College earns national nod for environmental leadership

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Preston Jacobsen, sustainability analyst, leans out the window of the U.S. Forest Service-funded and student-built research house. The house, which has taken more than five years to bring to its current stage, will serve as a research base for determining the most energy efficient materials for the region and a model to future builders to incorporate sustainable elements in construction. The house features a solar thermal water pump, poplar siding and roof solar panels. Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

CLYDE — Haywood Community College promotes environmental sustainability in its operations, practices and education through the use of solar energy, biodiesel generation, low-impact development and extensive school and community sustainability projects.

Last month, the school was recognized nationally as an environmental sustainability leader when Second Nature and the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment gave the school a Climate Leadership Award.

Of the 10 colleges in the United States recognized with a Climate Leadership Award this year, Haywood Community College was the only one in North Carolina and only one of two community colleges nationwide.

Haywood Community College first developed a climate action plan to determine how it has moved forward with sustainability as well as what needs work. The “robust” and “audacious” plan that accompanied the college’s self-nomination for the Climate Leadership Award demonstrated the school’s commitment to sustainability on its campus and beyond, said Preston Jacobsen, sustainability analyst at the college.

Jacobsen said that one of the things that was instilled in him when he first took the position at Haywood Community College was “don’t set your boundaries at the end of the campus property. Go beyond and see how we can incorporate the community.”

Branching out throughout the region and state

The model the college has developed to promote its own sustainability and reach out to the surrounding community is one that faculty members hope will be used across the state, said Rose Johnson, president of Haywood Community College.

“We are located in Western North Carolina, surrounded by beautiful natural resources and a population that’s extremely interested in preserving the natural beauty,” Johnson said. “(And that population) wants to redefine its economic base in a way that creates jobs and sustains the environment.”

Haywood Community College's electric vehicle charging station was launched Jan. 7 as the first in North Carolina west of Asheville. The college is offering free charging through the summer to promote its use. Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

Haywood Community College worked with the Haywood County Chamber of Commerce to form the Green Business Initiative, which aims to make Haywood County “a sustainable place to live, to do business and to visit,” Johnson said.

But the college focuses on its own practices first when it comes to green business, including in the area of alternative energy. One example was its unveiling Jan. 7 of the first electric vehicle charging station in North Carolina west of Asheville. Haywood Community College also is using biodiesel as a fueling source.

Campus projects

Haywood Community College’s plan to change out all of its outdoor lights to LED light bulbs, to continue its Adopt-A-Stream program and to support other student sustainability projects demonstrate the school’s enthusiasm, said Teresa Starrs, energy manager and associate director of campus development.

The two largest projects taking place on Haywood Community College’s campus are the construction of the Creative Arts Building and a U.S. Forest Service-funded research house.

A construction worker installs solar panels on the Creative Arts Building. Slated to open in fall 2012, the building will serve as a model sustainability house for homeowners interested in alternative energy practices. Katie Bailey/Carolina Public Press

The 36,000-square-foot Creative Arts Building will feature different levels of solar panels for power generation and reflective siding to improve energy efficiency, Jacobsen said, making it the primary example for future college developments.

The completely student-built research house in the woods up a long driveway with repurposed gravel is to be a model sustainability house for homeowners interested in incorporating alternative energy practices, Johnson said. It will also serve as a learning laboratory for students who will research what the best materials are for this kind of development in the region, he said.

The house will not be run exclusively on alternative energy, however, Jacobsen said, explaining that it is not possible for solar or other such alternative sources to fulfill their power needs entirely.

“(I understand) that everything we do can’t be environmental all the time,” he said. “What we do has to be economically feasible.”

Need for more sustainability

Despite its sustainability goals, the majority of buildings on Haywood Community College’s campus are not run by sustainable energy sources but instead use power from Progress Energy and the Haywood Electric Membership Corporation, Jacobsen said.

Energy Manager and Associate Director of Campus Development Teresa Starrs said the college is working to replace the use of electricity and coal-powered energy with other energy sources, such as natural gas, though she has concerns about the use of natural gas as a power source, too.

“I guess that you’re going to have a trade-off any way you go,” Starrs said.

Haywood Community College is working closely with Progress Energy to improve its energy efficiency, including enrolling in the company’s incentive program that gives rebates for entities that meet a certain level of efficiency.

Jacobsen said that, even though he would like Progress Energy to change to solar and wind, “Progress is very readily receptive to renewable energy information.”

Education, involvement important for future

Haywood Community College faculty members said the primary goal is still to increase student involvement, education and community knowledge about environmental sustainability.

Sarah Martin, a biology professor at the school, said her role of teaching people about the basic biological concepts of sustainability furthers the community’s commitment and her passion for sustainability.

“I really get to expose these people that would not have gotten the opportunity to know about this,” Martin said.

Others said they think the college’s increased dedication to sustainability has brought more students to the college and area.

“I definitely think that because of our sustainability initiatives … we have a higher interest from a lot of students who wouldn’t necessarily think to come to a rural community college,” Starrs said.

When the school began to pursue sustainable development, Haywood Community College President Rose Johnson said did not foresee its environmental work as a key to future employee and student enrollment.

Johnson, who submitted notice of her resignation at the end of last year, said she hopes Haywood Community College will continue with its sustainable practices and growth.

“An effort in sustainability cannot depend on me as a leader,” she said. “It has to depend on the interest of the students and the community.”

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About the Author

Katie Bailey

Katie Bailey is a contributing reporter and photographer with Carolina Public Press. Contact her at bkbailey@live.unc.edu.

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