The Greening of Southern Oregon University

(Ashland, Ore.) Southern Oregon University (SOU) has reached a new milestone in its growth as an environmentally-conscious campus. The new issue of Sierra, the bi-monthly magazine of the Sierra Club, ranks SOU #26 on its “Cool Schools” annual list of America’s green colleges and universities.

Although Sierra has been ranking “Cool Schools” for seven years, SOU has participated in the process in only the last four. During that time, SOU’s rank has gone from #99 in 2010 to #38 in 2011 to #45 in 2012, and now to #26 this year.

The ranking increase coincides with SOU’s deepening commitment to environmental sustainability. In April 2007, SOU President Mary Cullinan established the SOU Sustainability Council. Soon after, President Cullinan was one of the original signatories to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. “SOU is strongly committed to sustainability initiatives that bring profound benefits to our region,” says SOU President Cullinan. “Our students, faculty, and staff are passionate about preserving our environment locally and globally.”

The RCC-SOU Higher Education Center in Medford, co-owned and operated by SOU and Rogue Community College, opened in 2008 as both the first LEED Platinum-certified building in the Oregon University System and the first platinum-certified building in southern Oregon.

Meanwhile SOU students voted to tax themselves to pay for renewable energy credits (RECs) that offset the natural gas and electricity consumed on campus. SOU’s “green tag” campaign caught the attention of both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U S Department of Energy (DOE).  In July 2010 the EPA ranked SOU #14 among colleges and universities in the nation that offset energy use with green tags. In 2011 students opened a recycling center on campus. Last fall the DOE featured a video of SOU’s commitment to sustainability on its home page.

Last spring, SOU students initiated two more major sustainability projects. Students transferred their renewable energy credits from gas and electricity to water, making SOU the first campus in America to offset 100% of its water usage. In June, students voted to pay for a new Center for Sustainability on campus.

That’s not all. Enrollment continues to grow in SOU’s Environmental Studies academic programs, and SOU faculty members such as Professor Greg Jones, a world-renowned climatologist, make headlines regularly with projections on the effects of climate change.

This fall SOU will open its new 700-bed North Campus Village, the largest construction project in Ashland history, expected to merit LEED Gold certification. Next month SOU will launch new interdisciplinary learning communities called the House Experience. One of the initial learning communities is the Green House with seminars and community activities focused on sustainability, adventure, leadership, and applied research.

Roxane Beigel-Coryell during the 2013 Campus Clean up.

Roxane Beigel-Coryell during the 2013 Campus Clean up.

“This is an exciting time for SOU as students, staff and faculty work together to advance sustainability throughout university operations, administration and curricula,” says Roxane Beigel-Coryell, SOU Sustainability & Recycling Coordinator and Co-chair of the SOU Sustainability Council. “This collaborative approach has fostered innovative programming and initiatives, strengthening the campus culture of sustainability. We are so proud to achieve our highest ranking in the Cool Schools list to date. And we’re inspired to continue expanding our sustainability initiatives on campus and in the community.”

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