From Compost to the Classroom: Sustainability as a Way of Life

Sustainability has evolved from a buzzword to a part of everyday life, and as educational leaders deeply ingrained in our local culture, community colleges have the resources, mission and reach to help steward the environmental future of our regions. Our students, partners and community members count on us to prepare them for a brighter future. An environmentally sustainable way of living and doing business is critical to achieving that goal.

Last December the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) Sustainability Education and Economic Development (SEED) Center and the Center on Wisconsin Strategy released “A Guide to Climate Resiliency & The Community College.” That document positions two-year colleges as “a community’s best resource in addressing the urgent conversations around the impacts of climate change, extreme weather and attendant emergencies.” The report called upon all of us in community colleges – as workforce developers, community educators and conveners – to be central to sustainability efforts.

The guide points to community and technical colleges’ proven track record of working with local government, businesses and community members. The guide provides practical recommendations for how community colleges can help their regions plan for education and training, develop curriculum and career pathways for environmental-related occupations, provide leadership in prioritizing regional sustainability needs, and form partnerships that can shape climate action plans.

In our state, the Illinois Sustainable University Compact asks colleges to complete at least one storm water management project, increase overall waste recycled on campus, purchase non-toxic cleaning products whenever practical and compost organic waste produced on campus.

Here are a few ways that Waubonsee Community College is addressing sustainability. Information technology upgrades generate energy savings. Video conferencing systems allow employees at separate campuses to meet virtually rather than drive. Energy efficiency upgrades to buildings reduce costs. And, campus-wide recycling programs reduce waste. We are also proud of our 5th Tree Campus USA designation from the Arbor Day Foundation. Making sustainability part of our culture means that responsibility is shared by all.

Offering classes and programs for community members, local government administrators and business owners on how they can achieve sustainable practices is another way that community colleges leverage our network and resources. In addition, community colleges can also provide professional development opportunities, such as Waubonsee’s Greening Your Curriculum program, so that faculty can incorporate sustainability principles throughout a wide array of courses.

As role models and educators, we must lead by example. When it comes to planting seeds of sustainability, we will reap what we sow.