The big Chill Out
Butte College’s efforts in sustainability have earned the school national attention
When Mike Miller looks around Butte College, he sees a lot of green. That’s only natural—the campus is a thousand-acre preserve sitting on rolling hills, with a nursery as well as a nature trail. There’s also a solar “farm” and ecologically aware developments across the learning environment.
Miller is the facilities director and land-use coordinator at the community college. A big aspect of his job is greening the campus without spending many greenbacks.
“We don’t have the money that the CSUs and UCs have,” he explained, “so we have to be innovative and efficient in everything.”
So far five buildings at Butte College have received “gold” certification under LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Conservation projects abound—throughout campus facilities, lighting has been retrofitted and HVAC units have been upgraded.
“Old buildings are a gold mine in energy efficacy,” Miller said.
The redesign efforts just scratch the surface of Butte College’s sustainability efforts, which run so deep that Miller and his colleagues find themselves in elite company.
The National Wildlife Federation announced in a webcast Wednesday afternoon (April 16) that Butte earned a grand prize in the competition Chill Out: Campus Solutions to Global Warming. More than 175 schools participated, but just eight received the award, bestowed last year to Chico State.
“Every one of our Chill Out winners deserves an Oscar for the example they have set,” Julian Keniry, the NWF’s director of Campus and Community Leadership, said in a written announcement. “Campuses nationwide are demonstrating that we can combat global warming, protect habitat, and save money at the same time.”
Precisely the aim at Butte College. “Sustainability is one of our five strategic initiatives,” President Diana Van Der Ploeg said in the news release, “and it is one of our goals to be carbon neutral by 2015. We believe, as an institution of higher education, we have a responsibility to model sustainability in everything we do.”
Turning carbon neutral within seven years is a tall order. Butte is one of the largest community colleges in terms of acreage, the fourth-largest in the country. It has its own water and transportation systems, waste-treatment facility and police department.
On the other hand, it has a solar array covering 3 1/2 acres. The campus already has reduced its use of electricity and natural gas by a third. Also, recycling efforts absorb three-fourths of the waste stream, and the campus estimates its buses—the largest community-college transit system in the state—keep 1,000 cars off the road each day.
“This truly says they are leaders in global-warming solutions,” Jennifer Fournelle of the NWF told the CN&R. As the federation’s campus ecology associate, Fournelle helped assess programs ranging from college bike loans to energy-efficiency upgrades.
Two other West Coast colleges got Chill Out awards: the University of Washington and Cascadia Community College. Rounding out the winners’ list were the University of Missouri, the Berkshire School (Sheffield, Mass.), the University of Montana, Berea College (Ky.) and Daemen College (Amherst, N.Y.).
“Campuses have so much to demonstrate to the rest of us,” Fournelle continued. “With all the research abilities and student energy, they are great examples of change.”
Butte’s changes are internal, too. The college is working to retrain faculty to adopt sustainability themes into their curricula and to develop new courses. Plus, there are new programs: In addition to a Green Building certificate, the college plans to offer Sustainability Studies certificates and degrees.
“We’re creating a carreer path in the community for students coming out of high school to go to Butte and possibly Chico State to follow a future in sustainability,” said Butte College Sustainability Coordinator Kelly Munson.
Equipping students with technical education for sustainable careers not only will move them forward, but also will put Butte College—and Butte County—on the map for future eco-conscious generations.
Melinda Riley, who teaches about the future of sustainability at Butte College, feels the Chill Out award will inspire people to consider the campus and the community, though she remarked, “I don’t believe competition has a place in a sustainable future.”
That’s evident in the relationship between Butte College and Chico State, which jointly put on the annual This Way to Sustainability conference.
“Our sustainability committee has a highly collaborative spirit,” Riley said. “We check our egos at the door when we go to work. We recognize this is not about us, it’s about the future.”