KENOSHA — Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes spent the day Monday touring locations in Kenosha and Racine counties where sustainability efforts are underway that the state’s new Office of Sustainability and Clean Energy can help advance and support.
He toured the Center for Sustainable Living at Gateway Technical College, a local beekeeping operation and a rural community-supported agriculture farm where Barnes said he saw many techniques that can be duplicated throughout the state.
The new state office was created by order of Gov. Tony Evers in part to help achieve a goal of ensuring all electricity consumed within the state is carbon-free by 2050.
“I want to see us beat that goal,” Barnes said Monday.
The OSCE is charged with promoting the development and use of clean and renewable energy across the state, advancing innovative sustainability solutions that improve the state’s economy and environment, and helping diversify the resources used to meet the state’s energy needs.
“It’s not about recreating the wheel,” Barnes said. “We want to get to as many places as possible where people are already doing the work.”
He said the OSCE will work to amplify these types of efforts in order to help the state reduce its carbon footprint — which includes examining the state’s own operations.
“It all starts at home,” Barnes said. “We have to lead by example here with our own sustainability efforts in state government. We want to be able to inform our decision making to get Wisconsin on a path to a clean energy future, where we are carbon neutral and carbon free.”
Environmental focus at Gateway
Gateway president Bryan Albrecht said there has been a strong environmental focus at the college during the last decade.
“Our students should not only be great technicians, great community advocates and leader, but also have a respect for the environments in which they live, work and play,” he said.
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As part of the SEED (Sustainability Education and Economic Development) initiative, a coordinated national effort by community colleges, Gateway has hosted several national green economy and sustainability conferences, Albrecht said.
Stephanie Sklba, vice president of community and government relations at Gateway, said the college has been able to reduce its greenhouse gases by 20 percent through implementation of its sustainability plan. It conducts an annual greenhouse gas inventory.
Bringing it home
The Center for Sustainable Living highlights ways homeowners and business owners can go green, Sklba said. A home purchased by the Gateway Foundation and open to the public serves as an example of how solar, geothermal and sustainable materials can be used.
The center, which attracts 3,000 visitors per year, also highlights sustainable practices on land surrounding the center. There is a natural prairie, a butterfly gazebo, a bee education barn and a bat house.
Using existing structures on the homestead to create the educational spaces was also part of the sustainability effort, Albrecht said.
Sklba said Gateway also offers an independent study Green Scholar Program and was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a Green Ribbon School for its use of sustainable practices that all can employ.
Barnes lauded Gateway for its efforts to educate not only students, but also the public about sustainable living practices.
“It is something that is not talked about enough,” Barnes said, adding the OSCE will work to create more platforms for this dialogue.