*ENVR E-143: Sustainability Challenges for Rural Landscapes—Evaluating American Versus European Practices and Policies from Tuscany

This course explores historical and current practices and policies that could function to promote sustainable human and natural landscapes. It consists of weekly online lectures and discussions during the semester that contrast American versus European approaches to sustaining rural landscapes of mixed land uses, focusing on sustainable agriculture, but also discussing small scale forestry, other natural resource use, conservation, and tourism. The course focuses on sustainability issues common in rural landscapes, especially contrasts between New England and Tuscany. In both these regions, ecological and economic sustainability challenges in the rural landscape include the production of local food and wood products for niche markets, managing watersheds, conserving biodiversity, and other environmental services, such as carbon sequestration, and diversifying income streams with ecotourism. Optimizing this mix of functions while minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, other forms of pollution, and energy consumption addresses sustainability goals.

The centerpiece of the course is an intensive—and mandatory—two-week learning experience, April 30-May 14, in residence at Spannocchia, an historical Tuscan estate property near Sienna. The educational mission of the Spannocchia Foundation is to promote sustainability in organic agriculture and animal husbandry, forestry, biodiversity conservation, ecotourism, and energy and waste management practices. Students work in small teams, conducting fieldwork on the 1,200 acres of the estate, evaluating models for these practices from ecological, economic, cultural and policy perspectives, and debating creative ideas for sustainability futures in this inspirational setting with local experts. These field exercises and discussions at Spannocchia are augmented with a day trip to another sustainability site and historic hilltop towns in Tuscany, and an excursion on the weekend to nearby Sienna. Students should not have other work or study commitments during this period. Students enrolled in this course cannot be enrolled in other spring Extension School courses.

The course involves some hiking and fieldwork on many days over uneven ground; because these are critical course activities, students must be physically able to participate. Although mild, sunny spring weather is common, unusually cold and rainy or hot days can occur, not unlike New England. Students stay in double rooms in the Villa and Fattoria. View the Spannocchia website for photos and descriptions of accommodations, programs, and the estate property. Students with documented disabilities should contact the disabilities services coordinator no later than two weeks before the course begins.

Costs: in addition to the course tuition, students are responsible for:

  • 1,030 Euros (approximately $1,500 at the current exchange rate) paid to Spannocchia by January 1. This includes room and board, April 30-May 13.
  • US health insurance that provides coverage outside the United States.
  • Transportation to Florence and from Sienna.
  • The cost of passports and visas (if the latter is needed).

A bus will transport students from the Florence airport to Spannocchia on the afternoon of April 30 and from Spannocchia to Florence on the morning of May 13.

Prerequisites: One or more of the following courses and skills: ENVR E/S-142, ENVR E-151, ENVR E-210, other relevant environmental courses, or permission of instructor. Familiarity with Excel spreadsheets and modeling skills such as cost-benefit analysis, life cycle analysis, and energy or carbon auditing. Preference given to candidates in the Master of Liberal Arts, Sustainability or Ecosystems. Students must be 18 years old. Admission is based on an application, to Dr. Mark Leighton, due December 20.


Mark Leighton







Course ID: 

  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2016-2017 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
  • An asterisk (*) before a course number indicates that a student must obtain the instructor's permission in order to enroll in the course.

Harvard University
Center for the Environment

NEW! Address: 26 Oxford Street, 4th Floor, Cambridge
Phone: (617) 495-0368

Connect with us

Follow HUCE to stay updated on energy and the environment at Harvard and beyond.

Subscribe to our mailing list