JJC Launches Effort to Create a Culture of Sustainability

In the past seven years, Joliet Junior College has made strides in sustainability achievements with its energy efficient, LEED-certified buildings. Expanding JJC’s sustainability efforts is one of the college’s strategic goals, and each year, the JJC Sustainability Committee works toward attaining a higher level of sustainability achievement at the college.

Jennifer Hirsch

Dr. Jennifer Hirsch, an applied cultural anthropologist, will work independently as a sustainability collaborator with the committee and its co-chairs Dr. Peter Linden, dean of career and technical education, and Maria Rafac, JJC technical professor, this year to increase sustainability engagement at JJC and to help develop and execute more holistic and balanced sustainability efforts at the college.

“So far, it seems to me that JJC is doing great and is really ahead of many institutions in both green buildings and sustainability overall,” Hirsch said. “I am really eager to figure out how sustainability can relate to the campus as a whole and all the different departments that make up the college.”

Sustainability is not just about keeping environmental goals in check, Hirsch said, but there are social and economic components, too.

For example, an economically sustainable goal would be to keep a balanced annual budget, just as JJC has implemented for the past 40 years. A social sustainable goal would be to continue to offer and perhaps expand student development and success offices on campus, just as JJC has with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Student Accommodations and Resource (StAR) office, the Tutoring Center, and more.

Hirsch said sustainability comes into play in its truest form when an environmental, social, and economic goal can be wrapped into one, like JJC’s annual summer Farmers Market. The Farmers Market is a place where local businesses can profit (economic) by selling their organic and locally grown products (environmental) to people who can benefit from them (social).

According to Hirsch, many JJC students, faculty and staff are probably already practicing sustainability in one form or the other, and they just don’t realize it yet. Hirsch wants to help identify what sustainability practices the campus is already participating in, and record them. That way, the college’s  Sustainability Committee can keep track of what the college is already doing – and determine what more the college can do to achieve a higher level of sustainability.

“I want to make people excited about sustainability and help them see that their work is part of a broader effort to create a sustainable college,” Hirsch added.

Hirsch’s primary goal is to assist the committee in conducting an AASHE STARS assessment, also know as the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) program, which will give the college global recognition.

“I think sustainability offers us a lens that can bring people together to think about really challenging issues in relationship to each other,” she said. “I think that’s the only way we’re going to address the huge challenges that are before us and create systems that really will benefit everybody while they also benefit the planet itself. Sustainability – because it’s so holistic and because it’s paying attention to nature and to people – offers a framework for doing that work.”

In addition to JJC, Hirsch worked at the Field Museum in Chicago from 2008 to 2012, and since 2012 has worked as an independent consultant for organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council-Illinois, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Institute of Cultural Affairs, USA. Hirsch’s specialties include sustainability, cultural diversity, social justice and experiential education.

For more information about JJC’s Sustainability Committee, log on to http://www.jjc.edu/about/committees/sustainable-campus. To view a timeline of sustainability history at JJC, visit http://www.jjc.edu/about/committees/sustainable-campus/Pages/sustainability-timeline.aspx.

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