New sustainability coordinator brings different green

Noelle Studer, the new head of Portland State’s sustainability department, has big plans for PSU’s future. Green plans.

Noelle Studer, the new head of Portland State’s sustainability department, has big plans for PSU’s future.

Green plans. Under Studer’s leadership, the sustainability department is currently in the initial stages of researching aspects of the university’s green practices to find out how sustainable PSU really is.

“Anybody can just say, ‘Oh, we’re sustainable, we’re green,'” Studer said. ” We’re looking to prove it.”

Studer said the department will submit a report to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education sometime over the summer. The report is part of the association’s pilot program-known as the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System, or STARS for short.

STARS grades higher education institutions nationwide on their level of sustainability in three categories: education and research, operations and administration and finance.

Over the summer pilot program, institutions will not receive official ratings, but rather the scores received will go in to determining how to evaluate and score institutions once the association has finalized the program.

The Sustainability department hopes to turn this year’s research for the pilot program into an annual sustainability report, which would be published during the summer, Studer said. The report would make PSU’s environmental practices transparent and the hard data readily available, she said.

The group also hopes to integrate sustainable practices into older buildings on campus renovation projects, such as Lincoln Hall, scheduled to begin renovations this fall, Studer said. The goal is to get a LEED gold certification for the building. LEED is a national sustainability rating system.

Other university buildings, such as the Maseeh College of Engineering building, are being examined for their sustainability not just for future implementation around campus, but also by state agencies looking to lessen carbon emissions from buildings across Oregon, Studer said.

Currently, the engineering building utilizes a geothermal system for heating and cooling the structure that draws water from underground sources.

There is a study underway examining the sustainability and impact of the geothermal system, which uses cool water to heat and cool the building in winter and summer, respectively, Studer said. If findings are significant, similar systems could be used in future civic construction projects around the state, she said.

As she settles into her new role as department head, Studer said she plans to boost her department’s visibility around campus. Educating people on the choices they can make is key to ongoing sustainability at PSU, she said.

“Leaving doors open, leaving computers on at night, leaving lights on in the buildings-all of that has an impact,” she said.

Studer also expressed concerns regarding the high amount of bottled water students consume daily.

“Portland has great tap water,” she said.

For now, Studer and her team are concentrating their efforts on Recyclemania, the annual campus recycling competition. “It’s a really big project,” she says. “We’re going to be focusing on it until April.”

The STARS scorecard

To even be considered for project scoring, campuses must meet prerequisites such as having a recycling program on campus, and maintaining a sustainability committee.

Scoring categories for the STARS scorecard include:

Dining Services: Does the campus use Fair Trade coffee? Local food? Food Alliance and organic certified food?

Energy & Climate: Does the campus use renewable electricity? On-site combustion with renewable fuel?

Institutions will also be scored on whether or not they have sustainability officers and a sustainability recognition program, and if they have investment transparency and actively engage shareholders in the process.