Sustainability at NOLS

Credit: Sean Lahav

Sustainable practices will permeate your NOLS experience from the beginning


When you arrive at your NOLS destination, you’ll see the way we focus on key elements of sustainability, from harnessing solar energy to growing our own food. From tracking and mitigating our contribution to climate change, to making gear and food purchases based on their environmental footprints, it’s all part of our commitment to treading lightly on our planet and building a shared sustainable community.


Climate Action

As travelers in wild places, our faculty and students experience firsthand the effects of climate change throughout the world. From receding glaciers on Alaskan mountain peaks to drying deserts in the American Southwest, a changing climate poses real challenges for the use of our classrooms. Exposure to these challenges and changes influences the culture of our school as our faculty and staff are strong advocates for climate action.


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Our Commitment

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The topic of waste resonates strongly with the Leave No Trace principles we practice in the field. Leave No Trace encourages disposing of waste properly and minimizing our impact. Disposing of waste properly to us means recycling where facilities exist, composting organic waste (this includes human waste at some campuses!), and making certain that hazardous waste does not end up in a landfill. Our impact is minimized through our purchases of long-lasting gear and practices of reuse. We encourage the reuse of old equipment through NOLS gears sales, repurpose old building materials for new construction, and reuse cardboard boxes for shipping. In short--reuse, reuse, reuse!




Also referred to as “blue gold,” water is a precious resource that we value highly, especially at campuses located in desert climates or in remote areas with limited availability.

We deploy several tactics to conserve water. Water we don’t use is water saved, so we install low-flow fixtures where practical. Responsible water use is another tactic, so we plant native plants that are naturally suited to local precipitation patterns. Some campuses collect rainwater to irrigate gardens and yards or wash used gear, which lessens the burden of water being pulled from reservoirs. 






When we consider our environmental impact at NOLS, we look beyond our doors and go up the supply chain to make sure we’re purchasing environmentally and socially responsible products.




Transportation is the largest portion of our carbon footprint. Think of all the drop-offs and pick-ups at remote trailheads, the helicopter emergency evacuations into the backcountry, and the travel of our staff to NOLS campuses or other business related travel. It builds up quickly!

Our logistics teams are constantly looking for improved route efficiencies, whether that means supplying multiple courses in one trip, prioritizing access to public lands that are closer to NOLS campuses, or using public transit to access trailheads. We work to be creative. Alternative fuels and vehicles, such as biodiesel, natural gas, and electric hybrids, are also becoming an increasing part of our transportation fleet.





Food is the most intimate part of our sustainability program that students experience. Meals from the NOLS kitchen at most campuses include locally sourced food. Some campuses even get as local as their backdoor with on-site gardens or community supported agriculture (CSA). Our food rations departments, which stock students with food during their course, prioritize buying in bulk to reduce the amount of waste generated during a course. Most campuses also have systems in place for dealing with excess food, such as composting organic mater or dedicating a communal food bin for NOLS employees.




Heating, cooling, and powering our buildings consumes a substantial amount of energy. This is why we have invested in major energy efficiency retrofits while also installing renewable energy, such as solar panels and geothermal heating. But our work is far from over. We continue to assess the resource consumption of our facilities and explore grant opportunities for increased on-site renewable energy.

As we grow as a school with an increased number of students and a wider range of course types, our campuses must adapt and sometimes expand to fit the needs of students and employees. When we consider adding buildings to a campus or retrofitting existing buildings, we reach out to architects practiced in the field of sustainable design so that our facilities incorporate features such as low energy usage, capacity for renewable energy, and a sense of place. In some places this means straw bale houses, while in others it means sourcing materials with recycled content. We want our campuses to inspire by leading by example.


Diversity & Inclusion


In order to sustain access to and an appreciation for wild places, we actively work to diversify our student, instructor, and staff body. Public lands belong to all of us. It is through shared learning of our natural environment that we establish a love for wild places. To learn more about our efforts in diversity and inclusion, visit our Diversity and Inclusion page.

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