Written by St. Mary’s students Hamida Valji and Eurkres Ayi based on interviews with Nicco Royce, Julia Welch, Marshall Welch, Richard Carp, Steve Woolpert, Scott Logan, and Matt Carroll.    

While this story is about a college campus, many of the steps undertaken by the college staff and students are applicable to elementary, middle, and high schools in Lamorinda.


Two years ago, a committee was formed by Brother Ron Gallagher, president of Saint Mary’s College of California, to develop a step-by-step plan to make Saint Mary’s a more sustainable and ecofriendly campus.

A campus Sustainability Committee used the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS), created by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The assessment is now complete, and this year the committee will finalize an action plan. Based on the STARS assessment, the college plans to integrate sustainability initiatives in four broad areas: Curriculum, co-curricular life, operations, and administration. In the meantime, the campus has already taken many steps to make the campus more sustainable.


1. Curriculum: Increasing the number of sustainability classes taught at Saint Mary’s.

The School of Economics and Business has created an undergraduate program in sustainability, and several courses in Environmental Science and Liberal and Civic Studies address issues of sustainability. A January Term class entitled “No-Impact Student” was taught by Julia Welch, the Campus Garden Steward. And the college has created a new program, the Center for Environmental Literacy, to embed sustainability topics into existing courses.

2. Co-curricular life: Spreading knowledge outside the classroom through organizations such as Mission & Ministry, dining services, and the student-run Project Green.

Project Green has campaigned for use of a Biodigestor to turn food waste into fuel, encouraged carpooling and ride sharing, and used competition to get students involved in saving energy. From August 2010 to March 2011, Saint Mary’s students prevented 35,570 pounds of carbon emissions from entering the environment by using the bus, carpooling, and bike riding. In April, Project Green sponsors a “Flip the Switch” competition between residence halls, which encourages students to reduce the amount of kilowatt-hours they use in a week by turning off the lights when they leave a room. The campus dining service, Sodexo, spends 40 percent of its food budget on local food items. Food waste from the dining hall is sent to the Biodigester project in Oakland, where it is turned into gas for power.

3. Operations: Upgrading buildings and other campus facilities to save energy.

Scott Logan, the sustainability coordinator for Campus Facilities, has begun this work by calculating the energy consumption of many of the buildings around campus and comparing them to one another.  He is using this utility benchmarking strategy to see how the college can reduce its costs and its carbon footprint. For example, Madigan Pool consumes a lot of energy because it is on 24 hours a day even when no one is using it and needs to be heated during the winter.  The monthly energy cost for the pool in a warm November was $981, which is fairly low when compared to the energy cost of $2,475 for December.  Saint Mary’s is currently seeking ways to reduce this financial and energy expenditure.

Some progress has already been made. As a result of upgrading the campus’s toilets and urinals, Saint Mary’s will save 4.3 million gallons of water each year, resulting in a saving of more than $14,000 on its water bill. HVAC systems, boilers, ventilation systems, and window films have also been replaced in an attempt to reduce energy costs. The college has also retrofitted plumbing fixtures and installed vending misers and occupancy sensors to reduce energy consumption. These steps are already helping Saint Mary’s become a more sustainable and eco-friendly campus.

4. Administration: The administration policy calls for changes in the overall master plan at Saint Mary’s College to make it more sustainable.   One example of a policy change is that all dining facilities on campus now compost pre- and post-consumer waste.  The school is also hoping to track and reduce overall campus emissions and have its most energy and water efficient buildings recognized by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) or another similar program at some point.

Case Study:

The Legacy Garden at Saint Mary’s College is a perfect example of how all four of these areas can be intertwined to create a successful initiative for sustainability. The Legacy Garden was started in the summer of 2008 by Julia Welch, a Jan Term professor at Saint Mary’s, and Saint Mary’s students. It now acts as a flowing supply for seasonal and sustainable produce and a great place for student to learn more about sustainability.

> Read a success story about the garden…

> View Julia’s sustainability tips for Lamorinda residents…


All these steps help to solve the real challenge of converting a campus built in the late 1920s to a green campus that will accommodate today’s changes in the environment. The ongoing challenge is to link all these goals and not only become a sustainable campus but also spread knowledge and education about sustainability. The students who are educated today at Saint Mary’s will be the leaders of tomorrow who are responsible for the fate of our planet.


STARS Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System:  https://stars.aashe.org/

St. Mary’s Center for Environmental Literacy:  http://www.stmarys-ca.edu/center-for-environmental-literacy

Legacy Garden: http://www.stmarys-ca.edu/garden

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