Chandler-Gilbert Community College
Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC) has long been a recognized leader in Sustainability education. CGCC faculty were key in establishing an academic Certificate in Sustainability within the Maricopa Community Colleges, which now includes tracks related to: earth systems; social, political and economic treatment of the earth; coupled human-environment systems; human transformation of the earth; and business and entrepreneurship.
Beyond formal studies, many courses across the campus engage in sustainability-themed projects. The Environmental Technology Center, which includes an outdoor classroom and community garden, is the home of a variety of class and club-based garden, building, and compost projects. Recent applied projects include the use of compost piles to grow mycelium for study in Biology lab classes and the design and construction of a filter to clean water byproducts from the nearby ceramics lab.
As a culminating experience for many of the environmental projects across the curriculum, CGCC hosts a spring “Sustainability Day.” Projects are showcased in and around the Environmental Technology Center garden – this year included a full-sized adobe oven. Third graders from the neighboring Humphrey Elementary School walk to campus as a class field trip to learn from CGCC students and cap off their science studies for the year. This event is one example of where the college’s commitments to the environment and to community-based service learning intersect.
Residing in the desert, water usage is a key issue for CGCC. In order to begin addressing consumption, CGCC converted the landscape watering system from potable water to reclaimed sources that were made available by the City of Chandler. The central plant (air conditioning) chillers, the largest single use of water on campus, were converted to reclaimed sources in 2016.
For over a decade, LEED Silver has been Chandler-Gilbert’s minimum for new construction and major renovation, mitigating the growth of resource use while the student population and campus footprint have expanded. In recent years, the college has focused on energy efficient retrofits to further bend that resource curve. Over the last four years, the college has replaced aging roofs with better-insulated options, has adopted an energy efficient equipment policy, and – most notably – has retrofitted roughly 80% of the overhead and external light fixtures on campus with LEDs. The complete renovation of Agave Hall marks the first completely LED-lit building in the system.
Beyond demand reduction, CGCC has been developing resilient options for energy generation. In 2012, CGCC partnered with Salt River Project, the local electric utility, to build the Environmental Technology Center, CGCC’s solar-powered 5 outdoor classroom in the environmental learning lab. The Coyote Center, a recent building project, includes a solar powered water heating system. In 2015, CGCC entered an agreement for the construction and operation of a 1.38 MW photovoltaic solar array on campus. The installation, which was put into operation in 2016, supplies 37% of the Pecos campus’s energy usage.
Reaching the end of a planning cycle, CGCC was due to write a strategic plan for 2016-2022. Sustainability – long a community passion, thus noticeable in its absence – was added to the college’s values, but it didn’t end there: the college’s vision statement now reads “Our students are prepared to lead us into a promising and sustainable future.” Sustainability is now prominent at the center of CGCC’s focus.
In concert with sustainability in the curriculum, CGCC has sought to make the campus environment a learning lab, thus engages faculty and staff with explanations of the latest projects and guidance regarding sustainable choices in event planning, purchasing and transit. Employees participate in Sustainability Day, facilitating hands-on activities and highlighting campus facts. On Earth Day, dozens of employees joined teams of students and community members for planting at both campuses.
For several years, the campus has served as a seasonal home for a pair of great horned owls. Since their chosen nesting spot is in the center of campus, the college set up a perimeter to protect the newly hatched owlets. CGCC seized the opportunity for learning by putting up informational posters, sharing stunning photos and even setting up a nest-cam. As a byproduct, the owls were a frequent topic of conversation and some faculty even included the owls in coursework (e.g. stool analysis in Biology). While students are often seen looking down at smartphones as they cross campus, for a while it was just as common to see passers-by looking straight up.