to learn about climate change and adapting to a changing climate — and then put this knowledge into practice,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “Now their work is a great example for other schools and towns, who can duplicate the success of the Bennington Project without having to start from scratch.”

The class approached officials of North Bennington, who in turn identified a program publicized by Efficiency Vermont and Green Mountain Power to convert municipal street lights with LED lighting. The students of the class took on a comprehensive effort to identify all street lights in the community, monitor use, and solicit input from members of the community on lights in use. For example, the class identified some lights that had been on for 24 hours a day, for several years.”This was a win-win,” said Mariko Silver, president of Bennington College. “Our students benefited by working through a complex real-world problem, and they got to see the tangible fruits of their efforts. The town will save money and reduce emissions.”


This project and partnership could serve as a model for how higher education can engage with local communities to mutual benefit,”  Silver added

“This project reveals the extraordinary potential and capacities of college students to advance public action working within the context of a classroom,” said Susan Sgorbati, faculty member at Bennington College. “The collaboration between Bennington College and EPA made it possible for students to engage with our local community in such important and meaningful work in addressing climate change and energy reduction.”

By developing a comprehensive plan for lighting in the community using 108 fixtures, the class was able to assist municipal leaders in not only converting existing lights to highly efficient LEDs, but also to identify problem areas needing more, or less, lighting, etc. Local officials estimate that employing the upgraded plan will save the community nearly $10,000 annually.

“Working with the Bennington College students was a real pleasure. Their enthusiasm was contagious for the whole village. I hope this project becomes a model for other environmental and community related projects for Bennington College and other schools throughout the area,” said David Monks, vice-chair of North Bennington Village Board of Trustees.

Efficiency Vermont estimates that the upgraded efficient municipal lighting in North Bennington will reduce usage by 51,000 kilowatt/hour per year. Efficiency Vermont also estimates that these upgrades will keep about 60,000 pounds of carbon emissions out of the atmosphere.