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A deeper shade of green

Southern Oregon University is burnishing its reputation as a green campus.

SOU received the national “Excellence and Innovation Award” for sustainability from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities this month.

AASCU recognized SOU for creating “a comprehensive and impactful sustainability program by collaborating across operations, academics and engagement,” according to a press release from the group.

It was one of eight awards bestowed to universities by the association.

AASCU noted that SOU has achieved an annual energy savings of 121,000 kilowatt hours, an increase in campus solar electricity generation of 319% in the past five years, and reductions in drive-alone trips of 24% for students and 15% for employees, according to the press release.

Vincent Smith, chair of the Environmental Science and Policy Department, said the university reduces the number of solo trips drivers take to campus with programs such as bike shares, carpooling, and cars for rent on campus.

SOU is the nation’s first university to offset 100% of its water use through water restoration certificates purchased by student government. Smith explained that the university funds waterway restoration projects in the community to offset its water usage.

“I think that the award is indicative of the quality of students of SOU,” Smith said. “Everything is the product of students pushing hard for the faculty and administration to do this work. As a professor, I see it as my goal to not only attract students to the department, but provide them with the tools and techniques to be useful in pressing these ideas forward.”

SOU is not a newcomer when it comes to environmental achievement. SOU was named the top pollinator-friendly college by the Sierra Club last year for its 21 certified pollinator beds. It was the first designated Bee Campus USA in the nation after collaborating with Bee City USA, and received the Best Case Study Sustainability Award in 2015 from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education for the project.

SOU has been named a Tree Campus USA for three straight years and was named a Bicycle Friendly University by the League of American Bicyclists. The university received an honorable mention two years ago at the Presidential Climate Leadership Summit.

The Lithia Motors Pavilion and the adjoining student recreation center earned LEED gold certification this year from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the fifth SOU facility to earn a LEED designation.

LEED is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, a green building rating system used around the world to guide construction of energy-efficient, healthful and sustainable buildings. The RCC-SOU Higher Education Center in Medford earned the program’s highest certification, LEED platinum, and the McLaughlin and Shasta residence halls and The Hawk dining facility were certified as LEED gold.

SOU President Linda Schott said it’s gratifying to have the university’s sustainability efforts be recognized.

“This is not the finish line,” Schott said. “Our students, faculty members and others on campus will continue to achieve, innovate and lead in the field of sustainability, just as we do in many other areas that benefit our students, our region and the world.”

Schott and SOU trustee Sheila Clough will accept the award at the Oct. 27 opening session of AASCU’s annual meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.

A video compiled from footage taken at each of the university’s programs will be presented at the meeting. Recipients will receive an engraved sculpture, according to the AASCU website.

“These Excellence and Innovation Award winners truly demonstrate how our members serve as ‘stewards of place,’ prioritizing student success and leaving a lasting impact on their regions,” said AASCU President Mildred Garcia.

Roxane Beigel-Coryell, who served as SOU’s sustainability and recycling manager for the past several years, left SOU in July for another job, according to the press release. A new sustainability and recycling manager is expected to be announced later this month and begin work Nov. 8.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

SOU was named the top pollinator-friendly college by the Sierra Club last year for its 21 certified pollinator beds. Daily Tidings File Photo