Building a Greener Future Together

Before Pitzer College could begin building green, it had to get a little dirty. Since the College's new residence halls were to be constructed on a challenging piece of real estate—an old landfill—the first step was to unearth everything buried there prior to the '50s. Massive amounts of construction debris and soil were removed properly to revitalize the landscape and recharge the aquifer for the retention of storm water.

What this initial challenge at Pitzer demonstrates is that truly green practices must go beyond the surface. Remnants of the past must be “dug up” and old ways and habits purged and transformed for the greater good of the land and each other. Creating a greener future is about highperformance buildings, drought-tolerant landscaping and alternative transportation, to name a few. Effective action to address the complexities of climate change must go beyond campaigns and slogans and identify specific targets for minimizing climate-altering gas emissions.

The U.N. World Commission on Environment and Development has defined “sustainability” as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Ever mindful of the future, Pitzer has always held the environment and a sustainable future as central concerns in its commitment to environmental balance and social justice. The College recognizes that any definition of sustainability is complex and inherently interdisciplinary, encompassing nearly every aspect of life. In 2002 the College Council formally adopted its Statement of Environmental Policy and Principles to integrate socially and environmentally conscious practices into college operations and the education of its students. Action must be taken and Pitzer continues to lead the way with the conception and completion of the College's environmentally friendly residence halls.

Residential Student Room

The energy design system for the new residence halls consumes 30.3 percent less energy due to compact fluorescent lighting, daylighting and insulation. In addition, when students open a window its inter-lock feature automatically shuts off the heating or air conditioning. Opening the window across from the door and above it allows for increased cross ventilation. The bathrooms feature low-flow shower heads, faucets and toilets. Throughout the residence halls lowemitting materials, including adhesives, sealants, paints and carpets were used.

Built to the Highest Standards

According to the Pew Center for Global Change, the energy services required by residential, commercial and industrial buildings produce approximately 43 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Since most of the electricity in the U.S. is generated by burning fossil fuels, the greatest contributor to climate change, the construction of new buildings presents the perfect opportunity to implement a comprehensive emission reduction strategy.

Four years ago, a group of dedicated students, faculty, staff, trustees and administrators gathered in the Founders Room in McConnell Center to discuss the College's vision for student housing. From the beginning, the community engaged in a series of discussions about what practical dimensions and environmental goals they wanted the buildings to embody, what they wanted them to stand for, and what kinds of integrative community functions they wanted them to fulfill. “We were determined to imagine new buildings that would embrace our commitment to community and diversity and symbolize sustainability,” President Laura Skandera Trombley recalled. “At the time, examples of environmentally sustainable buildings were still relatively rare and it was inspiring to take this first step in rethinking how our presence as the leading institution of conscience occupies and impacts the space that supports us.”

Turning to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a coalition of leaders from across the building industry, Pitzer relied on the standards established by the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) to guide the project. LEED's goal is to set a design guideline “to promote full building design, and to establish a market value for the green standard.” LEED provides a tool (the Checklist) and a certification process to give some guidance and structure to “green” building by establishing performance goals and industry standards.

The LEED process assigns points in six categories: Sustainable Site, Materials & Resources, Water Efficiency, Indoor Environmental Quality, Energy & Atmosphere and Innovation & Design Process. In addition to the energy and atmosphere requirements for a building, there are opportunities for responsible design that move beyond the energy focus, but which have energy implications. For example, in the Material & Resources category, 80 percent of the building materials were manufactured within 200 miles of the project site, which reduced the amount of nonrenewable resources consumed for transportation.

Pitzer has designed and built Phase I of its new residence halls to the LEED Gold-level standard and upon completion of its three-phase construction project in progress, Pitzer will likely become the first college in the nation to have all Gold LEED-certified halls. “Pitzer has the opportunity, in launching into a green building campaign, to really 'walk its talk'—to experiment with cutting-edge technology, to demonstrate what is possible and to have students experience that we can live in more sustainable ways and enjoy it and do better in it,” President and Founder of Natural Capitalism L. Hunter Lovins '72 said. “This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for the College.”

Green Bike Program

Founded by Pitzer College students as part of a class project in 2001, the Green Bike Program (GBP) seeks to counter Los Angeles' renowned car culture by encouraging bike riding. The GBP urges students and the community to rely on an alternate and low-impact means of transportation by making bikes accessible for Pitzer students, faculty and staff and providing on-campus maintenance for all Claremont University Consortium bike riders.

At the end of each semester, Campus Safety confiscates abandoned bikes left on campus. Usually, these bikes end up in a landfill, but thanks to the GBP, they are refurbished and raffled off to students each semester at no charge. All students, staff and faculty from the 5Cs-not just GBP bike recipients-can bring their bikes to the shop for repairs. The GBP even makes use of unusable parts (including everything from wheels, frames and pedals to nuts, bolts and washers) by giving them to art students to use in their work.

The shop is currently located in the Holden Hall basement, but will soon have a new home next to the Gold Student Center, fulfilling a Sustainable Site credit toward Gold LEED certification for the new residence halls.

For more information visit the Green Bike Program website.

As Ann Rappaport and Sarah Hammond Creighton point out in their book, Degrees that Matter: Climate Change and the University, environmentally sound building techniques are especially effective in a college or university setting, “where typically most of a college or university's greenhouse gas emissions come from heating buildings, providing hot water, and generating electricity needed for cooling buildings.” The central plant for the new halls, housed in Pitzer Hall, contains highefficiency chillers, boilers and pumps that provide central heating and cooling to all four buildings. This plant will also provide the infrastructure to power the next two phases of the Residential Life Project. Furthermore, photovoltaic roof panels provide fifteen kilowatts of renewable energy daily and Pitzer purchases power credits to support the development of green power. It is estimated that the new residence halls will consume 30.2 percent less energy as compared to buildings constructed to standard code.

For Pitzer it was imperative that the residence halls not only be constructed to the highest level of sustainability, but also that they encourage community interaction. All of the halls' exterior hallways face the center courtyard fostering a strong indoor-outdoor relationship between students and the adjacent open spaces. Outdoor wood niches on each floor encourage students to step out of their rooms and chat with friends. The study lounges located throughout all three halls offer some of the most spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains and are also great places to gather. The lounges feature tables and chairs to accommodate group discussions and projects as well as comfortable chairs to relax in while reading a good book.

“We're creating an environment in which living and learning are blending together-it's truly a living laboratory for us,” said Professor of Environmental Studies Paul Faulstich. The halls were designed to accommodate multiple uses. Atherton Hall, for instance, includes an art gallery and studio, a music practice room, and a smart technology classroom. The Office of Admission has a new home in Pitzer Hall and two faculty members are in residence in Sanborn and Atherton Halls.

“Our great triumph is that we have proven building at the highest level of sustainability is not a question of budget, but an issue of commitment,” President Trombley said. “Pitzer is and always will be one of the most committed institutions to activism and idealism and these buildings will stand as a permanent testament to our collective efforts.”

Green Features

  1. The Atherton Hall green garden roof system is an extension of the existing roof that includes a high-quality water proofing and root repellant system, a drainage system, filter cloth, a lightweight growing medium and plants. Among other benefits, green roofs help deal with stormwater runoff and reduce energy use by insulating buildings.
  2. Lighting can account for anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of a building's total energy use. Compact fluorescent bulbs are used throughout the halls and the amount of exterior lighting is minimal to reduce light pollution while still maintaining security.
  3. Photovoltaic (PV) roof panels provide fifteen kilowatts of renewable energy daily. PV panels absorb the energy of the sun and convert that energy into electricity. PV systems generate electricity without any heat-trapping gas emissions. They also generate power most effectively at times when power demand is usually the greatest—hot, sunny days.
  4. All of the residence halls are constructed of building materials made of recycled content including structural steel, concrete, gypsum board, carpeting and insulation.
  5. Green cleaning products are used by custodial staff for common rooms and these products are also available for students to use in their individual rooms.
  6. Rainwater percolates through the permeable asphalt. This process filters impurities before it reaches the stormwater system. The color of the sidewalks, staircases, entries and landings were all reviewed and selections exhibit the site’s hardscape adherence to appropriate reflectance.

A Revisioned Southern California Landscape

Pitzer is situated at the edge of the desert in a semi-arid environment and uses both imported water from the Feather and Sacramento Rivers in northern California as well as local water from Mount Baldy to support its campus. The city of Claremont receives approximately 4.2 billion gallons of water annually and Pitzer claims roughly 33 million gallons each year. The means of transporting water from northern California is a highly energy intensive process. In comparison to the 650 kilowatt- hours it takes to transport one acre-foot of local water from Mount Baldy, it requires 2,580 kilowatt-hours to obtain one acre-foot of imported water from northern California.

Built on an alluvial fan, the area regularly experiences water shortages and many surrounding communities have already imposed severe water restrictions. As water becomes scarcer, it is crucial to consider more efficient methods of using and acquiring water.

In Spring 2005, Professor Emeritus of Political Studies Jack Sullivan and the students in his Politics of Water course compiled a study on water conservation at Pitzer. Recognizing the opportunity to be on the cutting-edge of ecological awareness and education through the implementation of water conservation in the new residence halls, several class groups made early recommendations for indoor and outdoor water conservation efforts as well as waste water and stormwater management.

With outdoor water consumption accounting for 70 percent of water usage in Southern California, the student group focusing on outdoor water conversation encouraged the College to incorporate landscaping, hardscape and irrigation systems that best fit the campus' semi-arid climate. For instance, the group encouraged the use of drought-tolerant native plants since they do not threaten the delicate desert ecosystem and can survive with little or no maintenance.

The use of native plants is the first step in xeriscaping, in which plants are grouped and planted in areas according to the light and water requirements of each. Xeriscapes also contain mulch that reduces the evaporation of moisture from the soil and stormwater water runoff among other benefits. Another method for minimizing stormwater runoff is the use of porous concrete and asphalt in hardscaping, thereby allowing rain to drain through the pavement and recharge the ground water.

Many of these class recommendations have now come to fruition with the completion of the new residence halls. Reduced site disturbance has been achieved by preserving a green belt area around the halls that is equal in size to the footprint area of the buildings. Many of the paths that connect the halls are composed of permeable asphalt. Drought tolerant plants are incorporated into the landscape and irrigation is minimized by using a high-efficiency irrigation system and climate-based controllers.

To coincide with its green building efforts, Pitzer has continued Professor John Rodman's plan to revision the entire campus landscape to be more akin to the natural environment, allowing for the conservation of resources and costs. Consistent with the master campus landscaping plan, beginning in August many non-native and nondrought-tolerant plants on campus were significantly trimmed or removed. Some removal areas have been reserved for student projects and other areas have been replanted with cacti, succulents and other drought-tolerant plants by Arboretum Director Joe Clements and his staff.

Previous low-impact plantings have already saved significant amounts of water and costs at Pitzer. After a bed of perennial flowers in front of Broad Center was converted to cacti and succulents, water usage for that area was reduced by 80 percent. Similarly, the lawn of the President's house was replaced with desert plants in summer 2005 and the water bill for the property has since decreased by 62 percent.

Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world—growing as fast as 47.6 inches in a 24-hour period. It is able to reach maturity in about four years, compared to the typical twenty-five to seventy years for commercial tree species in the U.S. Bamboo tolerates extremes of drought and flooding, generates more oxygen than trees, and is considered a critical element in the balance between oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Nature's most sustainable resource, bamboo, is grown without pesticides or chemicals, is 100-percent biodegradable, and is naturally regenerative. Bamboo is planted and grown on family-owned farms that have been in agricultural use for generations. None of the fiber comes from tropical forests.

Bamboo fiber is softer than the softest cotton, has a natural sheen to the surface and feels similar to silk or cashmere. Unlike other antimicrobial fabrics, which require a chemical treatment, bamboo fiber clothing is naturally antimicrobial and requires no harmful chemicals. It contains an agent, “bamboo kun,” that prevents bacteria from cultivating on it. Bamboo apparel is comfortable and thermal regulating. Beginning at the Residential Life Project Celebration and Dedication in September, Pitzer College has begun selling bamboo t-shirts with the College's wordmark on the front and tree logo on the sleeve. The t-shirts, made from 70-percent bamboo and 30-percent organic cotton, are available in both men's and women's sizes small, medium, large and extralarge for $14 each. Women's t-shirts are available in orange, natural and black and men's in natural and black.

Visit the Pitzer online store at to order your very own bamboo t-shirt and other Pitzer College gear.

Leading the Way

Pitzer has always been a college that takes chances, being bold where others might choose a more conservative path. The three green residence halls stand as a collective testament to the College's progressive environmental and community ideals. Not only does Pitzer's physical structure communicate these values, but the College's curriculum continues to affect change in the world at large.

The Environmental Studies field group has prepared students for graduate work and careers in teaching, public policy and administration, law, environmental sciences, international affairs, and the nonprofit sector. An interdisciplinary program focusing on the interaction between the human and nonhuman components of the biosphere, Environmental Studies strives to apply the diverse orientations of the social sciences, humanities and physical sciences to environmental issues.

Students in the Theory and Practice in Environmental Education course participate in the Leadership in Environmental Education Partnership (LEEP) and have the exciting opportunity to teach elementary school children from diverse backgrounds about ecology and environmental concerns in the Claremont community. During the Spring 2007 semester, students in the Building Sustainability course compiled and presented a class assessment of Pitzer's sustainability efforts and made recommendations for further initiatives. A number of students also study at Pitzer's Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology in Costa Rica, established in 2005. The program features local collaborative resource management, a focus on human and tropical ecology, the study of reforestation and sustainable agriculture/permaculture practices, and communitybased education including intensive language and culture studies.

“What we have created in our external environment has now been extended to our internal environment in our residence halls,” President Trombley said. “This is truly a defining accomplishment in Pitzer’s history and its future.”