Strategic Direction III: SOU will actively model an environmentally sustainable campus and engage in collaborative research to promote an ecologically-resilient bioregion.
Goal 1: SOU will be a model sustainable institution of higher education, integrating sustainable planning, practices, policies, and education throughout the university.
Goal 2: SOU will strengthen its organizational and financial infrastructure to support the advancement, promotion and reach of environmental sustainability at SOU.
Goal 3: SOU will integrate sustainability, the environment, and conservation into its curriculum, scholarship, and creative activity.
What has been accomplished already?
- In March 2019, SOU was awarded a Silver through the Sustainability Tracking and Rating System (STARS), a program run by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). SOU Sustainability Office is currently collating the next submission for early 2022. SOU also reports greenhouse gas emissions annually to Second Nature.
- SOU’s Sustainability Council meets once a term and has representation from multiple departments from across campus of staff, students and faculty. The Sustainability Council helps to further and advise on sustainability at SOU
- SOU has a total of 10 solar arrays on buildings and 6 STrackers. The arrays total 512KW (kilowatts) capacity and generate around 9% of SOU’s electricity use. 3 of the arrays are net zero buildings (generate more electricity than they use) with two of the net zero buildings added in the last 2 years. The three most recent solar projects have all been differently and innovatively funded. Grant funding, student funding, private investment and energy savings from other campus projects have all contributed to increasing SOU’s solar arrays in the past 2 years. Early discussions are taking place around the potential for a community solar project through the Ashland Solar Cooperative.
- In 2018, SOU signed up to the Real Food Challenge and pledged to achieve 20% Real Food by 2023. The latest figures indicate SOU is around 5%.
- SOU was the first Bee Campus in the USA in 2014 and continues to maintain certification for Tree Campus and Bee Campus. The Tree, Bee and Bird Committee meet once a term.
- SOU navigated water shortages and drought issues in summer 2021 and has identified transition areas for the landscape to help transition the campus so that it conserves water and thrives in the current climate.
- Sustainability and Equity in Purchasing Policy was consulted on widely in 2021, approved by Cabinet and published in September 2021. The policy and associated procedure aim to help SOU make sustainable and equitable purchasing decisions across campus.
- SOU’s Recycling Center, originally founded in 2010 through a capstone project, was expanded and refurbished in 2021. 55% (by weight) was recycling between 7/1/21 and 6/30/21. The overall trend is a small increase each year for the previous 5 years. The Center currently employs 4 students.
- Reuse at move out in June 2021 diverted 4081 lbs. of goods from landfill, an increase of 15% from previous year. This was donated to Goodwill.
- Two PEAK funded student positions in the Sustainability Office in 2021/2022 help to build skills and knowledge in sustainability through student employment.
- SOU continues to have strong community links around sustainability through a seat on the City of Ashland’s Conservation and Climate Outreach Commission, partnering with Ashland Climate Action Project to develop a survey and evaluate the results for home energy and climate change. SOU Sustainability is also part of the Ashland Climate Collaborative to show leadership in how the community, organizations and businesses can work together to help deliver Ashland’s Climate goals.
- In Fall Term 2021, a Sustainability Tour of campus for all students, staff and faculty was offered to highlight sustainability across campus. A tour was also given to a visiting school from Gold Hill.
- The SOU Social Justice and Equity Center houses the Student Sustainability Team, managed by the Equity and Basic Needs coordinator and comprising of around 12 student coordinators/leaders. These students currently lead peer-to-peer education and engagement in the following areas: SOU Real Food Challenge/sustainable food systems, sustainable transportation, equity and climate justice, basic needs and food security, and organic gardening. This includes events, tabling, workshops, and classroom presentations and engagement.
- Sustainability is brought into decisions and projects from the beginning which helps to achieve goal 2 of building an organizational and financial infrastructure to support the advancement of sustainability. This is being demonstrated through Sustainability representation on the Policy Council, the Facilities Planning and Utilization Committee as well as individual projects including the Britt Hall renovation and the Stadium storage building.
- The Green Fund is a self-imposed student fee of $10-$15 per term paid by each student. It is currently $13 and has funded projects including water restoration certificates to offsets our water use, the library solar installation and The Farm at SOU. Power purchase Agreements have been signed based on solar projects so that the energy savings from the electricity generation have been transferred to the green fund to go towards other sustainability projects.
- Following the STARS guidance for evaluation, of the 2968 undergraduate and 1185 graduate courses assessed, there are 127 sustainability focused undergraduate courses and 56 sustainability focused graduate and then 605 sustainability inclusive undergraduate and 188 sustainability inclusive graduate courses. This is 23.5% of SOU courses (not counting the excluded ones) and an increase from 13% reported in 2019. Students not only chose Universities and Colleges based on the sustainable operations of a campus but knowing that the teachings are setting them up for the world now and in the future.
- Southern Oregon University developed a program, Southern Oregon Sustainability Curriculum Initiative (SOUSCI), on integrating sustainability into the curriculum. The program was initiated in Fall 2019 and is led by a team of four faculty from the division of Business, Communication, and the Environment (BCE). This focus on sustainability is an ideal vehicle to help achieve Goal 3 of SD3 and more broadly of Goal 1 of SD1. A cohort of ten faculty from BCE interested in integrating sustainability into their curriculum was identified via a proposal submission. The cohort of faculty attended a one-day workshop, as well as monthly meetings with the cohort, the program facilitators, and guest speakers. Each faculty committed to substantially changing some component of their course’s curriculum and/or pedagogy to incorporate a commitment to sustainability. Faculty integrated sustainability into a variety of courses – from argumentation and critical thinking, operations management, food, and beverage management, to film theory and practice and management information systems. In 2019-2020, the focus was on the environmental aspects of sustainability and in 2020-2021 it was on the equity, diversity and inclusion aspects and for the 2021-2022 academic year it has an economic focus.
- From Fall 2021, SOU offers a major in Sustainability. The Sustainability major will require courses from all different disciplines such as business, economics, environmental science, sociology and anthropology. The relation between courses will show students how important sustainability is in all fields of study.
- The Farm at Southern Oregon University is a center for sustainability. The student-led organic Farm produces healthy, sustainably harvested food for the SOU community. It is a hub for education, student and faculty research and community outreach to the Rogue Valley.
What remains to be accomplished?
- Updated Climate Action Plan with clear medium and long term climate goals for both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to changes in the climate
- Energy and water monitoring for each building through a dashboard to help inform reduction programs is planned and a Green office/building initiative could support this to help identify where improvements and changes can be made on campus.
- Further outreach and education around sustainable procurement and waste management
- Progress around Real Food Challenge
- Continue to develop collaboration and links around the intersection of social justice, climate justice and environmental justice
- Strengthen community partnerships around internships for climate change and sustainability
Does SOU need to do something new or different to accomplish these goals? If so, what?
Continue to, and enhance how we build sustainability into operations and decision making so that is isn’t seen as an additional layer but very much how we think and operate as a core value. The most resilient organizations in the future will be those that are innovative and build systems taking into account the challenges around resource use, resource management and changes in the climate as well as understand the intersection between social justice and the environment. Sustainability is often seen as a compromise rather than building a better future. Higher education through curriculum, operations and partnerships offers an opportunity to show how it is about building better systems.