Putting The Environment First- Initiatives Promote Sustainability at Whatcom

By Taylor Nichols

Whatcom Community College’s efforts to reduce the carbon footprint left by the school can be seen all over campus, from compost bins to bike racks.

In 2008, the college-wide focus on sustainability became more prominent when Whatcom made it a goal in its Strategic Plan to “strengthen sustainability practices on-campus and in local and global arenas.”

Taking a class that involves sustainability became a requirement for completing an associate’s degree when this goal was added, said Bob Reisenberg, the chair of the Sustainability Committee at Whatcom.

“Students engage [sustainability] within the course of earning their degree because we believe that understanding sustainability is critical to a student’s future well-being,” Reisenberg said.

The Sustainability Committee, which was created in 2008, is composed of staff members who represent all departments of the college and includes a student member, Mackenzie Clarke.

Reisenberg said that the committee works together to come up with ideas on how to improve the college’s environmental practices as well as how to implement these plans.

“I wanted to be on the committee to make a difference and I’m giving them the ability to use my resources,” Clarke said. “I might have a bigger outlet to the students.”

The Sustainability Club and Service Learning Club are two of the prominent student-led clubs centered on lessening the environmental impact at Whatcom.

Courtenay Chadwell-Gatz, the advisor of the Sustainability Club, said their main focus this year has been raising money to replace water fountains on campus with water bottle refill stations like the one that has already been installed in Laidlaw Center.

“We’re trying really hard to take incremental steps toward the end goal of making campus plastic water bottle free,” Chadwell-Gatz said.

Each water bottle refill station costs about $1100, and Chadwell-Gatz said that the majority of the funds for these have come from fundraisers put on by the Sustainability Club, such as the Reduce and Reuse sale they will put on during Earth Week.

Off campus, Whatcom participates in a community supported agriculture group in which faculty and staff members commit to buying fresh produce from local farmers and the money is deducted from their paychecks, Reisenberg said.

One project staff and students at Whatcom are preparing for is the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, or STARS, which Reisenberg said is a system for colleges and universities to “look at how sustainable they are as an institution.”

Participating schools rate themselves using the system in all possible areas from how sustainable their buildings are to modes of transportation used by staff and students to get to school, and are ranked at varying levels.

Reisenberg said that no community college has been ranked as gold, the highest level, and that this is Whatcom’s goal.

The new Auxiliary Services Building near Orca Field will help Whatcom achieve that goal. Reisenberg said the building was made with sustainability in mind by meeting all the criteria needed to make it a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building.

Reisenberg said that this means the design was made to “use the most sustainability in their design, materials, energy and water usage,” and is intended to have a low impact on both the environment and those who will use the building.

According to the Washington State Department of Ecology, all projects that receive funding from the state must be built to one of three “green standards,” one of which is the LEED certification program.

Whatcom does a campus-wide waste audit twice each year, in which the contents of each garbage receptacle on campus are spread out on tables. Students, staff and faculty members volunteer to sort the garbage in an effort to see what is really being sent to the landfill each day.

Chadwell-Gatz said that the waste audit done in spring 2012 showed that 82 percent of what was in the garbage bags was actually recyclable or compostable, and 18 percent of the garbage should have gone to landfills.

This is an improvement from the first waste audit done in spring 2010, which showed that 7 percent of the garbage sorted was not recyclable or compostable.

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