The finish on the cabinets at Hillsborough Community College's SouthShore Center is made from banana leaves and coconut fronds because they improve the air quality.
Countertop finishes come from recycled materials like plastic bottles and bamboo.
The air that cools buildings comes from under the floors instead of overhead vents. And, the building, which opened in the fall of 2008, runs east to west so sunlight doesn't directly hit expansive windows.
I could go on and on. From the xeriscaping and biofiltration system in the parking lot to the high ceilings that take advantage of ambient light, the center is LEED-certified and the crown jewel of HCC's efforts to go green.
The quest to reduce the college's carbon footprint extends to all five of its campuses and its administrative offices on Davis Islands. Ever since former president Gwendolyn Stephenson committed the college to becoming more environmentally friendly, college administrators, faculty and students have sought ways to elevate sustainability.
In December 2008, Stephenson signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, pledging to exert leadership on addressing climate change. Stephenson didn't stand alone.
Within a month, administrators, faculty and students formed the HCC Sustainability Council to support the approach and neutralize greenhouse gas emissions.
"The council was an all-volunteer effort," said Barbara Larson, HCC's vice president for administration and chief financial officer. "None of us joined this group because Dr. Stephenson said, 'I want a council.' Instead, we said, 'Dr. Stephenson, we're here to support you on behalf of the climate commitment.' "
New HCC president Ken Atwater is no less enthusiastic about the commitment. He signed the pledge while president of South Mountain Community College in Arizona.
In seeking to carry out the requirements of the climate commitment, the council addresses sustainability efforts in three areas: facilities and operations, curriculum, and community outreach.
Look closely and you'll find some of the technology at the SouthShore Center — like a motion-operated lighting system — on other campuses. Overall, the indoor square footage on HCC's campuses expanded in 2009, but the college's electric bill stayed flat. Administrators credit their commitment to green operations.
As for the curriculum, architecture and building construction professors already teach green principles. The Plant City campus offers environmental sciences. The Florida Advance Technological Education Center, housed on the Brandon campus, helped develop the framework for a statewide alternative- energy certificate.
Administrators also are working with the solar industry to develop a solar technician program for SouthShore.
The college seeks to engage the community through educational programs operated by its Institute of Florida Studies at locations across the county and appearances by the sustainability council at various seminars. Last week it participated in the county's E3 Forum at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts.
"Truly the movement is coming forward from the grass roots," said Sudeep Vyapari, director of the institute. "It's not being imposed by administrators on everyone else. It's faculty and staff and students who are really charged about it.
"Not taking the lead on efforts such as sustainability is no longer an option. We will be left behind."
Still, there is more work to be done. Results of a 2008-09 inventory indicated that HCC emits about 37,287 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. That's the equivalent of 3.8 million gallons of gas, which is a good comparison given that 77 percent of the college's carbon footprint comes from its large commuter population.
Sounds like we need a light-rail station at the HCC Dale Mabry campus, but that's another column for another time.
That's all I'm saying.