Community Colleges Adding Green to Community – Part 3, McHenry Community College

Part three of this ongoing series about Chicago area community colleges and their sustainability efforts explores the most rural area of this huge area — McHenry County College (MCC).

Located in Crystal Lake, “McHenry County College has had a long standing, 20-year commitment toward sustainability,” stated Kim Hankins, Director, Sustainability Center at MCC.

McHenryCountyCollegeLogoThis commitment began in 1994 with the the Lou Marchi Total Recycling Institute (LMTRI), which, according to the MCC Web site “… was established through an endowment by a former continuing education instructor and community leader for environmental issues, to promote recycling in the community. The LMTRI has helped establish used paint and athletic shoes recycling programs; co-sponsored electronic and hazardous waste collection events; assisted with green business programming; and hosted Earth Day events and a variety of environmental programs.”

Sustainability Center

MCC’S Sustainability Center focuses on “….three interconnected areas, which creates a holistic approach to sustainability,” as stated on the College’s Web site.

These three areas are:

  1. Green Campus including physical campus and campus operations.
  2. Green Education that includes curriculum development for a green economy and training for employees and students about sustainable practices.
  3. Green Community including how MCC shares with the community resources that improve quality of life.

Aligning with green campus is the installation of  335 solar panels on the Shah Center in McHenry. “In June 2014, the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN) awarded MCC a $250,000 grant to go towards a 91 kW solar photovoltaic installation,” as stated on the Web site.

These solar panels account for approximately 50 percent of the necessary power to run the Shah Center, while providing McHenry County residents with an estimated reduction of 75 tons of carbon per year.

MCC offers a variety of credit and noncredit workshops focusing on sustainability and the environment. The credit classes cover many subjects — from Alternate Fuel Vehicles, which discuss vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) , propane (LPG) and bi-fuel vehicles that alternate between gasoline and CNG or LPG to hydroponics, which studies hydroponic systems for growing horticultural crops and plants in indoor environments to a Creative Leadership project, which is part of the Fast Track Business Management program, which focuses on promoting green technology.

Even if a class is not specifically geared toward sustainability, Hankins explained that this sustainability and green thinking is embedded into each curriculum. For example, as part of the lesson on decision making in Introduction to Psychology, the decision whether or not to recycle is used as the example.

Green Community, College

MCC reaches out to the community to promote sustainability. MCC’s Sustainability Center and the LMTRI publish the annual McHenry County Green Guide, which is full of lots of new and reusing information, including a Green Living section on where you can purchase green products locally and online. And, the Sustainability Center provides education for the college and the community about solid waste.

As stated in it’s Sustainability Plan, MCC’s vision is that the College…”will be a premier model of sustainability and environmentalstewardship through campus practices and education for District 528 and the greater McHenry County community. Through leadership and education, McHenry County College will improvethe quality of life for current and future generations.”

 

 

Advertisements

Community Colleges Adding Green to Community Part 2 — Harper College

So, next in my series about sustainability and Chicago area community colleges is Harper College. Located in Palatine, Harper College holds a special place in my heart and mind because Harperthis was the community college I attended after high school and before I transferred to Northeastern Illinois University. The College has grown and changed — I had difficulty finding where I was supposed to meet someone – didn’t even recognize the campus! But, that’s a good thing! And, I was also very happy to learn about the green efforts the College is making toward sustainability.
In order to move forward with its sustainability efforts, Amy Bandman was hired as Harper’s first Sustainability Coordinator, who has stated that “…the biggest sustainability challenge is community engagement – those at the school have to take ownership of being green and healthy, but it’s hard because Harper is a commuter school.”

Moving Forward

Even though community engagement may be a struggle, there have been many sustainability victories at Harper — the most significant being the drop from 2.18 million gallons of water usage to 1.85 million gallons between May 2014 and May 2014 – that’s a difference of .33 million gallons in one year.

“In just one year we [Harper College] have reduced paper towel consumption by four and a half tons just by switching to hand dryers — this has saved the college over $12,000,” explained Bandman

The College has also made progress achieving the goals set in its 2013 Climate Action Plan. In its January 15, 2015 American College & University President’s Commitment, Bandman reported that “Harper College has achieved its first target set forth in phase one of the climate action plan, achieving 5% reduction in energy use of purchased utilities compared to the base year of 2010 and 15% offset of carbon emissions from purchased utilities via renewable energy certificates.

Also, per the climate action plan, all newly constructed buildings at Harper must meet LEED Silver status.

Landscaping at the College is not untouched; Harper  has planted more native plants and now grow these plants in house in the greenhouse in peet pots, thus, reducing the waste of plastic pots. Also, vegetated swales can be seen in the north parking lot and near the new parking garage.

Harper’s Welding Technology department has even become involved in sustainability efforts. The Welding department build two new bicycle racks which hold seven bikes — these racks, which are placed in front of the new buildings promote both welding and bicycling.

According to the College, “The [welding] class will work each semester to fabricate two bike racks and Physical Plant staff will continue to install the bike racks on campus. This is a great opportunity to showcase student work on campus while helping to contribute to Harper’s green efforts. Instructor Adam Phan shares his excitement for “spotlighting our program and giving the students such a great opportunity to have a long lasting, positive impact on campus; this is really something we can all be proud of.”

Harper is also moving toward stream recycling where all items that can be recycled can be thrown in the same bin instead of having to separate items, making it easier for those on campus to participate in recycling efforts. Also, those water bottle filling stations located throughout campus have eliminated 718,000 one-use bottles, according to Bandman.

Involvement

In addition to Harper’s Environmental Club, the Sustainability Department is offering a Sustainability Series with various programs. The next program is Whole Home Efficiency: Ways To Save Energy and Money on Tuesday, July 21 — free lunch will be provided. For more information about this and upcoming events check out http://goforward.harpercollege.edu/about/consumerinfo/sustainability/.

 

 

Sustainable Chicago 2015

Chicago has set the ambitious goal of being the first sustainable city in the US and the Sustainable Chicago 2015 plan, is already underway with 24 goals and 100 key actions. Named the 2014 National Earth Hour Capitol, Chicago is the first city with a climate smart policy.

According to a September 18, 2015 article on its Web site, the World Wildlife Foundation noted, chicagoflag“Sustainable Chicago is a broad action plan that covers seven themes: economic development and job creation; energy efficiency and clean energy; transportation options; water and wastewater and waste and recycling; parks, open space and healthy food; and climate change.”

The seven categories of Sustainable Chicago 2015 “…are related and reinforce each other…”:

  1. Economic development and job creation
  2. Energy efficiency and clean energy
  3. Transportation options
  4. Water and wastewater
  5. Parks, open space and healthy food
  6. Waste and recycling
  7. Climate change

Some of the 2014 achievements touched all seven categories and include:

  • Greencorps Chicago Youth Program provides high school students summer learning and workforce training in horticulture and bicycling.
  • Chicago became the first city to include online energy disclosure in residential home sale listings.
  • Launched Drive Electric Chicago, a one-stop shop Web site for residents to gather information about electric vehicles, including charge station installation guidelines for multiunit buildings.
  • The Space to Grow partnership built green infrastructure projects on the Chicago Public School campuses.
  • The Large Lots Program offered city-owned vacant lots to local residents, block clubs and community organizations for $1.
  • The city and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District agreed to partner in reusing tree waste in water treatment, and compost wastewater treatment byproduct to fertilize Chicago Park District open spaces.
  • City council passed a plastic bag ban in large retail stores (goes into effect August 2015)
  • Coal-free power acquired for all municipal facilities

According to the report, “In the third and final year of Sustainable Chicago 2015 we, [the City of Chicago] look forward to continue our progress and lay the groundwork for Chicago’s leadership in sustainability in 2016 and beyond.”

For more detailed information on Sustainable Chicago 2015 including goals visit http://www.cityofchicago.org/content/dam/city/progs/env/SCYear2Report.pdf.

 

 

Chicago Ban on Plastic Bags – August 2015

We see them strewn on the sides of streets, in parks, in forest preserves and just about everywhere else — plastic bags! They’ve become more of an annoyance instead of a convenience.

After last month’s statewide ban of single-use plastic bags in California, Chicago is set to join California and other major US cities Seattle and Austin in this cause in August 2015. Chain stores which are defined as a group of three or more stores that have the same owner or franchise stores of more than 10,000 square feet, will no longer be allowed to offer plastic bags.

The proposal, which was supported by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, was passed in April 2014 by a vote of 36-10.  Those retailers not compliant to the new law will face fines between $300-$500.

According to a April 30, 2014 Chicago Tribune article, “Environmental advocates said the ban would reduce the number of reusable-bagbags littering parkways, fluttering in trees, bloating landfills and clogging drains. But store owners and plastic bag manufacturers said the paper bags likely to replace plastic pose cause their own share of environmental woes and, because they cost more, will lead to higher prices at city stores.”

Some not-so-fun facts about plastic bags from reusit.com:

  • Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
  •  About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
  • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
  • The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
  • Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
  • Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
  • It is estimated that worldwide plastic bag consumption falls between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags annually. That breaks down to almost 1 million every minute.
  •  In good circumstances, high-density polyethylene will take more than 20 years to degrade. In less ideal circumstances (land fills or as general refuse), a bag will take more than 1,000 years to degrade.
  • Every square mile of the ocean has about 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it. (UN, 2006)
  • Ten percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean. 70% of which finds its way to the ocean floor, where it will likely never degrade. (UN, 2006)

Of course, not everyone is for this citywide ban, citing economic reasons.

Tanya Triche, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said in a statement reported by ABC Chicago. “Driving up expenses for retailers and forcing customers to pay more at the store while not helping the environment flies in the face of the city’s goal to make Chicago one of the nation’s greenest cities and support companies that have invested significantly in Chicago’s neighborhoods.”

Will this ban help one of the greenest cities in the nation be even greener? We still have about 10 months to see what will happen, but Chicagoans can start getting into greener habits in preparation for this ban. Many major chain stores offer reusable bags for sale for as low as 99 cents. There are many Web sites out there for reusable bags and, sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can get these bags for free. In my opinion, reusable bags are better than plastic and even paper too because many times these bags are made from recycled material, they hold more items and can be easily cleaned and reused.

 

 

 

 

Green Alternatives For Autumn Yard Work

September already! It seems as though we were just peeling off our parkas for the warm summer sun and now we’re digging through our closets searching for those hoodies, jeans and other fall clothes we were so eager to get rid of back in the spring.

For some of us fall also means preparing our yards for the nasty, and sometimes just plain brutal winters, which we leavesexperienced last winter in many parts of the U.S. including the Midwest. But, gardening nowadays means a lot of noise and pollution.In fact, according to an article posted on EarthShare’s Web site, “…one gas-powered leaf blower can emit as much pollution as 80 cars!”  What can modern gardeners do to adequately prepare their gardens for the winter while treating the Earth better?

The number one tip is to choose hand-powered tools over gas-powered tools. Sure, it may take you longer and it may be a bit more strenuous, but think of it as a built-in workout.  Some suggestions include:

  • Choose rakes over leafblowers. Rakes are just as effective. If you really need a leafblower for a difficult spot to reach, choose an electric leafblower, which are quieter, more energy-efficient and do just as good of a job than a gas-powered leafblower.
  • Try electric trimmers instead of energy-intensive garden trimmers.
  • Most lawns are small enough for hand lawn mowers instead of power mowers. If you decide you need a power mower, conduct some research on electric mowers, which make less noise and have less environmental impact.
  • Hire the neighborhood kids to help! Don’t have the time to take care of your lawn or garden?! Hire the neighborhood kids – it’s more affordable and ecological – plus it teaches the kids responsibility.
  • Compost as much as possible. Spread a thin layer of screened compost about a quarter of an inch to a half of an inch thick on the top of your lawn.
  • Final mowing – for the final mow of the season, cut the grass a little shorter than usual to prevent matted grass and snow mold.
  • When fertilizing your lawn try organic alternatives. Start by leaving the grass clippings on your lawn. Plant clover, which is rich in nitrogen. And then you can also leave compost on your lawn once a year.

These are just a few alternatives to prepare your lawn and garden during the fall for the winter months. These gardening tips have been around a lot longer than chemicals and gas-powered machines and work just as well, or even better. Many times, these alternatives may also be less expensive as well.

Summertime Conservation Tips

energy-efficiencyIt’s summertime – get outside and play! Take advantage of the extra hours of sunlight, warm summer breezes and just the pure happiness that summer brings. If you live just about anywhere in the three-quarters of the United States that experienced the “Polar Vortex” and the winter from
hell – 2014, you’re happy it’s winter and not going to complain even when it gets to 100 degrees and humidity!

But, with summer comes wastefulness of energy and water. Sometimes we think about just flicking a switch or using extra water to cool ourselves down.

The United States Department of Energy has compiled some energy saving tips for consumers to still enjoy their summer, save money and save energy. Some of these tips include:

  • If  you live in a climate where it cools off in the evening, turn off the air conditioning and open the windows while you are sleeping. In the morning shut the windows and close the blinds to capture the cool air.
  • Install window coverings to prevent heat gain.
  • Set the thermostat as high as comfortably possible — the smaller the difference between the indoor temperature and outdoor temperature, the lower your cooling bill.
  • Use fans and ventilation strategies to cool your home and don’t forget to turn off the fans when you leave the room.
  • Don’t heat your home with appliances and lighting — on hot days cook on the stove or grill outside….or just eat cold foods!
  • Wash only full loads of laundry.
  • Take showers instead of baths.

Not only do we waste energy, we waste water too. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates “Depending upon the region homeowners use 30-60% of their water outdoors. Fifty percent of that is wasted, in part, due to overwatering.”

Sure, we like our lawn and garden to look perfect, but there is a proper way to water our grass, flowers and produce.  One thing we can do is water in the early morning and at dusk — this prevents wasteful evaporation of water in the hot summer sun.

The EPA also suggests:

  • Step on the lawn – if the grass springs back, it doesn’t need water.
  • Leave it long – longer grass promotes a more drought-resistant lawn, reduced evaporation and fewer weeds
  • Take a sprinkler break – grass really isn’t meant to be bright green in the summer.
  • Look for the WaterSense label if you’re shopping for a new timer – this can reduce water usage by 15 percent, saving nearly 8,800 gallons of water per year.

 

These are just a few summertime conservation tips — when it comes to saving water and energy and water it boils down to common sense and your specific needs.

 

Chicago Shows Signs of Green Hope

About a month ago I attended the Building Green Chicago Conference & Expo, sponsored by Sustainable Chicago magazine and was happy to be among other agreeing individuals representing many professions from the building industry, city employees and students – a sign of the future.

Deborah Stone, Cook County’s first Sustainability Officer and Director of the Cook County Department of Environmental Control was this year’s keynote speaker.

DSC00057According to Stone, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle’s goal is to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) by 80 percent by 2050. The June 5, 2013 Report of the Cook County Advisory Council reported that in 2012, 150 structures consumed 247 million kwhs of energy and 13 million therms of natural gas. County government buildings use consume 90 percent of the city’s energy. The top three structures of focus are:

  • Department of Corrections – 35%
  • Stroger Hospital Campus – 26%
  • Various remaining buildings – 11%

Stone also noted that Preckwinkle’s vision is for Chicago to be the most sustainable county it can be.

The Sustainability Advisory Report, which was released in June 3013 states “Building energy is the largest source of GHG emissions, accounting for 67 percent of the emissions in the County.”

During her presentation, Stone explained that the County is ahead of its reduction of emissions target. The reduction of GHGs is not seen as a project, but is a driving force. GHGs impact five million residents and 130 muncipalities; these emissions cause  climate change in various ways including extreme weather and different health impacts. According to the June 2013 Report, the environmental benefits of reducing GHGs include environmental benefits from efficiencies in the conservation of water, land and other natural resources; reduction of particulates, toxic metals and other pollutants.

Please note – I am always looking for new ideas about green efforts and the environment to blog about – both local (Chicago area), general and global. I’m also very interested in expanding upon these ideas and writing more research-driven articles for publications.  Also, I apologize for the delay on this blog – there was a lot going on and I just could not find the time to write the article until now.  Please contact me if you like – lrjwriteedit@gmail.com.

 

What We Can Do In The Summer to Be Green

Now that it’s summertime, or at least close to summertime (and hopefully feeling like summer soon — by me it feels more like March), there are many things we can do every day to be green.

  1. Pedal Power! If you need to run some errands within a reasonable amount of distance why not get your workout in and your errands completed at the same time and walk or ride your bike to the store or wherever you need to go?
  2. This ties into #1 — when you run your errands use your own bags — don’t use those plastic bags! Even though you can recycle them, it takes energy to recycle those plastic bags.
  3. Another way to be good to the Earth during these warm months is to open the windows — cut down on your air conditioning usage to reduce your carbon footprint.
  4. Eat local. I don’t know about you, but I live where there are four seasons so I love it when the summer farmer’s markets come to town. Support your local farmers and buy locally grown food, which not only reduces your carbon footprint, these foods are usually not treated with any pesticides.
  5. Cheap entertainment — many communities offer free activities, such as concerts during the summer. So, get out and enjoy some free music and entertainment, talk to your neighbors and turn those lights out and get out!
  6. We need to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, so look into an electric or push lawn mower.
  7. Compost
  8. Don’t water your lawn — I know we all want our lawns to look perfect and green, but what a waste of water and energy! Let Mother Nature do the watering for you.
  9. Don’t use any chemicals on your lawn — so what if you have weeds on your front lawn? Think of the chemical runoff and pollution — also many animals eat grass, so you may be harming an animal feeding on your grass.
  10. Spread the word — continue to spread the word about being green.