The Sustainability InstituteThe Sustainability Institute

The Environmental Conservation Corps (“ECC”) Program

Join AmeriCorps

The ECC Program

A Nationally Recognized and Award-Winning Program Affiliated with AmeriCorps.

The Environmental Conservation Corps (“ECC”) is an innovative and award-winning program affiliated with AmeriCorps (The Corps Network) that provides individuals the opportunity to serve their communities while learning new skills and gaining new experience in the field of environmental conservation.  Our goal is to create the next generation of conservation leaders.

The ECC is part of the Opportunity Youth Service Initiative (“OYSI”) and provides workforce training and conservation service experience for young people experiencing barriers.  The Program offers at-risk and economically disadvantaged young adults aged 17-24 an opportunity to learn in-demand conservation skills, to participate in and lead critically important conservation projects, and to become connected with employment opportunities. The Program also provides “soft-skills” training, teaching participants new skills while honing existing skill sets to enable them to thrive both personally and professionally following their service experience.

The service-learning activities focus on two distinct sets of conservation work in our community–

1. Outdoor conservation and green infrastructure projects

Public parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and waterways across the SC Lowcountry.

Restoring wildlife habitats; building rain gardens; constructing and maintaining urban gardens; building rain gardens and performing erosion control; planting native vegetation; performing soil and water testing; constructing recreational trails; and repairing bridges and boardwalks.

2.  Home weatherization and energy/water efficiency upgrades

Low-wealth neighborhoods in the greater Charleston metro area, including Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties.

Home repairs and efficiency upgrades to help families significantly reduce energy use and utility bills, including air sealing the building envelope; installing insulation in attics and crawl spaces; installing smart thermostats; retrofitting lighting; installing water saving devices; and installing safety devices such as smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.  We use an innovative “performance approach” that includes diagnostic testing on the home before, during, and after repairs and using equipment such as blower doors, duct blasters, and infrared cameras to detect problem areas within the home.

Both sets of activities represent important environmental conservation work that make our communities more resilient to climate change impacts.

AmeriCorps members are recruited directly from local Charleston communities to serve 6-month (900 hours) or 1-year (1700 hours) service terms.  During their service, they receive industry-recognized training and certifications.  These include (but aren’t limited to): OSHA 10; Building Performance Institute (BPI); Clemson University Extension Master Rain Gardener; Waders to Water v 2.0; CPR; and Recreational Trail Training.

AmeriCorps members earn a living stipend while they serve and receive assistance in transitioning to postsecondary education or the workforce. Upon completion of their term of service, AmeriCorps members receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. 

2020 study by economists at ICF found that every $1 in federal taxes invested in AmeriCorps and Senior Corps returns $17 to society, program members, and the federal government!


Low-income Homes Upgraded


Average Annual Dollars Saved Per Home


Corps Graduates


Job Placement Percentage


We’re really proud of our results and program impacts.  The ECC has performed more than 300 weatherization projects in the Charleston region, conducted hundreds of community workshops on energy efficiency, formed lifelong relationships with thousands of clients and stakeholders, and became a trusted partner to neighborhoods in our community that are undergoing change.  For this work, the Home Depot Foundation recognized The Sustainability Institute with a National Award of Excellence for Sustainable Community Development.

The Sustainability Institute’s Program is centered on the life changing impacts that result for at-risk young adults who commit to serving their community as AmeriCorps service members.  More than 135 individuals have participated in our program, and we have achieved a 90% job placement rate for graduates.  Additionally, the Program has produced two members who were recognized as AmeriCorps Members of the Year (out of more than 24,000 serving nationwide), Ladine (“JR”) Daniels in 2012 and Timothy Gunn in 2016, as well as a South Carolina Commission AmeriCorps Member of the Year, Derek Dustin in 2016.    

The Program has been featured nationally in many publications and broadcasts including U.S. News & World Report, ShelterForce Magazine, Soledad O’Brien’s Matter Of Fact, and locally in publications including The Post & Courier and the Charleston Regional Business Journal.


Produce certified industry leaders who are ready to meet the regional demand for professionals who are trained to perform specialized energy upgrades on both new and existing homes.


Significant cost savings, up to 30% , are created by performing energy efficiency retrofits on low income homes suffering from high and unaffordable monthly bills.


Corps members are recruited directly from local communities to serve 3 month, 6 month to 1 year terms; receive a successful combination of classroom training, on-the-job training, and apprenticeship; and give back to their communities through their service work.


The ECC crew performs pre- and post- performance tests of the home, develops a scope of work, deploys construction best practices, and performs quality assurance to improve the energy efficiency of the home, resulting in deep savings for the homeowner!


THOUSANDS of low-income families face high energy costs that they cannot afford due to the inefficiencies of their home.

Many homes in our Lowcountry communities suffer from insufficient insulation in their attics and crawlspaces, outdated mechanical systems and appliances, inefficient HVAC duct systems, and general air leakage that results from age and disrepair.  Some homeowners we serve have no insulation at all, and many have inoperatable hvac window units that do not sufficiently cool the home.  These conditions can create critical safety concerns for families, especially went temperatures rise in the summer season.

Low income families are often economically stifled by high, monthly energy bills and spend a disproportionate amount of their income on their monthly energy costs. The repair and “upgrading” of these homes has become a national cause and urgent priority for our local communities.


Ellen Smalls, Homeowner

I knew I was cold but nobody else could feel it but me. Breezes were coming from the floors, the walls, the bathroom… everywhere in my house. My light bill was up there and I had to go get help from Human Services over and over…The amazing thing [was] that after I got this done, the first month my light bill went down to $134! It was like $300 a month [before]!”