It’s the crown jewel of sustainability — a platinum certification signifying all the steps to making a space sustainable have been met.
For UC Merced, platinum certification had eluded the Green Labs and Green Offices programs. That changed recently when the Office of the Chancellor achieved platinum Green Offices status and biology labs directed by School of Natural Sciences instructional lab coordinator Jim Whalen secured platinum Green Labs certification.
The road to platinum in the chancellor’s office came down to little changes — turning the lights off when not in use, double-sided printing and having a central designated area for waste.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for us to be able to lead by example,” administrative assistant Deserie Cravalho-Crews said. “Those types of things make a big difference. Hopefully, others can see and learn that it does not have to be dramatic changes to make an impact.”
Joshua Ahmed, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, and Carlin Coleman, a junior majoring in environmental engineering, served as Green Offices interns and helped guide the Office of the Chancellor through the necessary changes.
But this is really the culmination of many other efforts, too.
“It feels incredible knowing I took the first step for this program,” said Ahmed, a Los Angeles native who served as the Green Offices intern during the spring 2018 semester. “It substantiates the work done by the interns who have come before, all working diligently to make the first platinum certification happen.”
Coleman, a native of Sacramento, is the current intern for Green Offices. While platinum certification may sound difficult to achieve, she believes it comes down to making a concerted effort.
“People think that small changes won't make much of a difference, but those changes are important,” Coleman said. “Each small step is a step in the right direction, and it accumulates to a bigger positive change.”
Whalen’s biology labs exemplified that mentality.
After initially receiving a silver certification in May, Whalen worked with senior Areli Orozco, an Office of Sustainability intern, to identify areas of improvement. Though adding signage to pieces of equipment and switches to remind people to turn them off helped the lab achieve gold, reaching platinum in a lab setting required more work.
Whalen said monitoring freezers for energy consumption, making energy-saving practices part of all new-employee orientations, and offering unused chemicals to other campus labs that might use them helped push his labs over the platinum threshold.
“Most non-scientists would probably be surprised to learn that biologists actually generate a tremendous amount of hazardous waste when we perform experiments,” Whalen said. “We hope to continue to set an example for how to not only maintain but to continually improve sustainable practices in the instructional labs.”
Orozco partnered with Whalen as an intern with Energize Colleges in the spring, but her internship ended in May. She wanted to see the project through, so she asked the Office of Sustainability to sponsor her continued internship.
Orozco, a Los Angeles native, is set to graduate in December with a degree in chemistry and views receiving the first platinum Green Labs certification as her thank you to the campus for the help she has received in getting a diploma.
“I never thought about what it is to be part of UC Merced and helping it grow,” Orozco said. “I never thought my contribution would be helpful, but now that I see it is helping, I feel very thankful that I was part of this experience.”