Environmental Technology Center

Experiential Learning

Bringing sustainability to life

The Environmental Technology Center (ETC) is a hub for Chandler-Gilbert’s interdisciplinary Experiential Learning projects that focus on sustainability. In 2009, the ETC was established by 12 instructors from various departments and academic disciplines who worked with students from their classes, Honors programs, clubs, and community groups to bring sustainability theories to life—literally. By applying their collective knowledge, this group transformed a dusty, two-acre plot of land into an outdoor garden-based classroom.

Today, ETC is engaged in a number of sustainability initiatives. Learn more about current and past projects:

Current Projects

Zai Pits

Zai, or Tassa pits, were dug by an Environmental Ethics class in October of 2022 and are an example of desert and dryland farming techniques. First originating in the north of Africa, they are a great example of different cultural methods of growing food in arid regions. These micro-catchment basins help to harvest rainwater, protect seedlings and fledgling plants from harsh weather, and create a healthy microbiome in each pocket. They can be used to grow most anything, but are often associated with grain and cereal crops.

Seed Bank / Seed Harvesting and Saving

The Environmental Technology Center tries to grow crops that are in season and lets a few of the most prolific plants go to seed each season so we can harvest those seeds and have them available for use by students and community members. Multiple times we have been gifted a seed grant from Native Seed/SEARCH to grow fruits and vegetables native to our area, whose seeds have been harvested and handed down for generations. We have a Seed Library, with a plethora of your planting needs, located behind the circulation desk in the Pecos Campus Library upon request.

Vertical Garden

The Vertical Garden ramada was first erected around 2012. It serves as a respite from the sun, but also a creative space to inspire urban gardeners or those without adequate space to grow in the ground. It might be growing tomatoes upside-down in buckets, reusing gutters to plant strawberries or succulents, creating hanging planters, or microgreen growing stations. There are many possibilities and tons of room for growth.


The ETC currently has a 3-stage compost pile program where we take food waste and scraps from the campus cafeteria, additions from student and faculty homes, and facilities debris. We actively turn, water, and manage proper nitrogen levels. One bin is used to collect all waste, the second is used mid-way through decomposition and the third is compost that has completed the decomposition cycle and is ready to use. This project needs frequent attention and can lend itself to many sustainability and food waste reduction projects.


The Orchard project has been a dream of the ETC’s originators for many years. We currently have a pomegranate, and two apple trees, and have dug multiple fruit tree basins for incoming trees. Growing food-bearing trees not only improves soil fertility and sequesters carbon emissions, but it will also provide shade and free food to surrounding communities. We look forward to adding multiple citruses and native varieties of food-bearing trees to the orchard.

Fruit and Vegetable Gardening

The ETC is the perfect place to test out your green thumb. There are a variety of garden boxes available for planting, or spaces to create personalized in-ground beds. Any student, faculty, or community member is welcome to reserve a space and grow whatever they’d like. Seeds are available via the seed bank in the library, and compost and tools can be available upon request. Growing your own food can be very empowering, and we strive to lessen “food miles” meaning, how many resources it actually takes to get food from the farm to the table. The ETC is an experimental and experiential learning laboratory, it may take a couple of tries, but we’re here to help! CGCC does host a fair amount of rabbits, so if you see fencing around the beds, that’s why!

Adobe Brick Making

Adobe brickmaking was one of the first projects done in the ETC. Adobe bricks are one of the cheapest, most sustainable methods of building, and allow makers to experience traditional, indigenous methods that have been used for centuries. The wall around the south side of the ETC is a testament to the adobe's longevity as it has stood through 10 years of intense monsoon storms and is still in very good shape. An adobe compost bin was also built in 2017. It integrates plastic waste, as another representation of cheap, effective, and sustainable methods of building. Adobe making is a fun way to interact with and build from our surrounding environment while learning about the culture surrounding it.

Ethnobotanical and Medicinal Garden

While most plants in and around the ETC are native, this area hosts plants that are native and of specific uses to people and have been for many years. A few can be used for medicinal purposes, some for food, and some for tools. Learn about the history, cultural applications, and environmental impacts of the plants seen every day in our desert environment.

Mesquite Tree Harvesting and Flour Milling

Mesquite trees are abundant in our deserts. They may seem like a mess every season as they drop thousands of bean pods, but they are edible and absolutely delicious. The ETC is growing numerous mesquite trees and has the means to harvest, roast and mill those pods into edible flour that can be used in a variety of ways.

Prospective Projects

  • Rainwater Harvesting
  • Making of Essential Oils
  • Photography
  • Art Installations
  • Geo-Science Exhibits
  • Cactus Propagation and Nursery

Past Projects

Keyhole Plot (Spring 2016)

To learn more about environmental sustainability, students created a keyhole plot in our ETC garden classroom, using a cultivating method that works well in hot and dry climates like Arizona’s—or Africa’s, where the method was first developed. A keyhole garden holds moisture and nutrients using an active compost pile placed in the center of a round bed. Although most helpful in arid locations, a keyhole garden will improve growing conditions in just about any climate.

Adobe Oven (Spring 2016)

As part of a sustainability project, students built an outdoor oven in the ETC garden classroom, using native Arizona dirt that’s rich in clay, combined with straw that holds it together as adobe. An adobe oven traps and maximizes the heat while using very little fuel, such as mesquite logs or chips. By baking at high temperatures without electricity, these ovens decrease our carbon footprint.

Victory Garden (Fall 2015)

In collaboration with the Student Veterans Organization, ETC and History students planted a vegetable and fruit plot based on the concept of the “Victory Gardens.” These homegrown crop gardens were promoted during both World Wars of the 20th century as a way of keeping morale and nutrition high in a time of rationing. Students in our project focused on the historical context surrounding the original Victory Garden campaign, and the implications of climate change in once again creating a context in which urban agriculture might be vital.

Learn more about our sustainability programs and certificates in our (STEM) Field of Interest page