Southern Oregon University

Southern Oregon University is committed to sustainable practices, environmental stewardship, and research that advance students’ understanding of local, regional, and global environmental issues. Sustainable efforts are implemented across the university at the administrative, operational, academic, and student activism levels. Apart from offering curriculum infused with sustainable principles, Southern Oregon University also provides community partnership through their Center for Sustainability and the Ecology and Sustainability Resource Center. The Campus of SOU is recognized as a “Tree Campus USA” and a “Bee Campus USA”. By promoting a sense of interconnection between humans and the rest of nature, SOU is inspiring a new generation of committed citizen and leaders.

Student Preparedness           

SOU infuses principles of sustainability into curriculum across all programs and fields of study. In addition to an MA in Environmental Education, a BA in Environmental Studies and a Sustainability Leadership Certificate, SOU offers more than 126 sustainability-related courses campus-wide. A sustainability component infuses the general education curriculum, ensuring that all students, regardless of major, are exposed to principles of sustainability and responsible environmental stewardship. The University’s mission includes “responsible global citizenship” and a commitment to “sustainable practices,” which ties sustainability to even their accreditation.

SOU is also home to the Center for Sustainability, a research and living laboratory for the study and practice of sustainability; and ECOS (The Ecology and Sustainability Resource Center), a student-run resource and activity center, which hosts events throughout the year for students, staff, faculty and community members. In 2014, SOU launched the “House” Model: an innovative, cohort-based and experiential approach to general education based on themes of sustainability, adventure, leadership, and applied research.

Numerous community partnerships provide hands-on experience and learning opportunities both within and outside of the classroom for SOU students. Recent academic reorganization at the university aligned the Environmental Studies program in the same academic unit as Business and Communication, ensuring inter-disciplinary opportunities that prepare students for many different roles in the new green economy. Regular “sustainability tips” are disseminated to all campus constituents, and a quarterly sustainability newsletter provides updates and information on sustainability efforts to the campus community and beyond. Even the school’s life-long learners and community education partners express the commitment to preparedness.

Climate Innovation

SOU is a national leader in climate and sustainability innovation among public colleges and universities. In addition to being a “Tree Campus USA,” SOU is the nation’s first “Bee Campus USA,” honoring SOU for creating healthy environments for pollinators, and educating students and the community about the need to protect bees. SOU was the first university in the nation to offset 100 percent of its energy use with renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets, and the first university in the nation to offset 100 percent of water use through the purchase of water restoration certificates. These practices help restore a critically dewatered ecosystem and enhance partnerships within the local bioregion. In 2014, SOU sold carbon credits earned through LEED Gold-Certified construction on campus to Chevrolet, which then retired the credits as part of its carbon reduction initiative. A statewide innovator and early adopter of sustainability, SOU is home to Oregon’s first LEED Platinum-Certified building among the state’s public institutions of higher education.

“Drive Less Connect: SOU” is SOU’s innovative student-run program educating students about transportation options and empowering them to explore alternative transportation. It works in partnership with the Oregon Department of Transportation, Rogue Valley Transportation District, and other organizations. Though similar programs and partnerships exist between municipalities and transportation agencies, this is the first to be implemented on a college campus. SOU has multiple electric vehicle charging stations on campus (with more coming soon), plentiful covered bike parking, bicycle maintenance stations, and a bicycle rental program.

Creating Opportunity

SOU articulates a creative approach to sustainability and conservation, emphasizing community partnerships and educational opportunities. In 2014, the University increased on-site solar production by more than 160 percent and now has 250 kW of solar. It is also home to four interactive solar kiosks that provide an opportunity for students and community members alike to learn more about solar energy. The SOU student body voted to create a Green Fund, which directs a percentage of student fees to sustainability-related projects on campus. Additionally, the University has created a Climate Action Fund, which dedicates a percentage of annual air travel expenses to projects designed to reduce the institution’s carbon footprint.

Community partners include Ashland School District; Rogue Valley Farm to School, which also incorporates the local agricultural community; the City of Ashland; Ashland Food Coop; Southern Oregon Goodwill; Jackson County Master Recyclers; Recology; numerous outreach and engagement efforts spearheaded by students in SOU’s Master’s in Environmental Education program; and more.

SOU students, faculty, and staff also hold leadership positions on numerous community boards and organizations, including the Rogue Valley Food System Council, which strives to reduce energy consumed through the food system; the City of Ashland Conservation Commission; Mt. Ashland Environmental Committee; Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference; and more.