Incorporating sustainability everywhere

By AACC 21st Century Center Staff

Community colleges are honored for their commitment to sustainability.

Going green has paid off for some community colleges in several ways.

Colorado Mountain College (CMC) has been focused on environmental efforts since it signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2009. The college’s sustainability efforts have led to a 13-percent reduction in energy usage, the installation of solar farms and geothermal systems, and innovative landscaping to mitigate water use. CMC promotes and encourages the use of alternative forms of transportation, donates unused food to local nonprofits rather than tossing it and, since 2010, builds to ENERGY STAR or LEED Silver standards.

CMC also has made ecological and sustainability a core part of its curriculum. A new bachelor of arts degree in sustainability studies is one of the first two bachelor’s degrees offered by the college. Students in the program receive classroom instruction blended with hands-on experiences. There also are two associate of applied science degrees with an environmental focus: the natural resource management and environmental science programs.

These efforts led to CMC receiving the 2017 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Postsecondary Sustainability Award.  The designation is given to institutions for sustainable, healthy facilities, wellness practices and sustainability learning. The college was one of only nine postsecondary institutions to receive the recognition.

“At CMC we try to ‘walk the talk’ on sustainability, through installing solar and geo-exchange systems on several of our campuses, expanding recycling and reducing water usage, offering a sustainability studies bachelor’s degree that gives our graduates the tools to be powerful advocates for effective environmental policies, and numerous other initiatives to bring us toward carbon neutrality,” President and CEO Carrie Besnette Hauser said in June when the awardees were announced.

Another 2017 Green Ribbon School, Iowa Lakes Community College, is “powered by the force of the wind and an engaged community,” according to an Education Department report. In 2011, ILCC’s board adopted a Healthy School Program, with a goal of achieving climate neutrality with no net greenhouse gas emissions.

The college constructed its Sustainable Energy Resources and Technologies Center with geothermal renewable energy systems, controlled lighting and heating systems, 10-percent recycled content, and recyclable building materials. A Vestas Wind turbine was constructed for training purposes. All of the electricity from the turbine is sold to the city of Estherville. Nearly $130,000 worth of electricity is generated each year, which covers more than 70 percent of what is used in electricity in the facilities on one campus.

Other efforts include recycling food service grease for biodiesel and the college garden produces some 11,000 pounds of food yearly. The 66,000 square-foot garden also serves as a living classroom. And like CMC, Iowa Lakes incorporates sustainability education into most of its programs, including construction technology, which revolves around the green building process.

“People look at and recognize the fact that we are a Green Ribbon sustainability school,” Steve Olerich, dining service supervisor, said in a release. “In some cases, (that) makes the difference on coming here (for classes). I believe we’ll try and keep that edge.”

What are your college’s sustainability efforts? Sound off at LinkedIn.

AACC 21st Century Center Staff

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.