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Updated: December 19, 2013 6:06AM



As James Jackson refilled his cup of water at the “hydration station,” he not only quenched his thirst, but saved another plastic bottle from the landfill. The Calumet City student brought the total number of bottles saved to 929 that day — just weeks after the hydration station was installed at South Suburban College in South Holland.

It’s one of many steps the college has taken in its campuswide effort to be sustainable.

Administrators, faculty, staff and students there have moved way beyond basic recycling. They are out to change the ways of a disposable, wasteful society.

“We have to do this if we are going to survive as a species,” SSC president Don Manning said. “This requires a total change in mind-set. I believe we are going in that direction.”

Two years ago, the college formed a sustainability committee of administrators, faculty and staff. Last year, students formed a Green Club, founded by student Rebecca Garcia, who is actively involved in both groups.

Garcia readily admits she did not know what “sustainable” meant until she met Manning, who leads the effort by personal example.

It’s all about being able to use resources today “without compromising the future,” Garcia said. “It’s more than recycling. It is a social, economic and environmental movement.”

She also won a scholarship and studied abroad in Costa Rica, the most sustainable country in the world, and a far cry from the United States, where there is so much more waste, she said. Garcia is determined to make a difference in her corner of the world as she talks about urban agriculture and carbon neutrality.

It’s a matter of educating everyone on campus about sustainability and why it is important, they said. It can be as simple as refilling a water bottle, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or recycling an ink cartridge.

“It’s baby steps,” Garcia said. “Many people don’t care.”

“We are trying to educate students and hope they share it with family and friends. We have to lead by example,” Manning said. “This is an ongoing process. It’s simple, basic stuff.”

SSC does what it can within its means.

The campus has had recycling containers for years, but now uses recycled paper in all copiers, and compact fluorescent light bulbs in all fixtures.

The pond on campus is surrounded with native plants that filter out toxins from the parking lot, and any remodeling project includes ecofriendly elements.

It is the only community college in the state to offer three “green” programs — with classes in green building construction, green entrepreneurship and brownfield remediation, Garcia said.

The sustainability committee is focused on integrating sustainable practices into all programs and curriculum and getting the message out there.

Garcia said her English 102 class did research papers on sustainability and the building trades class built raised garden beds where students grew organic pumpkins before giving them away to kids in SSC’s child development center.

They have reached out into the community with recycling drives during Earth Awareness Week.

All of this work has earned SSC the “bronze” level of achievement by the Illinois Green Governments Coordinating Council, and they have pledged to do more — to earn the silver.

They are not alone. Within the South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium, of which SSC is a part, Moraine Valley Community College and Joliet Junior College have achieved the gold level, and Prairie State has earned the bronze.

JJC’s new facility services building was LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified with features such as solar heat, geothermal heating and ventilation, and motion sensors. It also diverted 75 percent of its construction waste from landfills.

Moraine Valley Community College has pledged to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations before 2050.

Prairie State College installed a system to monitor its real-time gas and electric usage and has encouraged everyone on campus and in the community to drop off ink cartridges, cellphones, small electronics and laptops for recycling.

For the past four years, the consortium has held a Sustainability Conference where they shared ideas.

Here, SSC representatives were inspired by Lewis University’s rain garden, learned about Loyola University’s biodiesel program and plan to donate their used oil to them.

Garcia said she came away from the conference feeling “excited and motivated.” She is full of ideas. She wants to create a “green hallway” with recycling containers and a bulletin board to keep students aware and informed. She already has expanded plans for the college’s Earth Day 2014 to include recycling of more unconventional items.

Manning would like to offer Sustainability 101 classes and scholarships and show students how sustainability translates to the job market.

“This stuff is really exciting,” Manning said.

But it also is challenging.

He knows that for some, sustainability is the last thing on their list.

“They are concerned about feeding their family and surviving,” he said.

Manning partnered with the Cook County Forest Preserve District, believing that “if students have a better appreciation of nature, they will want to take care of it.”

It also is a challenge to get consumers to buy items that are ecofriendly, such as the compact fluorescent lights bulbs, which are more expensive but last longer and use less energy, Manning said.

He tries to put it in perspective for students.

“It’s basic stuff, like not running the water when you brush your teeth,” Manning said. “But little things add up.”



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