Mills College Preserves Its Natural Environment
by Quynh Tran

Nestled on a 135-acre campus, Mills College in Oakland, California, is committed to preserving its unique cultural and natural heritage through conscientious sustainable planning, development, and practices. Foremost for this 156-year-old women’s college is the preservation of its natural environment.

Mills College

Mills College students in the Recycling Club promote campus
sustainability by showing their peers examples of recyclable
and compostable materials in Adam’s Plaza, the heart of campus
 Image courtesy of  Britta Bullard, Recycling Manager,
Mills College.

Mills College is a signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment and a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. It has received a grant from the Getty Foundation to create a Landscape Heritage Plan, which would guide the college’s future development. Last year, Mills College also received the Alameda County Waste Management Award for diverting more than 60 percent of its waste from landfills through food composting; recycling building materials, paper, cans, and bottles; using biodegradable utensils and dishware made from corn and potatoes; and purchasing and using recycled materials when possible.

“Sustainable thinking is a campus-wide initiative at Mills,” said Karen Maggio, associate vice president for campus planning and facilities. From new building construction to campus life, every action at Mills College is guided by values that would improve the campus ecosystem, encourage inquiry and environmental justice, and build a strong connection between Mills and its larger community.

For example, the college’s new Betty Irene Moore Natural Sciences building received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum rating in 2007, the first platinum certified building in Oakland. The city of Oakland has designated one week in February as “Mills College Week” in its honor. The building features Forest Stewardship Council certified and reclaimed wood, 30 kilowatt photovoltaic panels on the roof, a rainwater collection system, energy efficient mechanical equipment, radiant heated floors, automatic windows with low emission glass for ventilation, recycled materials in construction, and all native drought tolerant plant species in three courtyards. Efficiency was also designed into the laboratory fume hood systems that keep fans running in their optimum ranges. The result is a building that is almost 90 percent more energy efficient than a typical lab in the Bay Area and 45 percent more energy efficient than required by state law.

Another building project includes the renovations on the school’s Music Building. It used recycled materials in the concert hall seating to save costs, and restored the facility’s carved wooden chair arms. The to-be-completed Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business is designed within LEED gold guidelines and includes a green roof planted with drought-tolerant sedum; energy-efficient, radiant-heated floors; an evaporative cooling system; use of low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints; and a rainwater collection system. The wood from a Montezuma cypress tree that was removed from the the building site also will be crafted into custom furniture for the building’s public areas.

To ensure that buildings will receive the proper maintenance and function efficiently in the future, Mills also endows 10 percent of the construction costs on every large renovation or new construction project for future building maintenance.

Other campus projects to preserve this historic college include: environmentally friendly fire management techniques that selectively remove undergrowth and leave lawn clippings in place to promote fertilization and reduce waste; and restoration of Leona Creek, one of Mills’ most unique natural features that runs from the Oakland hills, through the campus, to the Oakland Estuary, and out to the San Francisco Bay. The restoration of this creek includes the replacement of non-native, invasive, plant species with native trees and riparian vegetation, and the repair or replacement of creek drop structures. Mills is also committed to restoring Lake Aliso, a one-acre body of water with historical and cultural significance to campus life.

Members of the Mills College Sustainability Committee, which is comprised of students, faculty, staff and alumnae, are charged with developing and evaluating the progress of the sustainable initiatives on campus.

Quynh Tran is the Media Relations Manager at Mills College and can be reached at:

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