Johnson County Community College nurtures holistic, campus-wide approach to climate leadership

– Written by Amanda Sawit, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

This blog was originally posted on September 9, 2016 on the U.S. Green Building Council’s website. It is republished here with their permission. 

The Center for Green Schools and Second Nature recently announced the winners of the 2016 Climate Leadership Awards, which recognize innovative and advanced leadership in sustainability, climate change mitigation and resilience at signatory campuses of Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Commitments.

This year’s recipients show leadership through practices, partnerships and initiatives designed to tackle some of the greatest modern challenges. Examples of their commitments include the ongoing pursuit of green building practices; the development of a campus culture that embraces local sourcing; alternative transportation methods; innovative partnerships with their surrounding communities; and cultivation of a sense of individual responsibility among students, faculty and staff.

Johnson County Community College

Johnson County Community College (JCCC), located in Overland Park, Kansas, won in the Two-Year Institution category and was commended for their dedication to cutting consumption and improving operational efficiencies, as well as their passion for engaging the community – operating as a living lab for students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders.

The college’s sustainability efforts, which had picked up on earlier student-led efforts around recycling and green building, received a major boost in 2008 when the college’s then-president signed on to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

Since then, JCCC has stepped up their recycling rates and cut their energy use by 25 percent despite adding new buildings, and continues to build their renewable energy capacity as well. Through JCCC’s branded Power Switch program, the college has reduced its annual average kwh usage by 20 percent since 2009, leading to $1.5 million in savings during the same period.

JCCC’s Student Sustainability Committee has also committed over one hundred thousand dollars to expand solar production on campus – adding 126 kw to the campuses’ existing 30kw capacity — in conjunction with two hundred thousand dollars of College Foundation funding. JCCC’s Center for Sustainability also supports students’ exposure to renewable energy applications on a large scale by requesting successful bidders include educational or co-curricular targets in their submissions. Additionally, the college partners with their local utility to provide additional EV charging stations to commuter emissions. These efforts, in addition to student-constructed solar charging stations and Big Belly solar trash compactors, spark campus conversations around renewable energy.

The Center for Sustainability also leads and supports numerous formal and informal climate-related educational opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and community members. JCCC’s Sunflower “mini grants” to fund sustainability-related enrichment across the curriculum have reached more than 7,000 students since 2011, and funding has supported courses in every instructional unit of the college, from the humanities to STEM fields. This has in turn promoted – even normalized – climate-related conversations among the campus community.

In addition to curriculum development, campus engagement opportunities have given students the ability to examine the ramifications of climate change and think critically about how they can improve the sustainability of their college and the world at large. One of the most notable examples is the Student Sustainability Committee’s effort to pilot and maintain a guide to the environmentally responsible features of campus, which both charts the work being done and narrates JCCC’s sustainability journey. The first iteration of this brochure received international recognition and student researchers presented their work in St. Petersburg, Russia, in June 2015. The current group of students working on an update are all international students, and will conduct about half of the project’s required interviews in their native languages, allowing JCCC to document different cultural perceptions of it’s work to address climate change.

The dedication of JCCC students, faculty and staff on these, and numerous other activities in and around campus, inspires others to consider steps they can take to advance the health and sustainability of their learning environments – cementing JCCC as a model higher education institution of climate leadership and environmental stewardship.