Madrone League: Open Source Sustainability Education

By Erica Frye

Can sustainability education be made affordable and accessible to the entire world?

Hunter Lovins and Gregory Miller, both of whom have been heavily involved in the Sustainable MBA program at Presidio Graduate School, took to the stage at West Coast Green to discuss sustainability education. Asked what would they do differently if they were starting Presidio over again, they announced for the first time publicly they are doing just that with a new educational venture dubbed the Madrone League that would bring the best of sustainability to students inexpensively via web-based content.

They have a vision of education as global, participant-driven, and open source. In the spirit of TED Talks, learners around the world would have access to the brightest minds and expert knowledge that are typically inaccessible to the masses, and even to most educational institutions. Inversely, tapping a worldwide audience would provide a larger student pool to support even the most specialized topics.

The soul of the model is open source collaboration and participation. Content would be delivered online and supplemented locally by faculty mentors, existing educational and corporate institutions, and ad hoc learning groups. Participants would be the architects of their own educational experience, following their passions rather than a prescribed path. The role of student and instructor would become interchangeable, challenging and improving content collaboratively. Students would even be evaluated on their contributions to courses and fellow students.

Perhaps the most resonant — and necessary — aspect of the Madrone League is making this education affordable to all. Leveraging a worldwide population and eliminating expensive infrastructure would allow for a low-cost education for those who have been previously excluded but need sustainability education most of all.

Their vision aligns with current trends and needs: We can no longer afford to make education, especially of sustainability, available only to the well-off. Greater complexity and instability require us to learn in smaller doses throughout our lives, no longer limited to a linear progression from school to work to retirement. Internet access and video capabilities combine to make a virtual learning network viable, something that would not have been feasible even a few years ago. And, the kinds of public/private partnerships that will be needed to support this network have become mainstream.

Their idealism will run headlong into naysayers, and I admit to having a few knee-jerk doubts because I was stuck in the assumptions of traditional education. But, as innovators, they are wise to focus on what might be rather than what might go wrong.

The Madrone Leauge is still taking shape, and they invite input and collaboration — they’ve already been talking to the likes of Jay Ogilvy and Bainbridge, and Arianna Huffington spontaneously offered her support after hearing their announcement from backstage. If you have an idea you’d like to share, Miller says it can be tweeted to @madroneleague.

Erica Frye is a strategist dedicated to building brands driven by culture, mission, and sustainability, and a graduate of the Design Strategy MBA program at California College of the Arts. You can read more from her at

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