The First Project to Earn SITES, LEED, and TRUE Zero Waste Certifications

Bioswale interpretive signage
image: courtesy of OCC Recycling Center

Orange Coast College Recycling Center becomes first project in the world to earn SITES, LEED, and TRUE Zero Waste certifications

The Orange Coast College (OCC) Recycling Center—already a LEED Gold certified building—has taken sustainability initiatives to a new level by recently achieving SITES Gold and TRUE Zero Waste Platinum certification. The center is also the first project in California to earn SITES v2 certification. Over the past 5 years, a team of sustainability experts has been working on plans to develop the outside space at the recycling center, which has served the OCC and its surrounding community for over 45 years.

The resulting project was truly a collaborative community effort. To prepare for the design, the local community was polled and asked about what types of programs and amenities they wanted the recycling center to include. They shared an interest in use of native plants, public art, interpretive signage, community opportunities and tours, as well as a desire for information on how to be more sustainable and make living spaces greener, organic gardening, and native plant programs.

The results were integrated into the design of the landscape, which focused on incorporating environmentally friendly elements while also increasing public environmental education and active demonstrations of sustainability. The project boasts a wide variety of environmental education opportunities and serves as a great example for how sustainable landscapes can enhance learning and the world around us.

image: courtesy of OCC Recycling Center

The three-acre project includes a native plant garden that features desert willow, Tecate cypress and California live oak trees, milkweed, black and white sage, California wild rose, fuchsia gooseberry, and more. The public garden is designed to attract and protect native wildlife, including the declining monarch butterfly which depends on milkweed for the survival of its caterpillars. The center also features rotating exhibits of public art created by OCC art students that are made from recycled materials.

Interpretive signage illustrates the reclaimed water reuse system to visitors and explains how potable water is conserved in the native plant garden. And during special events, tours, and other community activities, the public is invited to learn about and access the many sustainable areas of the site, including a bioswale/arroyo demonstration that teaches visitors about stormwater quality and runoff, composting and recycling areas, a recycled water and retention basin, reflective pavement art, and an on-site food production garden where visitors can learn about farm-to-table gardening and healthier lifestyles.

The SITES project team at the college was led by the OCC Recycling Center Sustainability Director Mike Carey, and included a key integrated design team from the college Landscape Architecture, Horticulture, Grounds Supervision, Community Support, Finance, Art and Administration departments as well as expert SITES and sustainability consultants from verde, Byline7, and Michael Baker International.

According to Rich Pagel, Vice President of Administrative Services and a key member of the SITES project team, “The OCC Recycling Center has been a leader in Orange County’s sustainability world for nearly five decades and we are extremely excited to be the first SITES v2 certified project in the State of California. We believe in creating an environment in which we can not only talk about a sustainable future, but demonstrate the benefits to our students and community.”

Final phases of art installation and signage are currently under way, and the Center hosted a plaque dedication ceremony on July 22, 2019 to commemorate the achievement. USGBC and GBCI President & CEO Mahesh Ramanujam was on site to present the project with their SITES, LEED, and TRUE plaques.

Read more about the OCC Recycling Center’s SITES certified project >

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