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Planet Forward Consortium

Planet Forward Consortium

Middlebury College is a pillar school for the Planet Forward consortium. We use Planet Forward as a platform to discuss solutions to our shared challenges, specifically in the areas of energy, climate, and sustainability.

Middlebury Sustainability Videos for Planet Forward

Five Middlebury students, along with two staff members, traveled to the Planet Forward Summit on Sustainable Cities in Washington, DC. Below are video and written reactions from the students.

Nathaniel Wiener


"Our trip to DC for the Planet Forward trip was an incredibly eye-opening experience. Upon arrival at GW, I was shocked to see the number and geographic diversity of other students at the conference. Having what I felt was a much smaller breadth of environmental studies knowledge than other participants, I was surprised to see and meet students from all over the country with such differing diverse backgrounds.

The theme for the week, Sustainable Cities, was a tricky one, considering Middlebury’s rural nature. Having made my film, Rail Returns to Middlebury, I felt slightly better equipped to deal with issues of transport, however it was tough, at times, to relate to issues of collegiate inner-city sustainability that pertain to larger schools like GW. That being said, as a lifelong New Yorker, I found that I was able to comprehend and interpret urban issues for a rural scale. In our breakout sessions on day two of the summit, I found that Middlebury’s setting allowed me to present the rural perspective when talking about sustainability.

The summit alerted me to the diversity of sustainable cities and helped me better comprehend the urgency, corporate support, and diversity of student ideas facing sustainability issues. I had a fantastic time at the Planet Forward summit and I hope to attend again at some point before I graduate!"

Shubha Ganesan

"I had a truly amazing time at the Planet Forward Summit on Urban Sustainability in Washington, D.C. I’ve been growing more and more interested in pursuing a career in urban sustainability in the future, and it was so valuable to be able to hear from and converse with so many professionals and other students who are involved or interested in these issues. One of the most interesting things for me was learning about the different types of professions that are related to urban sustainability. The Summit gave us an amazing opportunity to go beyond the Middlebury bubble and learn about how actors on all fronts (from mayor to representatives for major companies to professors to architect) are making cities smarter and greener.

Being a part of the summit was really interesting for me as a Middlebury student in particular. I’ve spent a lot of time in classes that focus on grass-roots activism as a way to combat urban problems, and the framework with which I approach these issues has been very much influenced by the awareness of systemic oppression and policy issues that I gained from being at Middlebury. One of my main takeaways from the Summit was that there is such a large number of interests, institutions, and actors who work together to keep the systems of a city functioning – and that, just as it is possible to approach work in cities and with urban sustainability from many perspectives, it is also – maybe—possible for such disparate actors to work together. Though I was dazzled by the innovations and portraits of the future painted by different speakers, I found that hearing about what policymakers were doing to strategize and plan for the effects of climate change in their cities was even more exciting and inspiring.

As much as I learned about the Summit, it also raised several questions for me, and forced me to think critically about what role I want to play in urban sustainability, and how to go about this, which is something that has been incredibly valuable. I know that what I learned at the summit will influence my time at Middlebury and beyond – even though Middlebury is such a rural area, many of the same issues surrounding transportation and housing still apply to Addison county. Though I don’t have much time left at school, I hope to do an independent project on suburban transportation and justice (or a related topic) before I leave. Most importantly, I hope to participate in more conversations about urban sustainability and how it connects to Middlebury, and to encourage other students to ask similar questions as well."

Sierra Moen

"Attending the Planet Forward Sustainable Cities Summit was one of the most formative, valuable opportunities I’ve had as a Middlebury student. By allowing leaders from private organizations and government entities to contribute to the discussion, we were shown how working together is vital to moving forward. My biggest take-away from the conference stemmed from this collaboration and contrasts something we often praise at a liberal arts college: analyzing with a critical lens.

Like most students, I am predispositioned to hate big corporations, especially Monsanto. And, like most students, I am not quite sure why. I’d heard they make farmers buy new seeds from them every year, keeping food-growers dependent on their GMO-riddled seeds. That seems bad.

Monsanto was at Planet Forward. I heard how much their representative believed in his company, and the good it was doing in Africa with the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) program. They don’t make farmers buy seeds every year to keep the money flowing. They do it because hybrid vitality means seeds produced by their crops are not nearly as productive as the seeds they can create for distribution. GMO’s are used to reduce the amount of water needed to grow corn and prevent blindness in children. They’re not all bad.

I’m not about to become a Monsanto advocate, but they did teach me something very valuable. I agreed that Monsanto was a horrible corporation who was ruining the world without doing my own research. I was using my critical lens as a hostile lens, and not fully understanding both sides of the issue. From now on, I’ll look into why I hate something before I start."

Vir Chachra

"Planet Forward presented me with a unique opportunity to witness the application of several sustainability practices in the real world outside of the academic sphere. The question of equity, in particular, is what drew me to the event, and understanding the ways in which these principles of equity were applied through sustainability, especially in the practice of city building, was incredibly interesting. Bringing together like minded intellectuals and policymakers in a common space for the field of sustainable cities was incredibly constructive in the development of my environmental perspectives, because the event served as a catalyst for me to explore other fields of sustainability outside of my own interests, creating a holistic view of what it means to be an environmental studies major.

Specifically, I really enjoyed the story of Joplin, Missouri, and how the city overcame environmental disaster through a framework of equity and sustainability. In addition to listening to the panel on Joplin, I also had the privilege of speaking with former mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean about her struggles in rebuilding a city from scratch, and I found the element of community in environmentalism particularly interesting. I noticed that human relations and connection is key in solving environmental issues because empathy with environmental disasters is built through strong community. When we speak about issues like climate change, we often forget that different communities are often denied access to these conversations because of certain under-privileges, and Joplin taught me how important it is to bridge these gaps in environmentalism and stand is solidarity towards a more sustainable world. Joplin came together for sustainability, and that aspect of community building is key in larger global environmental policymaking."

Jennifer Damian

"One of the biggest takeaways I had from the summit was the importance of building and maintaining relationships with people who support your initiatives, and even those that don't. Because there is so much uncertainty and denial regarding climate change, I will have to "meet people where they are" and work from there. Additionally, seeing the big businesses such as Uber, Boeing, Monsanto, etc. made me realize that current times are changing the relationship that people usually perceive between businesses/ corporations and the environment. Hearing a Boeing representative talk about sustainability with regards to the model of planes made me realize that, besides the obvious long-term savings that can come with sustainability measures, some companies are going to continue to/ begin to think about sustainability in a more integrated way in connection to their business plans. It is very different, visually, to see a Monsanto representative at a Sustainable cities conference. It really makes you think about what more will come and about how new paradigm shifts may be starting to occur. 

With regards to how information and tools learned at the Planet Forward Summit can be applied towards Middlebury, I think it would be very beneficial for the college to create more classes that focus on sustainable urban design, urban policy, urban construction, etc. especially being integrated with international studies (to possibly connect these studies to language schools/ programs abroad) especially since urban growth will occur internationally, and international cities often are the most stressed compared to U.S. cities. This especially could try to tackle the big question of what do we do with climate refugees from cities?

These are just some of the questions and ideas that this conference sparked, and I am very grateful to Middlebury for giving me the chance to participate."

In 2015, two Middlebury students submitted videos to the Planet Forward Storyfest contest. Check out them out:

Real Food at Middlebury—By Angie Walker '16

Composting—By Chloe Kidder '17