Recycling center achieves a world-wide first honor

Twenty planter boxes behind the Orange Coast College Recycling Center grow a variety of produce, which is used in the cafeteria and the food pantry on campus. The center recently became the only facility in the world to earn triple certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The Orange Coast College Recycling Center has been honored by the U.S. Green Building Council for its triple certification achievement in sustainability, becoming the first facility in the world to do so.

The triple certification includes LEED certification, the Sustainable SITES Initiative and TRUE Zero Waste certification. The recycling center earned all three, concluding with the TRUE Zero Waste achievement over the summer.

“Once we achieved [TRUE Zero Waste], the president and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council came here to do the plaque dedication, recognized us for achieving all three because it makes us the first site in the world to hold all three certifications. It’s a huge accomplishment,” Mike Carey, sustainability coordinator at OCC said.

Achieving LEED certification was a goal of Carey’s even before plans for the college’s new recycling center were finalized. After pitching the idea to the Associated Students of Orange Coast College they decided proceed with the program.

“At least five years ago we were thinking about [achieving LEED certification], before we even broke ground because there’s some things you have to do from the very beginning with LEED. It’s really in-depth,” Carey said. “You have to do soil testing. LEED wants to make sure that the soil is good, not contaminated and it’s native — that you haven’t imported soil. The [certification] was planned from very early stages.”

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a point-based system of the U.S. Green Building Council and is the most widely used green building rating system in the world.

Buildings are rated on whether they encourage alternative modes of transportation by having bike racks, skateboarding racks and having showers on site.   

They look at things like community connectivity, if the building is close to services that people use frequently like churches, schools, gyms and restaurants.

“Our architects and designers had committed to providing a LEED Silver facility, but as we got through the process we were getting pretty close to having enough points for gold,” Carey said, “so we really pushed and achieved enough points to get LEED gold.”

After achieving LEED, the team at the recycling center looked into SITES.

SITES is another certification with a point-based system that focuses more on outdoor spaces, water usage and outdoor relaxation.

The recycling center built 20 raised planter beds in the Horticulture Garden where fruits and vegetables are grown and used in both the cafeteria and food pantry. Also installed was a Japanese tea garden that was built by the Architecture department which included carefully selected plants lining the parking lot.

Just like LEED, they were originally promised SITES silver but had enough points to achieve SITES gold.

The last of the three that they achieved was TRUE Zero Waste certification. The goal to achieve this came most naturally as Carey was a board member for the organization that developed the point-based rating system that was later adopted by the U.S. Green Building Council, he said.

“I thought it was a no brainer that we go zero waste here because that’s really all we do, that’s our entire mission is to create less waste.” Carey said. “We were successful in getting TRUE Zero Waste platinum certification, the highest level that you can achieve.”

This achievement will potentially set a new standard for other construction projects on campus.

“You can’t buy that kind of advertising,” Carey said. “We would rather explain that we are a LEED building than explain why we’re not. It really holds us to our values, that we are doing what we are saying we are doing.”

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