Southern Oregon University Receives Silver Sustainability Rating, and Looks to Gold

Southern Oregon University has received a silver rating from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) program. This program is a part of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, of which SOU is a member, and does annual assessments of participating universities and colleges around the world. This is a symbol of SOU’s progress since 2011 when it was awarded the bronze rating.

SOU has received the increase in status due to several projects since 2011. Sustainability has been added to the curriculum of classes, so more students are graduating having received sustainability education. We also have a large variety of groups and services on campus including the Ecology Center of the Siskiyous, the Bee Club, the Center for Sustainability and the campus community garden.

The university also buys water restoration certificates. By doing so, the school restores 100% of water used on campus to Seven Mile Creek in the Klamath River Basin. SOU is the first university to do this in the U.S.

Southern Oregon University has a climate neutrality goal which is hoped to be reached by 2050. “We are generally reaching our benchmarks, but we still have a lot of work to do,” said Roxane Beigel-Coryell, the coordinator for sustainability and recycling at SOU.

According to Beigel-Coryell, the school has its eyes set on climbing the ranks. “We were only a few points off from the gold,” she said. Beigel-Coryell said that she would like to see the university receive the next rating in the next few years.

One of SOU’s weak points in the survey was investments in sustainability. Decreasing energy use on campus would also bring increases to the score. Another area of improvement is reducing our carbon footprint. Many students commute to school via single occupancy road travel, meaning people drive to school alone. Increases in carpooling and the improvement of the rideshare program are ways to improve the sustainability rating in that aspect.

The school can incorporate more sustainability education into already existing classes. Most courses can discuss some sustainability topic in relation to the subject already being taught. Beigel-Coryell said they would really like to see this happen with all classes, but especially those involving the arts.

The idea is that more education will lead students to be more involvement. “Students doing community service, that would increase our rating,” Beigel-Coryell stated.

Three hundred-six institutions participate in the STARS program. The silver rating has been awarded to 51% of those schools, and 19% have reached gold ranking. No institution has reached platinum, the highest rank. “It will be interesting to see who is the first to go platinum,” said Beigel-Coryell. “It probably won’t be SOU, unless something big happens, but you never know.”

The STARS program works by sending out surveys to higher education institutions. Those that would like to participate fill out the survey which covers many different facets of sustainability in many areas including curriculum, human resources, and diversity. Each section equals a certain number of points, and each section is weighted differently according to importance. Once scores are calculated, the institutions are ranked into five groups: platinum, gold, silver, bronze, or reporter.