JCCC named ‘top performer’ for sustainability, energy efficiency by national group

JCCC’s recycling initiatives have contributed to its ranking as a Top Performer in sustainability. Photo credit Susan McSpadden

Johnson County Community College has been given a top ranking as a sustainable college for its efforts in energy efficiency and shrinking its ecological footprint.

The college announced on Tuesday that it was named a Top Performer in the 2019 Sustainable Campus Index, provided by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The college ranks number 10 overall among associate college institutions and number 6 in the United States.

JCCC staff noted that the acknowledgement shows the college is “setting a local standard, shrinking its ecological footprint and encouraging our community to be planet friendly.”

“To be clear, we aren’t doing improvements here on campus just to move up the rankings,” said Jay Antle, a history professor at the college and executive director of the JCCC Center for Sustainability. “We’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do and our work gets reflected in the rankings.”

Nearly 700 colleges and universities — 127 of which are community colleges — in North America make up the AASHE’s membership base.

JCCC students participated in a waste audit on campus last year. Photo credit: Susan McSpadden

“We are happy to recognize JCCC for its leadership in advancing sustainability,” said Meghan Fay Zahniser, executive director of AASHE. “I’m grateful for the work being done by this institution to help move society toward a more equitable and sustainable future.”

JCCC’s sustainability ranking is tracked by a self-reporting system provided by the association. The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating Systems (STARS) allows colleges and universities to input and measure their sustainability performance.

Antle said the process requires lots of data input about JCCC’s sustainable practices, but the idea behind that is creating a standard “that is defensible, that is rigorous, that crosses all elements of campus, that allow colleges to compare their performance to other colleges.”

Solar panels power some of the JCCC campus buildings, like this one on the rooftop deck of the Career and Technical Education Center. Photo credit: Susan McSpadden

Antle noted that JCCC has reduced its energy usage by more than 25% since 2008. JCCC is also in the process of adding more solar panels on building rooftops, and faculty incorporate discussions about sustainability in the classroom, he added.

From its inception, the center’s goal has been energy efficiency and paying back the college for its investment, Antle said. “We’ve been able to save the college something like $3.6 million in energy costs since we started doing the work here,” Antle said.

Taking that a step further, the college has also composted 95,000 pounds of food waste and diverted 60% of its waste stream from landfills.

“Over time, it’s become a more holistic approach to being efficient with the use of resources and to be considerate of the larger environmental footprint of the college,” Antle added. “We’ve been doing this work now for almost 10 years. It’s become part of the culture here at the college.”

But it really comes down to efforts by the students, especially their willingness about eight years ago to add a “green fee” of $1 per credit hour that supports the college’s sustainability initiatives, Antle said. The students’ public commitment to sustainability has spread across campus, encouraging the college’s leaders to integrate that commitment into the college’s facilities master plan.

Antle added that faculty and students are also incorporating discussions and best practices about sustainability in the curriculum. “It’s not just about our operations; it’s also, more importantly, to me, what we do in the classroom.”