Moving from talking to doing sustainability

Over the last couple of years I’ve attended a number of sustainability conferences and I’ve become frustrated with a lot of the talks that I’ve attended as many presenters seem focused on telling us that sustainability is a good thing.  Of course, we all know that sustainability is a good thing or we wouldn’t have been at the conference in the first place.

Many of us have found similar scenarios on our campuses, people are happy to talk about sustainability, tell us how important it is, but in the end what get’s accomplished?  So tonight I wanted to lay out a few things that we can do on our campuses to move our campuses further down the road of sustainability.


Facilities Partnerships

Sometimes, particularly when faculty and administrative staff are working on campus sustainability, we forget about some potentially great partners in the facilities and operations division.  Particularly if your campus is just getting started facilities can be a great place to start, and a source of funding.

There are lots of low hanging fruit on the energy efficiency front when you are first getting started and these can have a noticeable impact on campus utility bills as well as bring in rebate funds.  One innovative way of using these savings/rebates that has been used at Sierra College has been to utilize that money to create and maintain a sustainability fund.  The nice thing about this idea is that the more you do the quicker the fund grows, which allows you to pay for more work that continues to feed the fund.

Additionally, with Career and Technical Education programs you can sometimes create partnerships with operations related to your programs particularly in the energy realm.  At Sierra College we have created a relationship between facilities and our Energy Technology Program.  Facilities handles the infrastructure set up for solar arrays that students install for our advanced solar class.


Incorporating sustainability into curriculum

There are two primary models for incorporating sustainability into curriculum, infusing concepts into existing courses, or creating a sustainability requirement at your institution.  The much larger task of course is creating a requirement as it necessitates campus-wide and academic senate buy-in.  The easier pathway is to work with individual and motivated faculty to find ways to infuse sustainability concepts within their coursework.  Here are a couple of links to resources for doing this:

SF State page

AASHE Call to Action Paper


Creating a sustainability forum

Need to raise awareness on your campus, one of the easiest ways to do this is to start a campus/community sustainability forum.  You can read more about how to do this here:  How to start a campus sustainability forum


Creating groups

If you really want to ease into the idea of campus sustainability you can start by creating a faculty/staff discussion group.  Or even with the help of motivated students start a campus sustainability club.


Create/teach sustainability related community education courses

We all know the complexity of creating curriculum and getting approval to start a new course particularly at a community college where competition for courses is fierce.  So one way to test drive sustainability ideas is to first try them through your college’s community education program.  These courses although fee based for the public, can be done relatively cheaply, with less bureaucracy and much more quickly.  Subject matter for these courses can include: solar cooking, local food & nutrition, recycled material art, zero waste, composting and much more.

The most important thing to remember is that the goal is to increase awareness of sustainability and help people incorporate into their daily life.  So keep up the good work and if you need support, encouragement or ideas please feel free to contact us here at the Community College Sustainability Collaborative at