Sustainability at Southern Oregon University

Southern Oregon University has committed to building a culture of sustainability on campus and is constantly working towards developing and improving sustainable practices. For starters, the university provides sustainability engagement resources for students and sustainable degree programs, in addition to focusing on clean energy use, resource conservation, and recycling. SOU was the first certified Bee Campus USA in the nation, is ranked as Tree Campus USA, was recognized for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold Campus Housing, and received the Best Case Study Award by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

The Sustainability Council at SOU was established in April 2007 in order to stay ahead of the movement towards sustainability and to coordinate environmentally friendly actions and events on campus and within the surrounding community. Their mission is to “to advise, encourage, and coordinate the operations, research, and campus culture of Southern Oregon University in a manner that is consistent with the values and practices of environmental stewardship and sustainability; promoting individual, institutional and community well-being.” The council leads by example in sustainable practices, works to educate the SOU community in regards to those practices, and promotes environmentally and ecologically conscious actions in the Southern Oregon region.

The Student Sustainability Center has the mission “to inspire a student body that is environmentally, socially, and economically responsible through educational programming, collaborative partnerships, and innovative initiatives.” These initiatives and programs include the ECOS Community Garden, the Real Food Campus Commitment, Transportation Options, and The Farm at SOU.

The ECOS Community Garden is an organic garden run by students with the purpose to be an inclusive learning place that promotes the practice of organic food sourcing. It demonstrates a program that meets one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Sustainable Cities and Communities. The Real Food Campus Commitment is an initiative signed by SOU’s president in October 2018 that sets a goal for the university to serve 20% real food, which is “food that meets specific qualifications in categories of ecologically sound, humane, fair, or local/regionally sourced” by 2023. In this way, the university will spend more money on locally and organically grown food instead of on food from industrial farms which produce an excess amount of carbon emissions.

Next, the Transportation Options program at SOU promotes the use of alternative forms of transportation, such as bikes, buses, and even carpooling, rather than individual cars. It educates and encourages environmental awareness and overall health and economic wellbeing by promoting the reduction of individual carbon footprints and saving money on transportation. SOU has a bike maintenance shop in the Outdoor Program with free access to tools and equipment, as well as an experienced bike mechanic. SOU students also get a 90% off discount on bus passes, and commuting to the campus with other students can qualify them for a discounted carpool parking permit. These discounts offer an additional incentive for students to choose more environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

Then there is the Farm at Southern Oregon University, which is another student-led program. The mission of this program is to be “a center for sustainability” and to “inspire a generation of ecologically- committed leaders who promote a vision of living and working sustainably in community and on the land.” The Farm is open to volunteers, not only from SOU, but from the community as well. It is an outdoor classroom where students, faculty, and community members can share knowledge and learn about growing food sustainably.

SOU currently has over 1,000 solar panels to help power the buildings on campus while using a clean and renewable energy source. These solar panels generate 340,000 kWh annually. Solar power is one of the best energy source swaps for decreasing the overall carbon footprint of the university.

When it comes to recycling, SOU takes a simple and organized approach. Originally founded in 2011 by students, the on-campus recycling program is designed to prevent excess waste from entering landfills. Indoor and outdoor collection points can be found across the campus, providing three labeled waste bins: glass, recycling, and landfill. This is an efficient way to enable recycling, as items often end up in landfills after being tossed into the first available trash bin.

Finally, the Green Fund is a unique funding process at SOU that is overseen by the ASSOU Environmental Affairs Committee. Each term, students are charged the 13 dollar Green Tag fee which contributes to the Green Fund. This initiative empowers sustainability on campus by providing funding for various sustainable projects and enterprises, in addition to supporting renewable energy sourcing.

Each and every one of these programs and initiatives meets a part of the UN Sustainable Development Goal of Climate Action. SOU is doing their part to combat the climate crisis and promote a sustainable future by encouraging environmentally friendly actions, using renewable energy, recycling, and educating students and faculty on the importance of sustainability. This is the leadership that is necessary to combat global issues, conserve the environment, and secure a stable future for the world.

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