Joliet Junior College hosted the fifth annual sustainability conference for the South Metropolitan Higher Education Consortium (SMHEC) in September, and for the first time in the conference’s history, community members, businesses and organizations from across the region were invited. The conference, “Strengthening Sustainable Bridges Between Colleges and Communities,” featured local speakers and allowed attendees to share sustainability practices with each other.
According to JJC Professor and Sustainability Activist Maria Anna Rafac, since JJC is already well connected and an integral part of the communities the college serves, it was only natural to invite local organizations and other interested parties to the conference.
“In addition to what we already do at the conference, this event was more about community outreach,” Rafac said. “This conference was a great platform for bringing up these larger conversations about sustainability and how our colleges and universities can be an integral part of these larger issues and work together with the general community for a greater impact.”
Genny Boesen, SMHEC executive director, said the conference had about 120 attendees who participated, with nearly half representing outside organizations. Outside groups included non-profit organizations, municipalities, health care facilities, and manufacturing companies.
“The schools involved in SMHEC have a big network of sustainability resources, including architects, landscapers, conservation workers, and those who work in the energy field. This conference was a way for us to refer some of those resources to the community,” Boesen said.
In addition to being hosted in JJC’s new Health Professions Center, one of JJC’s sustainable LEED Gold facilities, another highlight of the conference was the breakfast and lunch menus. Each dish contained sustainable, locally sourced, gluten free vegetarian meals prepared by JJC Food Services staff. Selections such as roasted parsnip and pear soup, rotini primavera, roasted butternut squash, and quinoa veggie salad were served. When the meal was over, the waste was composted, leaving nothing for the landfill.
Sustainability, which balances environmental, economic, and social health, has always been important to JJC. Six of the college’s most sustainable and energy efficient buildings have been declared LEED-certified, LEED Silver and LEED Gold.
JJC has also incorporated sustainability into its three-year strategic plan that will expand the use of sustainability practices and technology at the college, and incorporating sustainability education in the classroom. In addition, there are currently six sustainability courses at JJC. Several more more are in development, thanks to a National Science Foundation grant the college received earlier this year.
Other sustainable practices at the college include hosting a weekly Farmers Market in the summer, incorporating a program that rewards students for recycling beverage containers, and encouraging employees and students to save money by bringing in their cars for maintenance checks at the student automotive lab.
Most recently, JJC’s Sustainability Committee is working on applying for AASHE STARS accreditation. This accreditation, given by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), is a prestigious accomplishment that only 330 colleges and universities have achieved worldwide.
For more information about sustainability at JJC, visit http://www.jjc.edu/about/committees/sustainable-campus. To view a timeline about the history of sustainability at JJC, visit http://www.dipity.com/jjcwolves1901/JJC-History-of-Sustainability.
For more information about SMHEC, an organization made up of 12 area colleges that work together to focus on important college issues, visit http://www.southmetroed.org.