Community Colleges Adding Green to Community – Part 5, Elgin Community College

The foceccus of our fifth part in our series about Chicago area community colleges sustainability efforts circles back to a more urban environment – Elgin Community College (ECC). Located approximately 25 miles west of Chicago, Elgin is the seventh most populated city in the state of Illinois.

Creating a More Responsive Sustainable Community

According to Ileo N. Lott, Ed.D. Dean of Sustainability, Business, and Career Technologies, unlike other Chicago area community colleges, “The campus [ECC] does not have a master plan for sustainability, but our commitment to sustainability is reflected in ECC’s Strategic Goal #5 to ‘strengthen educational and workforce partnerships to create a more responsive and sustainable community.'”

Lott explains that partnerships to grow sustainability throughout the campus continue to be a main focus. He states that ” Globally, the focus of sustainability is to accomplish the best outcomes while maintaining and, better yet, reducing resources. We are measured by our effectiveness in reducing our resources based upon the investment we make in our educational and workforce partnerships.”

With the creation of the Business and Career Technology Center in 2010, ECC seized its commitment to sustainability. The Energy Business Management Program, which “focuses on preparing students for work as mid-level technicians in the renewable energy industry as technicians in large, commercial facilities in the area of environmental controls and computerized building automation. Many companies…are required to measure their energy management consumption…,” explains Lott.

Sustainable practices is a part of the curriculum for all career and technology programs at the College, demonstrating the importance of sustainability to its students as a best practice for most organizations today.

Showing Green On Campus

ECC's Building A.

ECC’s Building A.

Sustainability is not only a philosophy at ECC, but the campus has started showing its belief in sustainability and green practices too. The College’s Building A; which houses the biology, microbiology, anatomy, physiology and other science and medical classes; was recognized as the 2013 recipient Project of the Year by the Construction Industry Service Corporation (CISCO). According to an ECC press release, “It [Building A]  [received] LEED Silver certification, which underscores the college’s focus on environmental stewardship.

After the decision to incorporate sustainability, ECC became a member of the Illinois Green Economy Network, which led to hands-on opportunities for the campus to adopt sustainable practices.

For example, the … Energy Management students conducted an energy audit for light usage in the manufacturing building that led to more efficient LED bulbs being used throughout the building. Additionally, several water bottle filler stations were installed across the campus to encourage the use of refillable water bottles. Each station keeps a tally on how many plastic water bottles have been saved.”

Lott states, ” Future plans at ECC [include] to continue to make sustainability a campus and community effort. There is a campus-wide sustainability committee and, most recently, a student-led club, Student Organization for Sustainability (SOS). Additionally, other student led clubs such as the CEO club have  embraced sustainability in sponsoring of Earth Day Events and promoting the entrepreneurial mindset.”

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

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/.

 

 

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.

Back to School….Green

So, it’s just about that time again – school back in session! I’m sure these words are music to many parents’ ears, but kids, on the other hand, are dreading waking up and sitting inside for eight hours once again.

What are some things we can do to instill green habits in the next generation of stewards of the Earth?

  • Not every piece of clothing needs to be new. Sure, you want to wear a brand new outfit on that first day of school, but there are many “fashion conscious” thrift stores popping up where kids can find something “new” to wear without breaking the  school_45bff72d1bbank and being better to Mother Earth too.
  • If possible, pack lunches in reusable containers and lunch bags
  • Buy products with minimal packaging
  • Walk, cycle or bus to school
  • Buy Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified paper products – the FSC is  an organization that certifies wood and paper products grown in forests that are responsibly managed.
  • Reuse school supplies that are in good condition — save money and resources by purchasing what’s really needed! If you can’t reuse the supplies, donate them to your local school, daycare or another place that may use them, such as a library.

Outside of the basics, keep kids in touch with nature. Take the kids out for a fun evening walk – catch fireflies, view the constellations.  Instead of sitting in front of the computer or TV for hours after school, get out and stretch your legs and imagination. Weather permitting, schedule some fun outdoor events on the weekend – go for a family bike ride or visit a local nature center.

Earth Day Is Every Day

So, Earth Day is Friday, April 22. And like many people you’re probably thinking “So what? I’m just one person I can’t make a difference.” And, borrowing from a well-used slogan, I’m saying “Yes you can!” In fact, if us “little people” then what can be done?

The first thing we need to do is spread the word! Educate people. When I learn something regarding the environment I try to educate my friends and family — social media is great for this. Plus, with social media you aren’t being as pusy or intrusive, but you are still making a difference and, if people don’t want to read your post or blog then they can just ignore it as opposed to if you are actually talking to the person and he or she feels like he has to stand there and listen to what you’re saying even though he just wants to walk away.

Educate yourself — keep on top of environmental news so you know what you’re talking about! Many of the larger newspapers now have special sections dedicated to the environment. The New York Times online has its own environment section, which I follow on Twitter and stay educated — in my opinion, the Times  is still one of the best sources of great journalism out there. But there are plenty of other great resources, especially green blogs, and even books — the genre of green/environmental nonfiction has exploded over the past few years. Ever since the success of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and the idea of global warming becoming accepted by the mainstream public, more books have appeared on the bookshelves because there is an audience for this topic.

The Three R’s — Recycle, Reuse and Reduce. Recycling isn’t just for plastic, glass and paper anymore. Just about anything can be recycled — you just have to do the research. For example, household batteries should not be thrown away with the trash but most people do this. My local village accepts batteries to be recycled — and other place throughout my village accept batteries. You just need to do the research. Also, don’t just trash those old cell phones and laptops — electronics can leak hazardous chemicals into the Earth. There are many places set up just to recycle electronics. Reuse — I try to reuse as much as I can, such as paper I misprinted I’ll use for scratch paper. Books I’ve read and don’t want to keep or clothes I can’t fit into I will donate. Or, many times, I visit thrift stores for clothes myself — you can find some real gems, same with used book stores. Reduce — do you really need to buy bottled water? Sure, plastic can be recycled but recycling plastic uses so much energy and emits carbon into the atmospher that it’s a waste. Why not buy a pitcher and a filter and just drink filtered tap water?

There are so many other things we can do such as cut down on the use of chemicals — make your own household cleaners and detergents. It’s easy and cheap. Don’t use chemicals on your lawn — this seeps into the water supply and also poisons the animals — start a compost pile. Watch your energy and water consumption.

And the list goes on and on, but I believe we need to start with education and awareness.