Pierce Cedar Creek Institute works to educate the Barry County and West Michigan communities about sustainability and environmental issues. The Institute also works to model environmentally sustainable practices. Whether through composting, energy conservation, or the use of environmentally-friendly chemicals, Institute staff continuously works to minimize the environmental impacts of day-to-day operations. The Institute's mission, "To promote environmental education, research, preservation, and appreciation" serves as the basis for this work and is guided by an environmental policy that includes specific goals for reducing energy usage and waste production. The ongoing process has led to significant energy and cost savings. In addition, the Institute has been invited to be a part of the Green Venues pilot program through the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth. This program helps organizations determine and reduce their environmental impact.
When planning Pierce Cedar Creek Institute, one of the founders’ chief goals was to protect the land by minimizing the impact the buildings would have. The Institute’s leaders asked architect Jonathon Rambow of Slocum Associates in Kalamazoo, Michigan, to design buildings that blend in with, rather than disrupt, the landscape. Additionally, the buildings were designed to be energy efficient and environmentally-friendly. By building into the side of a hill, the architects were able to partially bury or "earth shelter" the Visitor Center, Education Building, and Prairie View guest quarters to protect against summer heat and winter cold. At the same time, the earth-berm design ensured staff and guests would be treated to exquisite views of the diverse Barry County landscape. Partially earth-covered roofs make the buildings appear as little more than grassy bumps on the hillside, and the low profiles of the structures keep them from dominating the view from the surrounding valley.
On the inside, the Institute buildings are just as environmentally-friendly as their exteriors. Heating and air conditioning is provided by a ground source heat pump. Whenever possible, the architects chose building materials low in volatile organic compounds, the cause of sick-building syndrome. These building materials are simple and durable - mostly concrete and wood. The use of any lumber from tropical or temperate old growth forest was not permitted. The facilities were designed to be friendly to people with disabilities and safe for those with chemical sensitivities and/or environmental illnesses.
In June 2004, the Institute installed a 1,120 watt solar energy or photovoltaic (PV) demonstration system. The system is installed in front of the Education Building and connected to its power grid. It consists of eight solar energy panels, each producing 140 watts of power while the sun is at its strongest.
In addition to providing green power and clean energy, the Institute hopes to increase the West Michigan's awareness of renewable energy through sustainable living programs and best practices. The system was funded by grants from the Energy Office of the Michigan Department of Labor & Energy, the U. S. Department of Energy, and the Barry Community Foundation. Informational signs are located next to both the solar panels and the inverter inside the Education Building.