by Noah Depner, staff writer

Colorado is behind in recycling.

In 2020, the statewide recycling rate was a mere 15%. In fact, according to The State of Recycling and Composting in Colorado (5th Edition), Colorado was behind the national recycling rate of 32% in 2020.

As a city with a Mountain range in its shadow, how can Colorado Springs help improve these statistics for 2022? More specifically, what can PPCC do to help buck this trend?

The Office of Sustainability has a mission: “To foster a culture of resource conservation, social equity, and environmental stewardship at Pikes Peak Community College.” Or as Sustainability Coordinator Konrad Schlarbaum says, “It’s about the triple bottom line or the three P’s: Prosperity, People, and the Planet.”

“Anything considered to be sustainable should save money, support social equity, and support the environment; the mission statement is broad because the work of this office is broad,” he said.

During Schlarbaum’s now nine-year tenure as Sustainability Coordinator, he’s been involved in a variety of projects from championing the student bus-pass program to installing convenient recycling stations to piloting the energy-efficient LED lighting project.

Waste infrastructure, specifically, has proven to be one of Schlarbaum’s most successful yet most challenging projects to date. He said the office spent “$300,000 on waste infrastructure in the hallways and outdoors” to help encourage recycling efforts. Each recycling point is made of recycled milk jugs, creating a renewable, safe system to support waste management.

Despite much of the Office of Sustainability’s success, Schlarbaum has struggled with finding consistent student help for projects. For example, he could use some help collecting current data on the recycling efforts. He said that, “Collecting data on the things that I’ve put in place to show it’s been impactful,” and that help would be much appreciated.

Much of the sustainability’s movement success comes from student support. Big projects like these wouldn’t are possible with funding from the Green Campus Fee. The fee is $0.39 per credit hour from each student, but Schlarbaum says that it’s more of a partnership between the students and the school to recognize that they need to take action on sustainability.

“Everyone at the College could benefit from knowing about sustainability, and it is my job to help them learn about it, help them see how it’s applicable to their jobs, and how they can reap the benefits,” he said; “The fee is meant for students to take part in these environmental efforts.”

The creation of the Sustainability Club has been a big step forward for Schlarbaum’s efforts. “We’ve been trying a club for many years, but we’ve struggled to get students to commit,” he said. Last fall, however, there were enough students that showed interest to form such a club. Schlarbaum said, “It’s only the second or third time I’ve had this happen in the last eight years.”

The club currently has elected officials and a constitution. The group is hopeful to create a designated space for student-led sustainability projects.

(To learn more about the sustainability club itself, click here.)

Over the past two years, Schlarbaum has worked to integrate sustainability into curriculum. “Some of the work that we’ve been able to accomplish includes an Associate’s Degree in Environmental Studies and Sustainability that debuted in August of 2021,” Schlarbaum said.

The degree program itself has been around for a while. Nearly any student can double major in the program without having to sacrifice their primary degree program. The program corresponds to any of the other current programs provided at PPCC.

Schlarbaum said they’ve, “Made it kind of a crossroads degree. Wherever you’re coming from, you can find connections to this degree and to this work of sustainability.” The degree program cooperates with the Office’s mission statement in terms of its broadness and assists in the education of environmental factors in every field.

An Associates of Science in Environmental Studies and sustainability is set to debut across all 13 community colleges in Colorado by August of 2022. This program focuses more on what’s happening to the environment itself, separate from students’ individual fields of study. Schlarbaum said, “It’s important to know both (in reference to each degree program). We need to have both pictures in mind when making decisions.”

As Schlarbaum continues to push education in sustainability, one could wonder how they can contribute in their independent lives. He discussed that students can make an impact “Through their projects and through their assignments within their classes. They could ask their instructors about how this looks and beyond the typical perceptions of sustainability.”

As education opportunities continue to draw students towards PPCC, the Office of Sustainability provides the opportunity to take action. With the increasing severity of the climate crisis and Colorado’s lagging recycling efforts, it’s up to us to ensure our society can sustain itself on Earth for years to come. As Schlarbaum said, “I hope we’re past being paralyzed (about climate change) and we can actually act to change what the future holds for us.”

To learn more about the Office of Sustainability, the work it has done and continues to do, or how to be involved, contact the Office on their website to learn more.