Revisiting Harper College’s Sustainability Efforts

It’s been a few years since I wrote my blog post on Harper College’s sustainability initiative and efforts, so I decided to revisit this issue with the college to discover its progress and if there have been any additional programs added to the initial initiative.

Campus Additions

The campus is in the process of adding sub meters to track energy and water efficiency cost savings. The college has also changed the way it collects data for the carbon commitment progress evaluation. So, at the end of the next academic year, Harper should have more accurate findings to report.

Bringing Sustainability Into the Classroom

The Prairie Observation Deck, which was completed in the fall of 2016, is an outdoor classroom of sorts, where students observe and study the plants, birds, and mammals of natural prairie habitats. According to Amy Bandman, Sustainability Coordinator at Harper College, “The great thing about this new deck is that it is accessible so all students are able to participate, whereas the original deck was only accessible by climbing stairs.”

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Harper’s Prairie Observation Deck, Photo Courtesy: Amy Bandman

According to Craig Stettner, Professor of Mathematics and Science, ” My primary use for our prairie platform has been as an outdoor lecture location.  When I teach BIO 103 (Man and the Environment), my small-group sections are comprised of 16 students, a perfect size for the platforms.  This fall, I will have nine small-group sections, all of whom will have to mount the platform and listen to my banter three or four times during the semester. There is no substitute for speaking about something while gesturing towards the real thing.”

Karen Lustig, Professor of Mathematics and Science, also comments, ” I also use this platform for my classes in a similar manner as Craig has described .  We often meet there or regroup  before spreading out into the prairie, woods, etc.  We also use it as an observation post when we study and record birds and mammals for one of our labs.  In the past students in wheelchairs or on crutches have had to remain on the sidewalk to observe and record for lab-now they can get they can get the real feel of what a prairie is like!”

Green In and Outside of the Office

The College introduced the ReUsit Room , the College’s first office supply exchange space. According to the College’s 2017 Sustainability Annual Report, “The ReUsit Room allows employees to obtain office supplies without purchasing new items. Employees are also encouraged to donate gently-used office supplies they no longer need. This waste reduction initiative continues to result in decreased material sent to the landfill and reduced spending.

The goals of this program included:

  1. Find a solution to move out office waste
  2. Create an ongoing method of reducing waste and operational costs
  3. Increase campus participation in waste reduction intitatives.
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Harper’s ReUsIt Room, where old supplies get a second life. Photo Courtesy: Amy Bandman

According to Amy Bandman, Sustainability Coordinator at Harper College, “During the 2017/2018 academic year, 2,636 items were reused from the ReUseIt Room, translating into a money savings of over $5,600 and eliminating 1001 pounds of material from entering the landfill. Since its beginning, the ReUseIt room has repurposed a total of 6,941 items, saved over $14,900 in avoided office supply expenses and saved over 2,400 pounds of material from entering the landfill.”

The ReUsitRoom has helped shift the way the campus things about waste. The ReUseIt Room continues to be utilized as a true exchange space; donations are constantly made to the ReUseIt Room and office supply items are frequently taken out and given a second life. This initiative has helped shift the way the campus thinks about waste.  Old office supplies are no longer seen as trash.

The second annual RePlantIt Free-For-All ton June 5, 2018, drew over 80 employees who shared their plant bounty and picked up new plants for their office or garden. This free plant exchange showcased several hundred plants for employees to enjoy including outdoor plants, vegetables and herbs, indoor office plants. A mix of exotic plants was donated by Harper’s Biology Department. One of Harper’s adjunct faculty, Jennifer Richardson, a master gardener, volunteered at the event answering any questions employees had relating to plants or gardening. This sustainability engagement event continues to engage Harper Employees in greening our campus and community

New Compost Bins

The Harper College Facilities Management has partnered with Harper’s Chemistry department to build composting test bins on campus this spring.  The new compost bins are located on the east side of campus, on the site of the former construction parking lot. The bins will be used by students in Harper’s chemistry classes to conduct research on composting.  Students will study the chemical make-up of compost, which materials make optimal compost and will observe how different kinds of materials alter its chemical make-up.  This green campus project is starting in the classroom with small scale organic material collection with anticipated growth in the future.

 

 

 

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Sustainable Energy Expo – April 21, 2018

Just in time for Earth Month and Earth Day, the Northwest Cook County Sierra Club, in conjunction with its partner hosts Countryside Unitarian Universalist, Citizens Utility Board, Faith in Place, and Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA), will host the Sustainable Energy Expo on August 21 from 12 – 4 pm at the Countryside Unitarian Universalist Church in Palatine, Ill.

In addition to the keynote speakers, there will be panel discussions on topics from climate change to energy efficiency ideas and solar incentives for the home, business, and the community. Expo exhibits include ISEA’s solar house, an electric vehicle demo, and several area organizations.

Admission is free, but you still need to reserve your seats. You may secure your tickets at https://sustainableenergyexpo.eventbrite.com.

Lighting the Way to Greener Libraries

Indian Trails Public Library District, located in Wheeling, Ill., reopened its doors on April 10, 2017 after renovating the building and rebuilding in the space — making the way for a more contemporary, bright, open, and energy-efficient space for all uses and ages.

Racetrack Lighting YS

Photo Courtesy McShane Fleming Studios

Patrons now conduct research amid low wattage LED lighting, which is easier on their eyes and does not cast a shadow. The children’s department is the home to the longest LED racetrack lighting in North America. At 815 feet, this racetrack lighting adds a fun, lively and seamless feel to the department and the rest of the library. The space also has a skylight, which offers patrons natural light, especially during the long winter season. And, visitors can also snuggle up with a captivating book next to the gas fireplace.

 

But, the most relevant upgrade of the new building is the conversion of the pricey electric heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system to a more cost-efficient and cleaner system which features geothermal wells and natural gas boilers. The library currently houses 28 geothermal wells. Since the library reopened in April, it is still too early to report any energy savings since switching from electric to geothermal energy, although early indicators suggest significant cost savings on energy bills.

In September 2017, Indian Trails added green roofs to the west and south sides of the library on the second floor. The plant material is composed of sedum, which is a perennial plant that is native to the area and requires little or no maintenance. In the springtime the plant blooms star-shaped purple flowers.

In June 2017 the library learned that it had become the recipient of a $100,000 grant from EBSCO Information Services, a library resource provider for academic, public library, and government, and school customers. This grant is for the installation of a solar array at the library. The other $100,000.00 grant recipient was the Athens-Clarke County Library located in Athens, Ga.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant and be given the opportunity to further enhance our new building, stated Brian Shepard, the library executive director. “Through our expanded STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics] programming and makerspace initiatives, we hope to educate and inspire residents to explore the lasting benefits that sustainability practices contribute to an informed community.”

Since its doors reopened in April 2017, the response to the new facility has been overwhelmingly positive. In August, the library hosted the solar house exhibit from  the Illinois Solar Energy Association. When the solar panels are installed next year, the library will include programs for all ages about how  families can reduce their carbon footprint, and the benefits of solar energy.