Since 2007, when Southern Oregon University President Mary Cullinan signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, SOU has been on a steady path toward a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. In the past few months, SOU has been recognized for this effort more than ever.
On April 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced SOU as one of the top nine northwest colleges to be in the College and University Green Power Challenge, along with such colleges as University of Washington, Oregon State University and Lewis & Clark University.
These colleges, as well as a number of major corporations like Intel, Microsoft and Starbucks, are among the top organizations in the nation to effectively increase renewable energy use.
This increase may be accomplished in a variety of ways, such as by producing electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, biogas and other similar sources, thus providing an environmentally beneficial resource for the community.
Organizations are considered for the Green Power Challenge by using a combination of renewable energy certificates, on-site generation and utility green power products producing usage figures based on annualized partner contract amounts, according to the EPA website.
SOU was placed on this list through its purchase of renewable energy certificates equivalent to approximately 120 percent of its electricity use.
The students themselves have been in the forefront of these renewable energy efforts, choosing in 2007 to alter their self-imposed tax, the student Green Fund, to provide funds for renewable energy resources on campus. The renewable energy credits were purchased from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, a private non-profit organization that funds renewable energy projects.
The renewable energy credits that SOU has purchased through student fee money, called Green Tags, are used for the purpose of offsetting the school’s energy usage.
According to James Beaver, director of interactive marketing and media relations at SOU, the Green Tags have helped establish wind-powered electricity for the school, solar panels for Stevenson Union, as well as an on-campus recycling center which has processed more than 80,000 lbs of materials since its start in the summer of 2011.
“It’s wonderful that students are so committed to achieving sustainability for our school,” says Beaver. “I think the students believe it is important and the university has been very committed to helping them reach this goal.”
Besides its place in the Green Power Challenge, SOU has also recently received recognition in sustainability by being featured in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges: 2013 Edition.
This list includes colleges from both the U.S. and Canada that are considered the most environmentally responsible, chosen through the analysis of a 50-question survey submitted by administrators from each college.
One of the most prominent reasons SOU was considered for this list is because of its Climate Action Plan, also initiated in 2007, which promises a carbon-neutral campus by the year 2050. The purchased renewable energy certificates are just one of the ways SOU is hoping to attain this goal.
Another way in which SOU is on track toward this goal is through its recent recognition as the first university in the nation to offset 100 percent of its water use through efforts to restore Sevenmile Creek in the Klamath Basin, which has been critically damaged by irrigation. This latest venture came about through a purchase of BEF water restoration certificates and will help restore approximately 80 million gallons of water per year to the area over the next five years.
As for the future of SOU’s endeavors in sustainability, Beaver said, there are several plans in development at present, including the addition of solar panels to the library and the North Campus Village, a sustainability center and farm on property near the ScienceWorks Museum and even the possibility of a biomass plant on campus in order to generate our own electricity. We are also gearing towards becoming one of Sierra Club’s top 50 Cool Schools by this summer.
“Every year there are new things that the school is accomplishing and it’s very exciting for us as a university and as a community to see these goals reached,” says Beaver.