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Friday, August 1, 2014

WCC’s Green Initiatives Dovetail With New Federal, State Policies

In recent weeks, reducing global warming and increasing the use of renewable energy have become top agenda items in Washington, D.C., and Lansing.

President Barack Obama unveiled an energy plan that calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. He also wants to get 10 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2012. Congress passed a stimulus bill that devotes tens of billions of dollars to alternative energy and energy efficiency. And in her State of the State address, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm pushed for reducing Michigan’s reliance on fossil fuels. Granholm also hailed jobs created in Michigan by the renewable energy industry.

But a focus on green issues is nothing new for WCC.

In 2007, WCC President Larry Whitworth signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. The more than 600 signatories have agreed to eliminate their institutions’ contributions to global warming.

“My commitment to the Presidents Climate Commitment and to sustainability is actually just a commitment to practicality,” Whitworth said. “I am convinced that energy prices will continue to rise and it is important for us to reduce our dependence on these natural resources in order that we might better prepare for our economic future.

“And yes, I am concerned about the polar bears, the ozone layer, and the loss of portions of the East and West coasts. But actually my responsibility is to manage this institution based on my vision of the future.”

Also in 2007, WCC opened The Health & Fitness Center. The U.S. Green Building Council awarded the center gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Some of the building’s green features include:

  • lights that turn on only when there’s not enough daylight
  • a reflective white roof that reduces heating and cooling needs
  • a central boiler unit that recaptures heat
  • a system that filters rainwater runoff for use with plantings

More recently, the College put its parking lot lights on a system that shuts them off late at night. This saves $8,000 per month in electricity, according to Damon Flowers, associate vice president of facilities. It also reduces the College’s carbon footprint by reducing energy use.

This year’s biggest construction project—the renovation of the Occupational Education building—will include numerous green features. For example, a vegetative roof will be installed. Although the up-front cost will be higher than for a conventional roof, the vegetative version will last three or four times longer, Flowers said. The green roof also will keep the building warmer in winter and cooler in summer, reducing energy use and costs. The renovation plan also calls for installing a geothermal heating and cooling system. It will further reduce energy use.

In February, a consultant and two WCC students launched a greenhouse gas inventory that is looking at the College’s carbon footprint and its impact on global warming. Dale Petty, a faculty member who teaches industrial electronics and is a member of WCC’s Environmental Committee, said the three biggest components of the school’s emissions are:

  • fuel burned to heat and cool buildings
  • electricity purchased to run buildings, equipment, and lighting
  • fuel burned by students, faculty, and staff while commuting to campus

Conducting the greenhouse gas inventory is required under the Climate Commitment that Whitworth signed. It should take three months, Petty said, after which an action plan will be developed.

The Environmental Committee is overseeing WCC’s implementation of the Climate Commitment. The committee is primarily composed of faculty and staff members from across campus, Petty said, although a few students have recently joined. Students also have recently formed an Environmental Club, which seeks to promote environmental awareness and to give students service opportunities both on and off campus.

More efforts are in the works. For example, members of the science faculty are looking at creating an environmental science program that would make the renovated OE building into a laboratory. And instructors from numerous departments are formally talking about how to include sustainability issues across the curriculum.

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