The Sustainability Center provides opportunities for the campus community to be involved in ecological restoration, resource stewardship, creative transportation strategies, and sustainable food systems initiatives. Students are provided with the resources necessary to accomplish effective sustainability advocacy and project implementation, giving them the experience required to succeed in future leadership roles. The Sustainability Center encourages the cultivation of innovative sustainable practices, opportunities to apply research, and educational outreach.
The Sustainability Center supports student initiatives, campaigns and leadership development. The student group, Earth CORPS, is the Community Organized to Respect, Protect and Sustain the Earth. Students in Earth CORPS organize trips, educational events and campaigns to engage the campus community around issues of environmental sustainability. Past efforts include:
- Trayless Campaign that eliminated trays from the main dining hall
- Residential Rot, Compost is Hot Campaign that resulted in the implementation of a Compost Program in the residence halls
- The initial support for the implementation of the Re-Use Depot and Spokes Folks Bike Co-op
- Earth Week: an annual week full of sustainability-related workshops and events
- Implementation of an education campaign to support Power Down Days
- Fundraising and support to send students to conferences and field trips such as: the Salmon Rafting Tour, Bioneers Conference, AASHE conference, the California Student Sustainability Coalition, and a toxics tour of Richmond
The Re-Use Depot Manager is a student volunteer that directs the vision of how to most effectively exchange community resources, manage student volunteers that care for the space, while reducing what is sent to the landfill.
Spokes Folks Bike Co-op is a student-run, college owned space that strives to make bicycles accessible for everyone, to further environmental justice and sustainability, and to support sustainable transportation and exploration.
The Sustainability Center supports four Eco-Representative student worker positions that provide significant opportunities for leadership development and deep engagement with themes. Though the positions vary from year to year depending on project focus, the programs for the 2014-2015 academic year include:
- Urban Farm at Mills College
- Creek Restoration Program
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Compost Programs
Eco-Reps have taken leadership roles in implementing weekly farm work days, weekly Creek Care Days, and this spring, implementing the national RecycleMania Competition. The Sustainability Center acknowledges that the peer education and behavior change programs that make the most impact are connected to infrastructure or systemic changes.
Partnerships to Enhance the Curriculum: the Campus as a Living Laboratory
The Sustainability Center partners with faculty in areas such as science, business and public policy to provide hands-on learning to support the curriculum. The campus is a “living laboratory,” allowing students to utilize the physical spaces such as the creek, farm and grounds and utilize systems of energy, recycling, water and transportation.
The Public Policy Department has supported the Sustainability Center through providing MPP fellows, who work on projects to further sustainability goals. This includes research, data analysis, and writing on projects such as greenhouse gas inventories and developing the Urban Farm Master Plan.
Living Laboratory: Energy
The Sustainability Committee partnered with a professor in the sustainability and business class for several years to provide opportunities for students to take on projects related to furthering campus sustainability. The last time this partnership took place, two students took on energy-related projects. The first student was an undergraduate and took on the project of Power Down Day energy tracking. She monitored and analyzed campus-wide energy data on Power Down Days (days with targeted educational outreach in reduction) vs. other days that did not have the targeted outreach. Because the campus was in partnership with the utility company to reduce energy usage on those days, insight into the success of outreach efforts into reduction was extremely helpful. A graduate student took on the coordination, partnership management, and program development of a pilot project in energy management with a company called I'm in Control. This collaboration led to an electricity competition between the two first year residence halls and overall energy monitoring of those buildings. The pilot was successful and led to an ongoing relationship.
Living Laboratory: Grounds
For many years, a Biology class called "Exploring the World of Plants" included a service learning requirement. Students in the class had to interact with plants and dirt on campus, supporting the Botanic Garden, creek restoration work days, and the initiation of the Urban Farm at Mills College. For the past three years, the students in Exploring the World of Plants class received a demonstration from the Grounds Manager in the basics of how to plant. Several years ago this demonstration was accompanied with a large toyon planting, bringing back the native landscape heritage of campus. Each spring semester, the Introduction to Environmental Science course requires that students complete a group project that includes data collection and a service to the community. Projects have supported the creek, such as testing for the presence of environmentally sensitive insects (BMIs) and conducting a native plant inventory to track the survival rate of native seedlings planted at the restoration site.
Living Laboratory: Transportation
A Masters in Public Policy candidate chose to complete her Masters Policy Report on Mills College transportation policies and how they relate to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. An executive summary is as follows:
Mills College seeks to reduce its carbon footprint by encouraging sustainable practices on campus. While efforts have been made to reduce the footprint caused by utility usage, transportation practices have contributed to a considerable portion of the College’s environmental impact but have yet to be addressed. This policy report provides an analysis of current transportation practices by community members through surveys, parking conditions through spatial analysis using geographic information systems, and services provided by the institution, including the ridership and level of service of the Mills Shuttle and a car share program. Following these series of analyses, several constructed goals, based on research and data collection, are evaluated in the context of cost, feasibility and the approach’s ability to meet the environmental and fiscal sustainability goals and objectives of Mills College. Goals consist of immediate, short term, and long term approaches to be implemented chronologically and following satisfactory data collection and further analysis. This report lays the foundation for research, planning, and implementing long-term strategies that will address the number of private vehicles on campus. It is recommended that Mills College incrementally and chronologically implement each of these approaches in order to see the greatest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Living Laboratory: Recycling and Compost
Each year, Mills College participates in the National RecycleMania Competition, and includes a context-specific program on campus called the RecycleMania Residence Hall Competition. Each spring semester, the Introduction to Environmental Science course requires that students complete a group project that includes data collection and a service to the community. Almost every year, a student group takes on this activity as it is such a clear project that teaches about the scientific method, data collection, the functioning of recycling and compost programs, and how to analyze that data in a way that makes sense to the general public.
Living Laboratory: Water
Professor Kristina Faul's research on “The Role of Small Upstream Reservoirs in Trapping Organic Carbon, Nutrients, and Metals in the San Francisco Bay Area" includes approximately ten students per year over the last three years, who are involved in this directed research class, and every year one of them presents this research at a conference. Directed research includes water quality and soil testing conducted on campus in Lake Aliso. As the data is collected and interpreted, it will help inform operational practices in water management on campus.