Interview: Sustainability Manager, College of Lake County, Illinois

As every American knows, higher education plays a critical role for today’s workforce. Community colleges serve an important function in higher education, known primarily for providing local and affordable classes for certificate- and degree-seekers. The College of Lake County (CLC), Illinois, is an exemplary community college that enriches not only its students, but also the broader Lake County community with a wide range of courses and events.

CLC is a founding member of the Illinois Green Economy Network (IGEN), a consortium of Illinois’ 48 community colleges, which stimulates the state’s “green” economy through sustainable industry workforce training, market transformation, and community outreach. CLC is also a member of Community Green, the U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools, and the SEED Center for Sustainability Education and Economic Development. Among its accolades, CLC has been selected as a finalist for the 2015 Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards alongside six other two-year institutions participating in the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. This national competition recognizes CLC’s work to educate and contribute to a more sustainable world.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing David Husemoller, the Sustainability Manager at CLC. We had a great discussion about this position at the College, and how it has fostered current and future sustainability programs across CLC’s campuses:

David, you used to serve as a Senior Urban Planner in Lake County’s Planning, Building and Development Department. How did you arrive at your present role at the College of Lake County?

I worked on a number of sustainability-related policies at Lake County [Planning Department] and in my sustainable landscaping business. I was happy to contribute to the Planning Department in any way that I could, but when CLC created this new position, it looked like an excellent use of my skills and interests. So, I applied!

Was it a challenge to implement your sustainability targets? Was there any resistance to it?

As with urban planning, it can be hard to bring everybody on board. Some people aren’t as focused on sustainability. This work challenges our own assumptions about what people will do and how to get sustainability projects done.

Our recycling work is a perfect example: We are working to devise a strategy to make recycling super easy and obvious. One way we are doing this is by placing recycling bins and trash bins together, rather than on opposite sides of a room. It’s less natural for people to walk to one side of the room and then to the other side to separate their recyclables and non-recyclables. If it’s not made easy, fewer people will remember or bother to do it.

We also chose to co-mingle our recyclables rather than enforce source separation. This means that people don’t need to distribute their recyclables into separate receptacles for plastic, aluminum cans, etc., because that will be taken care of at the recycling plant. It’s much easier for people to get into a habit of sorting trash and recyclables into just two broad categories, rather than train them to sort their recyclables by type. In our Grayslake campus kitchen, however, our students and staff do deposit pre-consumer food scraps into our composting program. It’s easier to train a smaller group of chefs on composting than it is to train the general public.

To involve students directly in the recycling program, we are building an education and awareness campaign. Our student environmental group will plan special events and put up flyers around the campuses. We also held a student forum last spring. One of the biggest recommendations from the students  was to eliminate styrofoam from food services, so we’ll perform a cost study on it in October. We really value student involvement and input.

You’ve described how students have gotten directly involved in CLC’s recycling program. Are student groups directly involved in the process of creating or achieving other sustainability goals?

Our student environmental club does campus projects and outreach. As I described before, they collaborated with us on our recycling campaign and with the student forum. They are also reaching out to participate with community environmental groups around clean air and climate change.

Restoration Work Day at College of Lake County

Restoration Work Day during Earth Week 2015 — at College of Lake County.

Students are involved in our governance system and so have representatives in each committee, from Environmental Action and Food Service Committees to the Campus Operations Commission. At these committees, students are able to present their ideas and concerns for consideration.  For instance, recently one student requested vegan meal options. Now, we’re investigating the environmental and cost factors involved in making this happen. When students ask, we do our best to see how we can deliver.

What is your daily routine as Sustainability Manager?

I don’t have a set routine; every day is different. Some days I spend on reporting—looking at numbers, and communicating about them. I participate in a number of committees involved with the new construction taking place at CLC. On other days I meet with visiting scouts, with students, or work with my interns. I also work with the student environmental club, enlisting their help with projects such as the recycling campaign.

I also teach a course each semester. It’s designed for degree-seeking students, though I also get students earning certificates, community members, and working professionals brushing up on their skills. We often go outdoors to examine the campus grounds. For four years I’ve taught about sustainable landscapes and landscape management.  We like the concept of using the campus as a living laboratory, in which the buildings and grounds are managed sustainably to save the college operating cost and also to provide students and community members examples of best practices.

Which of CLC’s implemented sustainability projects are you most proud of?

My first project: Green roofs! CLC installed two small green roofs before I arrived, the first ones in Lake County! The problem was that they were not draining correctly and the plants were not thriving. The Facilities Department needed student assistance in order to meet grant funding requirements. So I enlisted my own students to work on it and amended my syllabus to include the project over two consecutive years. We worked with a consultant to do the heavy lifting and the students to come up with their own designs as the final project of the term. The spring classes of 2014 and 2015 then each created their own consensus design and planted it themselves!

Students Planting South Roof. Taken May 2014 at College of Lake County.

Students Planting South Roof – May 2014 — at College of Lake County

The final features of the project are two demonstration roofs of 400 square feet each, or twenty feet by twenty feet. One roof is highly visible to students as a patio. Student workers maintain the roofs over the summer, pulling weeds and such to make sure that the new plants thrive.

North Roof growth. Taken September 2015, at College of Lake County

North Roof growth – September 2015 — at College of Lake County

I’m also very excited about CLC’s Sustainable Master Plan. It’s a comprehensive construction plan aimed to serve as a model for our whole community. The Plan took years to develop, and now ground has broken and several really cool new features are coming on-line over the next couple of years. We are drilling over 120 geothermal wells to heat and cool several of our buildings.  One of my favorite features is our new science building designed to LEED-Platinum-rated standards. It’s designed to become a living learning laboratory, rather than just a shell of a building; it will demonstrate energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Is there crossover in the sustainability curriculum between different departments?

Yes—we just finished Climate Week yesterday [September 21-23]! It was a three-night event for two hours each night. We had such dynamic guests and attendees. Students and community members were really engaged.

On Monday night, we discussed climate marches. We watched the film “Disruption”about the climate march in New York City, which had happened exactly one year ago on September 21, 2014. Afterward, a sociology professor from Lake Forest College shared his social science research on the climate movement. A climate lobbyist followed, talking about political opportunities to promote economic solutions.

On Tuesday evening, the topic was science and ethics. Our first guest, the State Climatologist, gave us the solid facts about climate change that we all need to know and which scientists are still discovering. Our next guest was the director of Faith in Place, who discussed different world religions’responses to climate change.

Photograph of Reverend Brian Sauder, David Husemoller, Dr. James Angel.

Reverend Brian Sauder, David Husemoller, and Dr. James Angel at the Science and Ethics of Climate event during Climate Week 2015.

On Wednesday, we had a more career-oriented theme. Professional guests joined us from companies large and small, talking about the growing job market, career advice for students, and why big companies are motivated to lower carbon emissions.

Our goal was to make Climate Week well-rounded, focusing on opportunities to do something, rather  than doom-and-gloom and pure science. It was a great success!

CLC hosts a number of sustainability events. Can you tell us more about them? For instance, I see from the calendar that de-icing workshops are scheduled for October. Why is de-icing a sustainability topic?

Yes, I do host a community calendar for events directly and indirectly involving CLC. It helps me fulfill my role to facilitate the sharing of sustainability resources across the community. Any motivated community member or student can apply to promote an event through us, or even work with us to host the event itself.

The de-icing event you mentioned is hosted by Lake County Stormwater Management and the Lake County Division of Transportation; at their request, I’m promoting the event on the CLC calendar. Some of CLC’s employees in Facilities Management have attended it in the past. De-icing has a significant role in sustainability: The salt that people traditionally spread to melt winter ice is messing up our wetlands. It helps invasive plants thrive, while killing off native species. And even though salt is not easy to remove once it’s infiltrated the environment, it’s a tough battle to convince people to reduce salt use. After all, no one wants to slip and fall on ice, or get sued for another person’s ice-related injury on their property. Fortunately, there are environmentally-friendly alternatives to salt that safely biodegrade, which is what this workshop will tell people about.

CLC is hosting other community events this October, such as a presentation on beekeeping and a demonstration of honey extraction. We will be featuring an information kiosk about the smart grid and smart metering.  Also, we are hosting a community pumpkin collection after Halloween. We’re looking forward to composting those unwanted pumpkins at a local facility, where they will turn into healthy soil amendments. The opportunities for incorporating sustainability at a college, at home, or across the community are endless!

Thank you for sharing CLC’s exciting work in sustainability with us, David! To learn more about CLC’s Green Initiatives, check out CLC’s website, sustainability calendar, and Facebook page.


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