Western Technical College

Western Technical College is committed to a sustainable culture that meets the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. Western encourages students to make sustainable decisions by offering courses incorporating sustainability values and establishing living laboratories with experiential learning opportunities. Energy reduction, storm water collection, and greenhouse gas emissions reduction are all practices adopted by the campus to reduce environmental impact, as well creating a healthier workplace. Using their social capital in the community, Western is also aiming to create greater impact by working with a local energy company and regional businesses. Western Technical College is now a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School.

Student Preparedness           

Curriculum programming at Western is driven by seven Core Abilities, with the seventh being: “Make decisions that incorporate the importance of sustainability.” Currently, 35%-40% of all existing courses have incorporated this Core Ability, and Western is on track to incorporate the remaining courses by 2018.

One program in particular provides effective environmental education focused on the new green economy. The Building Systems Technology program prepares individuals for work in the growing clean energy, energy efficiency, and building systems industry with a focus on: green building design and construction, energy auditing, systems commissioning, systems control, and retrofit techniques.

Living laboratories are used to create experiential learning opportunities for the campus and the community. One of Western’s living labs is La Crosse’s first Passive House which is a design and construction model focused on sustainability and energy efficiency. The first home was completed with student assistance and is used as an instructional facility for Building Systems Technology, HVAC, Landscape Horticulture, and Architectural Technology students. Students and instructors offer free tours of the house and educational seminars for realtors and builders on “green” financing, facilities, and construction practices.

Another living lab is Western’s Hydro Power Station which provides learning opportunities for students while simultaneously reducing the College’s own carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels. There are an estimated 600 dams in Wisconsin, but no formal training program exists in the state for those who run and maintain the dams. Western plans to offer a certificate in hydro technology.

Climate Innovation

Western Technical College has implemented numerous educational strategies to reduce environmental impact and costs. In 2010, an Energy Conservation Management Program (ECMP) started, and in 2011, Western’s Sustainable Culture Policy was approved. Through ECMP, Western encourages all staff and students to do what they can to reduce energy usage such as turning off lights and equipment when not in use. ECMP practices have resulted in $888,000 in utility savings and an energy reduction impact of 4,914 metric tons of CO2. Greenhouse Gas Inventories from 2005-2012 have been completed and show an almost 30% reduction in gross emissions of CO2e.

Western grounds have rain gardens to contain water run-off from buildings and parking lots. Permeable pavers were used in the central courtyard to promote the infiltration of storm water through the surface of the pavers into the ground, cleansing and cooling the water while promoting the recharge of the aquifers. Signs throughout the courtyard explain the use of permeable pavers and the effect they have on the rainwater supply.

In 2011, Western spearheaded the creation of the Sustainability Institute, which brings together businesses to share best sustainability practices with the goal of educating the community at large. The Sustainability Institute is implementing the MPower Program, a nationally recognized one-year program for businesses and organizations that want to reduce their environmental impact while saving costs and creating a healthier and more engaging workplace and community.

Creating Opportunity

Western created a marketing campaign around sustainability at the college with the slogan of “It’s Easy Being Green” with a frog logo called Neon Leon. The program rewards participants for their involvement in reducing their individual environmental impact. Neon Leon audits the entire campus and collects data that is shared college-wide in order to improve conservation efforts and change habits.

Western’s Hydro Power Station is an example of a partnership with the local energy company to reduce GHG emissions by producing water-generated power through the dam, which is sold back to the utility company. The Passive House provides local construction businesses the chance to build to Passive House standards. The hope is more homeowners and builders will build to Passive House standards in the future.

Western’s Sustainability Institute shows how Western has been able to use its social capital in the community to help reduce emissions not directly within its control. The MPower program currently being implemented works with area businesses to reduce their carbon footprint and promote environmentally sustainable practices within their organizations. The program measures progress to track the effectiveness of the changes made.

Western was recently recognized for its efforts in sustainability practices and climate change awareness by being named a U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon School. This award recognizes schools and institutions of higher education that: reduce environmental impact and costs; improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff; and provide environmental education, and effectively incorporate STEM, civic skills, and green career pathways.

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)