$50 million sustainability bill filed

Portland State’s reputation for sustainability has triggered aCongressional bill to provide a $50 million sustainabilityeducational fund to be split among six college campuses – but willPortland State be one of the six?

Depends on whom you ask. Assuming the bill becomes law, MicheleCrim, PSU sustainability coordinator, believes PSU will have tocompete with every college in the country for a share of the cash.However, Cathy Dyck, interim vice president for finance andadministration, believes PSU will be an automatic and the outcomewill be one grant for PSU and the rest of the country’suniversities will compete for the other five grants.

Last week Congressman Earl Blumenauer introduced legislation toauthorize federal funding for six “Sustainability EducationCenters” at universities across the country. The centers wouldpromote, develop and implement programs for environmental, economicand social sustainability programs. The money could be used tobolster existing programs or create new ones.

Blumenauer presented H.R. 4664, the Higher EducationSustainability Act of 2004, with First District Congressman DavidWu and Congressman George Miller of California. Miller is the topranking Democrat on, and Wu is a member of, the House Education andWorkforce committee. The House Education and Workforce committee isassigned to consider the bill.

The Portland offices of both Blumenauer and Wu said the bill hasnot yet appeared on the calendar of the committee for hearings andis only beginning to work its way through the machinery.

Crim said Blumenauer conceived the idea for the centers as aresult of conversations with two Portland Staters: Deborah Murdock,assistant to President Daniel Bernstine for governmental relations;and David Ervin, professor in environmental sciences andresources.

A statement from Blumenauer’s office would seem to back upDyck’s optimism that PSU would be one of the six universitieschosen. It quotes Blumenauer as saying, “This bill will help PSUand other universities preserve our economic competitiveness andenvironmental health by promoting sustainable development practicesaround the nation.”

Dyck said the fact that both Blumenauer and Wu are from Oregonwould tend to give PSU an inside track for a grant, since membersof the Congress customarily have their own states in mind whenintroducing such a bill.

Referring to what the program would encompass, Dycksaid,”There’s so much area that can be looked at. Five differentuniversities can go down different paths.” For example, she saidone university might concentrate on the architectural aspects ofsustainability.

Sustainability has become one of the trendy buzzwords ofpresent day social policy. There exists no unified definition ofsustainability. A chart printed online by the State of Oregon showsthree overlapping circles, melding the economy, the environment andthe community. The page states “The definition of sustainabilitydepends on who is speaking” and calls a strict definition “likenailing Jello to a tree.”

Crim was appointed PSU’s first sustainability coordinator in2002. She sees sustainability as an attitude that looks at avariety of influences on the culture.

“It’s not just environmentalism,” she said. “Does it also havean impact on our economic well-being and social well-being? We needto have those in addition to environmental concerns.”

Whether Portland State would be an automatic grantee for thefederal funding or not, Crim is optimistic about obtaining grantmoney.

“I think PSU is very well positioned to be competitive becausewe have a great balance between the operation side and the academicside, and the linkage between the two.”

She cited a solar energy project now in the works for installing130 solar panels on the roof of Cramer hall.

The project will be both experimental and educational. Solarpanels of different shapes and sizes will go onto the roof. Theywill be tilted in different ways. The results can be studied toshow, for example, which type of installation is most effective oncloudy days. Studying the results will benefit students enrolled insustainability courses.

One of Crim’s current responsibilities is to raise two thirds ofthe money necessary to fund the project. She is hopeful theinstallation can begin fall term.

Along with the operational side, the academic side is growing atPortland State. The school of urban studies and planning boasts asizable faculty. The university currently offers a professionaldevelopment certificate in sustainability. It presents six classesin a one-day program for people both inside and outside theuniversity community. In the fall, a graduate certificate insustainability will be offered, Crim said.

Portland State is sustainability-minded in every direction. Thebyword for new construction is “green building.” Mike Irish,director of facilities, is noted for promoting the “curb appeal” ofthe campus.

Some of the current landmarks of sustainability at PSUinclude:

The new engineering building on Southwest Fourth Avenue is beingdesigned and built to “green building” sustainabilitystandards.

The Broadway, the new student housing building, has an eco-roofwith cactus planted on it to retain rainwater and prevent excessiverunoff. It also provides some insulation against heat. The 18,000square foot roof is the largest eco-roof in the city to date.

The Broadway also features a water-conserving double-flushtoilet. One flush button will discharge a small amount of water,the other a greater amount, depending on need.

The Native American Student and Community Center also has aneco-roof.

Epler Hall features a rainwater collection system. Rainwater isstored in an underground tank and used in the toilets.

If financing permits it, a shade roof atop the Distance Learningwing of the Urban Center will have plantings.

The university is working across the campus to conserve energyby replacing light fixtures and installing low-flow watersystems.

By constructing “green” buildings and using new technologies tomonitor and reduce energy and water use, PSU expects to save anestimated $275,000 annually, the equivalent of tuition costs forabout 80 students.

The university maintains a Web site for sustainabilityinformation at www.sustain.pdx.edu.