Sustainability a keyword for Portland State

Is Portland State aspiring to become the sustainability capital of the Pacific Coast? Of the United States? Or of the world?

That could seem a bit extreme. But an active nucleus of sustainability enthusiasts is working fervently on a campaign that seems to aim for that preeminence.

The enthusiasts want to commit the entire students, faculty, staff and administration, formally and officially, to a declaration of support “to helping create a more sustainable world.” They want it to become official PSU policy, approved by President Daniel Bernstine, by the end of spring term.

The policy statement has been in the making for some time, through a steering group of 20, both inside and outside the university. Leadership from the faculty side has come from David Ervin, professor of environmental studies and coordinator of sustainability programs. Joining the campaign recently is the new staff sustainability coordinator, Dresden Skees-Gregory. One student who has taken an active part is David Hall, graduate student in the systems science program.

Leaders for the declaration aren’t shy in visualizing ambitions for the program.

“The planning group feels strongly the stars are aligned for PSU to become an international leader in sustainability research, teaching and outreach,” Ervin said.

Skees-Gregory was only slightly more moderate in her assessment.

“We do want PSU to have a very strong reputation as being a center of sustainability,” she said. “I would say we want to be a nationally known center at least, and potentially an internationally known center as things progress.”

The group wants everybody to insist on the four actions listed in their “Declaration of Support for Sustainability at Portland State University.”

Action No. 1 calls to “infuse sustainability into all colleges, schools and programs.” It promises this will make Portland State “an internationally recognized university known for excellence in student learning, innovative research and community engagement,” which includes environmental health in its agenda.

Action No. 2 calls for development of “a sustainable physical campus that is an example to other institutions.”

Action No. 3 would make PSU “a demonstration model of sustainable processes and practices.” It calls for interdisciplinary research, instruction, discussion and practices. It foresees PSU becoming “a leading academic laboratory” for sustainable process and practices.

Action No. 4 would develop “core multidisciplinary research competencies in key sustainability areas related to pressing real world problems.”

The optimism of both Ervin and Skees-Gregory are not entirely without precedent. Just last month PSU received awards from the Portland Office of Sustainable Development.

Epler Hall and Broadway Housing received Environmentally Sustainable Tomorrow awards for promoting environmentally friendly business practices in Portland. PSU’s Office of Transportation and Parking also received a citation of commendation for its program of transportation alternatives.

PSU’s commitment to sustainability is no stranger to national publicity. In July last year, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon introduced legislation in the U.S. Congress to authorize federal funding for six “Sustainability Education Centers” at universities across the country. Portland State’s reputation for sustainability reportedly triggered the Congressional bill to provide a $50 million sustainability educational fund to be split among six colleges. As often happens with bills introduced in the U.S. Congress by the minority party, the bill has yet to reach reality.

Sustainability has drawn the focus of Portland State planners for some years. People still remember the demonstration eco-roof built by a student and circulated at different locations on the campus to illustrate the concept of a roof with moisture-conserving properties.

Currently, the Native American Center and the Broadway Building feature eco-roofs in full operation. The Broadway is said to be the largest eco-roof in Portland. Ervin admitted the principle of the eco-roof is only partially understood.

“We still don’t know how they function,” he said. A study of the Broadway Building eco-roof is nearing completion, he said. Indications are that it saves 21 percent of energy and conserves 21 percent of rain runoff.

The campus already boasts other sustainability showcases. The new Maseeh engineering building on S.W. 4th Ave. is being built to “green building” sustainability standards with an eco-roof. There is a project aimed at installing 130 solar panels on the roof of Cramer Hall.

The Broadway Building features double flush toilets to conserve water. Epler Hall has a rainwater collection system, to be stored in an underwater tank and employed for non-drinking uses.

Recycling at Portland State took a big step forward after it received new energy from a program initiated by Michelle Crim in 2002. Recycling stations now seem to appear everywhere on campus. Crim preceded Skees-Gregory as Sustainability Coordinator and has since moved on to greater challenges.

The leaders of the current declaration campaign expect support from every quarter, including students. Skee-Gregory said 20 different student organizations are involved with sustainability issues. Ervin conceded that some faculty may see the declaration as adding to their instructional and research burdens but he believes the faculty can be adaptable.

If the declaration becomes policy, PSU would seem destined to earn a greater reputation in the sustainability field. Further information may be had by accessing