Educating the next generation of climate leaders

By Ellie Ashford

Reducing the impact of climate change requires leadership from higher education, and many community college presidents are taking up that commitment by educating students about sustainability.

Central Community College (CCC) in Nebraska is addressing climate change on several fronts through its environmental sustainability action plan. Since CCC carried out a baseline energy study in 2013, it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly half, says sustainability director Benjamin Newton.

Students who show their knowledge and skills in sustainability in any academic discipline can earn an e-badge in one of three areas: environmental stewardship; symbiosis, which relates to pollinators and pollinator habitats; and problem-solving. Currently, 127 students are working on an e-badge, which is displayed as a logo on a student’s transcript.

Students running sustainability projects using the scientific method can be selected to give a presentation in the sustainability tent at the Nebraska State Fair. This year, 12 students are working on this. Previous projects included mini-wind turbines, crayfish hydroponics, native plants, house walls made of hay bales or recycled aluminum cans, and a display room with furniture made from cardboard.

CCC offers certifications and an associate degree in energy technology, which covers energy efficiency, an introduction to sustainability, and wind and solar energy, which Newton says is booming in central Nebraska. A component on battery storage will start this fall.

The college has taken steps to reduce its own energy use, including small wind turbines on two campuses and a small solar array. Hybrid vehicles comprise 35 percent of its fleet.

The Hastings campus is carbon neutral, Newton says, and CCC’s new Kearney Center is certified as sustainable by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The building is powered by the public utility’s solar farm and has windows that shade themselves during the day, among other energy-saving features.

Other sustainability projects at CCC include composting food waste for campus gardens, free bike rentals, plastic bag recycling, pollinator gardens and a greenhouse that offers free produce to students.

CCC hosts monthly webinars on sustainability topics for other institutions of higher education and nonprofits in Nebraska, and Newton chairs a “resiliency committee” that includes city officials, nonprofits and students.

Newton acknowledges the conservative mindset in Nebraska could be an obstacle, so it’s best to focus on how sustainability benefits the community and the economy. “If I talk about environmental stewardship rather than climate change, I get a lot farther,” he says.

There’s more to the story! Read the full article at CC Daily.

Ellie Ashford

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.