When Nelson Dilg wanted to have his employees at Nelbud Services Group in Egg Harbor City certified as LEED Green Associates, he partnered with Atlantic Cape Community College to provide the training.

"In building services, it's no surprise there is a green emphasis," he said of the training in sustainable building principles and practices. "Building managers are looking for solutions. Atlantic Cape is very nimble in adapting to what businesses need."

There are many ways to be green. Area colleges are trying to lead by example, both in their academic programs and on their campuses.

But college officials said there is a move away from strict conservationism toward sustainability, the practice of being environmentally sensitive but incorporating the role of society and business in maintaining natural resources. It's a position that is not always popular but may be more attainable.

"Thirty years ago, the focus was on protecting the environment," said Patrick Hossay, a professor of sustainability at Richard Stockton College, which has started a new degree program. "Today, it is not just the environment but also about people's health, air and water quality, and the economy. There is a triple bottom line - social, cultural and environmental."

While the old idea of environmentalism could exclude humans, the sustainability model says people are part of the environment but have a responsibility to maintain it for future generations.

"No one is going to save the planet if they are unemployed," Hossay said. "We are giving students skills employers will want for the future. There are businesses that will hire a director of sustainability, and it's not just about compliance with laws but about having a green profile."

So while Stockton continues to offer environmental and marine science degrees, the new sustainability degree also addresses business, law, public policy, health sciences and even philosophy. New campus buildings are constructed with sustainable materials and practices.

Stockton junior Sarah Maldonado, a sustainability major, said even students not in environmental majors notice the steps Stockton has taken to be sustainable, ranging from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified buildings to solar carports, water-refill stations and dual-flush toilets.

"If you educate, they notice," said Maldonado, who is also co-coordinator of S.A.V.E., or Student Action Volunteers for the Environment, a club that has been part of the college since 1974.

Don Woolslayer, director of plant management at Stockton, said sustainability is just smart business.

The water-filling stations saved the equivalent of 500,000 plastic bottles of water in a year. The solar carports generated 600 kilowatts per hour even on a cloudy February day. The switch to low-flow dual-flush toilets in the Housing 1 renovation is saving more than 300,000 gallons of water a month.

"The toilets are one of my favorites," Woolslayer said. "They're designed to use 40 percent less water."

Alice Gitchell, Stockton's energy specialist, said the key is finding a balance. Stockon will likely never consider windmills, because there is just not enough wind, but is looking into solar hot water.

And while the new Campus Center is LEED gold certified, students admit to loving the gas fireplaces that burn all day, even while questioning their "greenness."

"We have discussed that in class," Maldonado said of the fireplaces. "They are really attractive and nice to sit by when it's snowing, but they don't really heat anything."

Atlantic Cape Community College began a Green Campus Initiative five years ago. A solar carport project was delayed by financing but is now running. The new science building will be eligible for LEED silver status. School officials are looking at replacing some grass with plants that won't need much watering so they can eliminate the irrigation system.

A big issue for Atlantic Cape is its Culinary Arts Academy. On one hand, the college operates its own greenhouse and teaches organic gardening. On the other, it generates a tremendous amount of food waste.

Dean of Facilities, Planning and Research Richard Perniciaro said the school used to send the waste to pig farms, but they closed. It found a company willing to take waste from the Cape May campus to a composting facility in Delaware, but the waste from the main campus still goes to a landfill, which is more costly.

Atlantic Cape also is shifting its academic focus to the sustainable training programs that businesses want.

"Businesses want to be more energy efficient, but they also want to know what will be the return on their investment, and how do you measure it," said Jean McAlister, associate dean of continuing education and business development. "There is more a demand in creating a balance between protecting the environment, persevering natural resources and yet being smarter in business."

She said the college has training programs on waste management with local municipal utilities authorities, and as of Jan. 1, 2015, any company doing government-funded construction work must have Building Performance Institute training and credentials, which will include anyone doing Hurricane Sandy construction.

College students who have grown up recycling said they believe there is greater awareness of environmental issues among their peers, though that doesn't necessarily always translate into action, as weekly WaterWatch cleanup crews at Stockton can attest as they pick up discarded beer cans around Lake Fred.

Stockton WaterWatch chapter President Jessica Okazaki, an environmental chemistry major, said while she picked Stockton for its environmental programs, she likes that many of the students in WaterWatch are from other majors but are still interested in the environment. She hopes to have a career in water pollution cleanup and appreciates that, at Stockton, she can work with professors, such as Tait Chirenje, who study water quality.

"The Pinelands really are a distinct area," she said. "I love the environment here."

Maldonado said she hopes to work in the conservation of shoreline biosystems and realizes conservation alone is not enough to save the world.

"We are learning how to put science into play in the real world with people in it," she said. "We have to protect people's culture. You can't just say the environment is all that matters."

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241