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A Green College Grows In Northern California

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A Green College Grows In Northern California

By Community College Times, Published June 21, 2008

Butte College (California) rests on a 928-acre wildlife refuge and is home to an extensive "green building" program. Its president wants to make the campus carbon neutral by 2015.

Last month, the college was named the top winner of the 2008 Chill Out Contest sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation for its efforts in energy conservation, education, collaboration and green-building construction. This month, it held a national sustainability conference.

So it's safe to say Butte College is one of the national leaders in sustainability, and one that can serve as a model for community colleges.

Because of its location and size (20,500 students and 1,500 faculty and staff), the campus functions as a small city: it has its own water supply, provides one of the largest bus transportation systems in California, runs a waste treatment facility, captures solar energy to produce 28 percent of its own power and organizes a campus recycling program that captures 75 to 93 percent of its waste stream.

All this didn't happen over night. Sustainability was institutionalized a few years ago when the college conducted a strategic planning session comprising a cross section of campus stakeholders. Five strategic initiatives were identified, including sustainability.

Now, when possible, college President Diana Van Der Ploeg provides financial support to sustainability initiatives across the district service area. Part of that financing will soon include a full-time sustainability coordinator to ensure the college remains a national higher education leader in the movement.

The college's sustainability committee is composed of faculty, students and staff, all working on a sustainability plan. Meeting bi-monthly, the committee oversees projects, assessment, grants and funding. In addition, a number of action committees allow students to work on specific sustainability projects and areas of the plan.

Faculty and department heads at the college are working to create a variety of certificate and associate degree programs that focus on aspects of sustainability. Certification programs in development include sustainability theory, hybrid/alternative fuel, auto technology, environmental restoration and energy assessment training. Associate degrees in development include green building construction management, ecological design, sustainable land use/planning and sustainability studies.

The college is also working with California State University's Chico Campus and the University of California system to provide students with course articulation for sustainability curriculum.

"We believe it's important to weave sustainability into courses so all students can understand the concept," Van Der Ploeg said. "Our students are excited about sustainability and have formed new clubs like the Student Alliance for Sustainability or Friends of the Refuge. The Associated Students also funded a new Sustainability Resource Center, with books, magazines and other materials."

A local bond measure that passed in 2002 has helped to provide the college with $85 million to upgrade its campus. By the end of the 2009, five new campus buildings will be certified by U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

"We are integrating sustainable products in our building projects, from flooring to countertops," said Van Der Ploeg.

The college has also worked to complete energy conservation projects throughout campus facilities. From 2002 to 2006, the college's overall usage per square foot of electricity and natural gas in campus facilities decreased by a third. Efforts included upgrading HVAC units and lighting occupancy retrofits.

Partnering with Butte College in its sustainable efforts is Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE) through the California Community Colleges Investor-Owned Utility Partnership Project, which this month presented a check to the college for $78,000 for its energy conservation efforts.

Roughly 28 percent of the college's electric needs are supplied by a one-megawatt solar array located on 3.5 acres. A rebate program from PGE paid for half of the $7 million in funding needed to complete the project.

"Solar energy saves our college approximately $300,000 annually," said Mike Miller, the college's director of facilities planning and management.

"The greenhouse gas emissions eliminated by the system are equal to 90 acres of trees, 18 pounds of sulphur dioxide, 738 pounds of nitrous oxide and 2.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide," Miller said.

The college also operates the largest community college transportation system in California with three natural gas and 10 biodiesel buses - all paid through a student-approved transportation fee. The buses log in more than 250,000 miles each year and keep 1,100 students off the roads each day.

Butte College | 3536 Butte Campus Drive, Oroville CA 95965 | General Information 530.895.2511

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