Portland State: a sustainable future

Portland State is a world leader in sustainability, having been called both a green campus and a living laboratory.

Portland State is a world leader in sustainability, having been called both a green campus and a living laboratory. In the coming year, PSU hopes to further improve that reputation with goals such as increased recycling levels, reducing electric and water costs and installing wind turbines, to name a few.

The agenda items for this year are currently in varying stages of planning — some are being considered, while others are nearing completion.

The university is on its way toward being more environmentally friendly, said Jennifer Allen, associate director of PSU’s Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices, but it still has a ways to go. Setting goals and benchmarks are good ideas and many in the university are dedicated to helping the environment, she said.

Here are some of the plans for the Sustainability Office for this year.

Electricity and water

Portland State has recently achieved their goal of using 100 percent renewable energy on campus after working toward the goal for the last few years, said interim Sustainability Coordinator Scott DeSelle.

Renewable energy comes from solar, wind and geothermal power, rather than non-renewable energy derived from coal or natural gas. PSU has already purchased its energy for the coming year from renewable energy providers.

There has not been an audit of PSU’s water systems in a while, DeSelle said, which is something that needs to be done soon. The Sustainability Office is in the process of finding funding and products for a fully-automated water tracking system so the university can monitor its water flow levels, cutting down on energy used for water supplies.

Currently, the 21 irrigation controls must be controlled manually, but the new system could control them all from a central computer, Deselle said.

Wind turbines

The Sustainability Office is looking to install four wind turbines on four buildings on campus–the Fourth Avenue Building, Broadway Housing, the Urban Plaza and Ondine. Wind turbines generate electricity through wind power. Funding has been secured for the hardware, DeSelle said, but research for creation of the turbines has not started. The Sustainability Office is looking to start research soon, possibly with graduate students from PSU, and finish by the end of this school year, he said.

Green buildings

Portland State has been working for years to make many of its buildings more energy efficient, or “green.” Buildings like the Engineering Building and Broadway Housing are certified by the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating, a national energy efficiency rating system.

DeSelle said his office would like to continue the green building efforts on campus by outfitting Lincoln Hall and the under-construction Shattuck Hall, outfitting the buildings with more energy-efficient materials such as carpeting with environmentally safe adhesive, low-flow water pipes, as well as environmentally safe paints and solvents.

Bike station

With the construction on the new on-campus Recreation Center approaching, DeSelle said the Sustainability Office is talking with the Transportation and Parking Office about installing a bike station inside the center.

In addition to bike racks, the bike station might include shower and locker facilities for travelers to utilize before class, DeSelle said.


DeSelle said he feels that one of the largest areas of improvement for sustainability at PSU is its recycling practices. DeSelle also said he would like to see more student involvement in recycling, particularly in student housing. The university receives invoices from trash haulers that inform them about the amount of materials recycled. It is not as high as it could be, DeSelle said.

“There’s definitely a need to improve on that,” DeSelle said.

Sustainability education

To help educate the PSU community, the Center for Sustainable Processes and Practices is also working to spread information about sustainability across campus and helping facilitate dialogue between departments.

“There’s always more that can be done in terms of communicating,” Allen said.

DeSelle said more class tours and presentations about sustainable practices to make everyone involved in the process.

Information about environmental issues is important to give to new students and faculty as well as the surrounding community, Allen said. Changing perceptions can be difficult and will take time, she said, but it is the right time to change them.

“Universities are the perfect place to have this conversation,” Allen said.

Striving to be sustainable

PSU professor David Johns believes that being sustainable means achieving a balance between human life and the natural environment indefinitely. Johns, who has published works on conservation politics, said to be truly sustainable the university must first look closely at the daily things it does.

“There’s a lot of vested interest in unsustainability,” he said. “Human beings have not lived sustainable [sic] since we were hunters and gathers.”

What PSU is doing to be sustainable is a start, but there are some things that can be done better, Johns said.

Food on campus is a definite area of improvement, said Johns. If PSU bought more local food products, less energy would be used transporting the food to campus, he said. Currently, PSU gets food shipped to school from all over the country.

Switching to electronic textbooks would be another way to improve sustainability, Johns said, because using electronic texts would cut down on shipping costs and manufacturing of paper.

Those are just two examples and the biggest change can come with changing perceptions, Johns said. The dialogue PSU helped create is just a start to drastic changes that need to be made, he said.

“It’s not enough to have people talking by any means, unless we can funnel some of the talk into the heating system,” Johns said.