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Thomas Williams serves as the first Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) at Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD). In this role, Mr. Williams strives to model and teach environmental, social and economic responsibilities required of the 21st century, weaving together efforts made in the community with those of the college system.

As the CSO for a college district, Mr. Williams has the unique opportunity to bring together 10 community colleges by finding common ground, uniting everyone through shared goals and providing the support to drive sustainability advancements.

When Mr. Williams joined MCCCD, they were facing a 14 year drought in Arizona. He knew he that his first order of business was to advance a water conservation program to save energy and prepare for possible water shortages that would benefit all colleges within the district. He evaluated what each of the MCCD’s campuses were doing in regard to water, where it was going, how it was used and how the infrastructure could be improved. This evaluation was greatly supported by a sustainability committee made up of one representative from each college and the Chancellor who had previously signed the Presidents Climate Commitment.

The Sustainability Committee has stayed in place even after several projects, such as the water conservation program, have completed. “Not only does this committee work on sustainability projects, but it facilitates conversations around best practices, provides recommendations on potential sustainable solutions and supports connection among all member colleges,” Mr. Williams explained. “It felt vital to me that member colleges find common interests to support one another while identifying which colleges may need additional support to get sustainability initiatives off the ground,” he continued.

Several efforts to bring together all campuses and advance sustainability that Mr. Williams is particularly proud of are:

“Sustainability is not a one man show. Many people have to work together as a team to move things forward. We need to all stay engaged to advance sustainability,” said Mr. Williams. It is this need to collaborate not only within MCCCD, but within the higher education sustainability community, that keeps this district an AASHE member. “Joining AASHE was beneficial to being part of a greater community where I can access resources, conferences and workshops. This membership helps address the limitations that I face and keep me focused on what I can control.”

What kind of challenges do you face? How do you overcome these obstacles? Share in the comments, below.

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