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September 2008
Environmental Stewards
By Janet Kropinak

     Did you know if every household replaced just three 60-watt incandescent light bulbs with energy saving compact fluorescents, the pollution savings would be like taking 3.5 million cars off the road? Did you know that the average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees, amounting to about 2 billion trees per year? And did you know that the national recycling rate of 30 percent saves the equivalent of more than 5 billion gallons of gasoline, reducing dependence on foreign oil by 114 million barrels?

     The juxtapositions are significant. Over the past decade, the wastefulness and misuse of our resources has become impossible to ignore and the “green” movement is gaining global momentum. With threats of global warming and a looming energy crisis, it is imperative that consumers become educated and proactive in adopting environmentally responsible practices that will sustain a balanced ecosystem.


CPCC Goes Green

     Although it is becoming increasingly difficult to get through the day without hearing and reading about sustainability, it didn’t become a buzz-word until 1987 with the publication of the World Commission on Envioronmental and Development report, Our Common Future.

     The report defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The report outlined the concept of sustainability to encompass ideas, aspirations and values that inspire public and private organizations to become better stewards of the environment and that promote positive economic growth and social objectives.

     In recent years, the increased identification and awareness of sustainable development on local, national and international levels has created new opportunities in the job market for a green-collar work force.

     Central Piedmont Community College’s (CPCC) Futures Institute, which researches economic trends, picked up on this growth area and formed the Center for Sustainability to meet the growing demand for training and education on sustainability practices.

     It is estimated that in Mecklenburg County alone there will be substantial increases in manufacturing jobs in energy sectors—2,885 jobs in wind, 428 jobs in solar, 1,154 jobs in geothermal, and 389 jobs in biomass—for a total of 4,856 new jobs.

     This is in addition to the increased demand for eco-friendly construction managers, clean energy auditors, air quality engineers, agriculture inspectors, and bio-technicians in the food and chemicals industries that is already evident in the region.

     Explains Dr. Rod Townley, dean of the Futures Institute at CPCC, “We first began discussing the growing trend toward sustainability three or four years ago. Entire industries were changing the way they did business and technological innovations and consumer preferences were driving that change.

     “When industries change this dramatically, there is generally a large need for new training programs. Serving our community and preparing tomorrow’s work force is our main focus, and the creation of the Center for Sustainability was put into place to meet that enormous training need in our community.”

     The Center, established in 2007, has been increasing community awareness of the importance of living and working in an ecologically responsible manner through efforts such as Earth Day events, seminars, publications, and speakers’ series. In addition, continuing education training and seminars, offered to the general public as well as to businesses, focus on teaching people how to live and work in an environmentally friendly manner.

     CPCC also works to increase the presence and perspective of environmental sustainability into their curriculum programs—including alternative fuels and renewable energy sources, sound architectural and building practices, environmentally friendly materials, and sustainable horticulture practices.

     “CPCC is in a unique position to educate and involve its students, faculty and staff, as well as the community in learning opportunities through responsible environmental initiatives,” affirms Ernie McLaney, program coordinator for the Center for Sustainability.


The Green Degree

     Presently the Center for Sustainability offers professional, continuing education training courses in such areas as energy management, green building and remodeling, wastewater treatment, and a number of horticultural-related courses. Non-professional courses ranging from “What’s your carbon footprint?” to organic gardening, environmental biodiesel, and designing a backyard habitat or pond are offered to the public.

     Because of the immediate success of the Center and the interest in environmental education, the Futures Institute is investigating the creation of a curriculum program offering two-year degrees in sustainable technologies and environmental science.           
Curriculum planning for the Center began in spring of 2008. Rodney Jackson, division director of geomatics and sustainability, is hoping for the degree program to be available to students in fall of 2009.

     “Green skills are becoming a necessity in many career fields,” states Jackson.     “Employees coming into the market with this training are seen as a strong asset in the business community. It makes good business sense to operate in a sustainable manner, and we are seeing more of these ideals being incorporated into the business model within our community and region.”

     Although still in the planning stages, Jackson is confident the program will be in great demand once launched. “Sustainability has proven value and is a viable option for a degree program sought after by hiring professionals. There is a strong interest from both the business community and students who are eager for training in these areas to be available.”

     One area where they are seeing a concentrated need for training is in solar energy. “We have been approached by companies looking to us to offer training in solar installation as well as education to consumers in making wise decisions in home remodels,” comments Jackson.

     McLaney sees this type of training as imperative as our community and our region continue to grow. “There is still a lot of confusion and misinformation out there. People are beginning to pick up on the fact that this isn’t merely a trend, but a new lifestyle,” he says. “A growing number of people want to protect the environment and make wiser choices and we are able to give them the tools they need to do so.”

     In addition to specific training, the curriculum courses can also act in partnership with various other degree programs. “Today, many companies are offering positions specifically tailored to the identification and adoption of sound environmental business practices. Students are able to use our courses to supplement their degrees from other disciplines,” says Jackson. “Sustainability practices are being woven into so many business areas that everyone benefits from this training.”


Walking the Talk

     McLaney acknowledges the importance of CPCC practicing its teachings. “We have a large presence within the community and the region, and we are working hard to find ways to incorporate sustainable practices into how we operate. We have created our own initiatives within the college to help demonstrate our ongoing commitment.”

     For example, CPCC is a supporting member of the National Wildlife Federation and has abided by their guidelines in the planning and development of wildlife habitat projects on all six of their area campuses. The college is in year two of a three-year project to have all six registered as Certified Wildlife Habitats; the central campus was registered in December 2007. The habitat project was made possible by an internal Innovation Grant by the college to encourage forward thinking by faculty and staff.

     Some additional efforts include adding hybrid vehicles to the facilities department, recycling over 50 tons of paper and electronics (2007), participating in ozone gardening, and using motion detection light systems, auto shut-off sinks, and CFLs for lighting in building construction.

     CPCC is taking their commitment off-campus by participating in events such as the 2008 Charlotte: Clean and Green Festival where they provided courses and information booths on “How to Go Green.” The event was a success and attracted large crowds of people looking to increase their own awareness. The standing-room-only turnout was a strong indication that the public is interested in environmental education.

     Dean Townley comments, “I knew there was a growing concern over environmental issues like global warming and pollution, and certainly the price of energy has been a topic of concern. But I have been very surprised at the level of interest of folks in general. I am encouraged by the commitment of so many people to do something concrete that will make a real difference.”

     McLaney also credits the Center’s many community partnerships as a contributing factor to its early success. “We have been fortunate to have the support of many local organizations such as the Sierra Club, Perkins & Will, and the Catawba Land Conservancy, in addition to an active advisory board.”

     He also gives special credit to the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. “Both the city and the county have been extremely receptive and engaged in what we are doing and have been proactive in helping us launch our program.” McLaney states that Charlotte is making major strides toward a more sustainable future.

     In addition to its future curriculum program and seminars, CPCC remains committed to acting as a role model within the community for sustainable choices and practices.

     “What we are learning and what we are teaching is that everything is interconnected, whether we are looking at a small ecosystem or the global community,” explains McLaney.

     Jackson echoes his sentiments, “Our daily choices make a difference and we must find ways to exist in a more efficient manner.”

     Although to some, the initial cost of living a sustainable lifestyle seems to outweigh the perks, McLaney says this is a misconception.

     “The long-term benefits to these choices clearly offset any initial costs and allow a much more efficient use of our resources including lower cost of long-term operation. More importantly, our environment is protected for future generations. As technology continues to advance, we will continue to realize reduced costs. Our goal is to help consumers understand the immediate and long-term benefits.

     “Whether you shorten your daily shower by 60 seconds, become more disciplined with your recycling habits, purchase energy-efficient appliances or switch to energy-saving light bulbs, you are joining with millions of others who are deciding to make a difference,” he attests.

     As for the Center’s role in making a difference for Charlotte’s future, Dean Townley sums it up: “We’ll be successful if we are able to serve as a focal point for the community when it comes to training in new processes and new technologies used in environmental-friendly industries. Our main purpose is to increase awareness of the global environmental challenges we face and to help train a work force that is better able to respond effectively to those challenges.”



Janet Kropinak is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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