A Conversation with Melissa Lee, Founder and CEO of The GREEN Program

This month, ESW welcomes Melissa Lee from The GREEN Program (TGP) to the ESW blog! In addition to being the founder and CEO of The GREEN Program TGP, Melissa has received numerous awards and recognitions, including Forbes 30 Under 30, and The Stevie Awards for Women in Business. Her commitment to education and empowerment within the sustainable community has been nothing short of exceptional. In this post Melissa will provide us with some insight about the scope, goals, and accomplishments of the GREEN Program. 




We would love to know how TGP came to be and what inspired it?


Climate change is our world’s most pressing issue, and we believe that transformative education and design plays a critical role in helping us achieve a sustainable future for our people and planet. Since 2009, our mission at The GREEN Program is to educate and empower future sustainability leaders through innovative models of experiential education, responsible travel, and adventure. Because our programs are focused on getting students first-hand experience with our world’s most pressing issues in sustainable development, all our programs advance the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and every TGP program is designed around a specific set of SDGs. By using the world as our classroom, we are committed to help create a future workforce of responsible, and sustainable global citizens. 


TGP offers students the opportunity to gain real-world experiences in different fields of sustainability. Could you offer some advice to students considering a career in sustainability?


The challenge of creating a sustainable future is a vast and massive endeavor and requires everyone involved in the fight against climate change. Individual action matters more than ever before and for those seeking a career in sustainability, they should know that the world “sustainability” does not need to be in the job title for them to make a difference. There are no prerequisites or experience needed to take climate action in a career. Teachers, janitorial staff, CEOs, engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs all have a responsibility to integrate sustainability into our practices in and out of the office. Many organizations now have sustainability clubs or interest groups that are working alongside company’s sustainability or CSR offices to implement change.  Learn how to align and pitch your impactful ideas with the driving factors behind why your company’s leadership will want to create sustainable change.  Don’t let a job title limit your impact in the spaces that you occupy.  


The travel-based programs at TGP offer some awesome destinations. How many destinations are active in the program?  Give us a sampling and is there any chance of adding new destinations soon? 


Our award-winning programs are all accredited, 8–10-day experiential education programs in the following locations (travel, hybrid, and online options are also available):

  • Iceland: Renewable Energy Innovation & Sustainability
  • Peru: Water Resource Management & Sustainable Practices
  • Nepal: Microgrids for Rural Development
  • Japan: Disaster Mitigation and Nuclear to Renewable Transitions

We also have virtual smart certificate programs that match the skills gained from the course to jobs that are available today:

  • Nepal: Ethics of Sustainable Development
  • Peru: Indigenous Knowledge of Sustainable Development

To learn more about these programs visit: https://thegreenprogram.com/programs

As for new programs, our new program development locations are always kept as a secret until we launch so you’ll have to tune back in soon to find out! 


Describe the types of on-ground activities the travel program provides for its participants and some of the results.


Our programs expertly balance education, exclusive facility access and tours, adventure, and culture all in just 8-10 days. On a typical day on a GREEN Program, students can go from taking a class at Reykjavik University, to touring the largest geothermal facility and first net negative emitting power plant in the world, to hiking in Iceland’s highlands, swimming in geothermal hot springs, hiking a glacier, and enjoying a traditional Icelandic meal camping in the highlands. We deliver a local, off-the-beaten-path experience that our students have dubbed “#onlyonthegreenprogram” experiences. (Look up the hashtag on Instagram and you’ll get a glimpse into a day in the life on a GREEN Program!) We help our students become the best versions of themselves, academically, professionally, and personally through well designed educational experiences that push them out of their comfort zones. 

Post program, we are one of the only program providers that support our alumni with on-going career support such as weekly sustainability career postings, career coaches, mentoring, alumni-exclusive events, and programs, and more. 


Can you tell us how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting TGP, and how you are handling it?


We created our “Learn Now, Travel Later” program model which allows students to complete the classroom portion of our programs online from anywhere in the world, and have established travel dates later when it is safe to do so again. This model is our most popular program model at this point.

We also launched virtual, smart certificate programs that use blockchain technology to match the skills students gain from the course to jobs that are available today. These programs are 100% online and nearly 80% less cost than our traditional travel programs. 

Learn more about our programs at https://thegreenprogram.com/programs


TGP recently added a certificate and master's degree program. What are the benefits of the certificate and master's programs and why should someone consider them?


In 2020, we launched our first M.S. of International Sustainable Development & Climate change degree program in partnership with Antioch University. This program gives students the best of both worlds with online courses provided by Antioch University’s faculty and embeds three TGP program destinations for the global travel component.  This degree is built for the modern-day professional who is eager to enhance their leadership to catalyze change and propel communities and organizations toward progressive sustainability goals and climate resilience. Learn more here: https://thegreenprogram.com/masters 


ESW loves collaborating with TGP. Would you like to share any future initiatives we may collaborate on?


It’s been a fantastic experience collaborating with ESW. We recently co-hosted a networking event to bring our like-minded communities of passionate, sustainability leaders together. Moving forward, we foresee more ways of collaborating on campus, and even globally in the near future. TGP is always open to co-hosting events or speaking with ESW chapters on campus. Those who are interested can contact our team at [email protected] or apply for an upcoming TGP Program at apply.thegreenprogram.com