Portland Community College integrates sustainability into campus and community [video]

Published on: 
25 Oct 2017
Mary Schrott

For this year’s Climate Leadership Awards, USGBC and Second Nature chose winners who contributed to the environment through extensive sustainability efforts. As the winner in the 2-Year Institution category, Oregon’s Portland Community College (PCC) was recognized for its unique integration and promotion of sustainability into the university.

Going green through education, buildings and nature

PCC incorporates sustainability everywhere, from operations to academics to student life. As part of the college’s dedication to reducing its carbon footprint, PCC requires new buildings to achieve LEED Silver standards at a minimum. Currently, there are nine LEED-certified buildings, as well as three solar decks, across PCC’s four campuses. As a result of its green building and energy efficiency efforts, PCC has reduced energy consumption by more than 50 percent.

One of PCC’s more unique designations is from Bee Campus USA, which certified the college to promote habitats for pollinators, provide apiary education opportunities and support an on-campus apiary with nine hives. The bees at PCC help pollinate the four on-campus learning gardens where students grow food for their cafeterias.

Portland Community College

The college is also a founding member of the Greater Portland Sustainability Education Network that works toward implementing UN sustainable development goals. Mark Mitsui, PCC president, says that the college's efforts in the community complement academic offerings, which include more than 100 sustainability-related courses and faculty training opportunities.

Through the college’s Green Initiative Fund, students can receive grants for projects with a sustainability focus, such as purchasing reusable to-go containers, creating learning gardens and waste education centers, composting at the office and eliminating water bottles on campus. PCC also provides students with access to two STEAM labs that offer equipment and technology such as PVC cells, 3D printers and laser cutters.

Portland Community College

Sustainability in their own words

Briar Schoon, PCC’s sustainability manager, elaborates on the school’s unique sustainability efforts:

What do you consider to be your best example of campus sustainability

At our Rock Creek campus lies a four-acre learning garden. It provides hands-on education to 600+ students annually. The garden is also part of our closed-loop system, where over 10,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables are grown. Bees from our apiary pollinate the crops and provide students [with] a means to learn about responsible beekeeping. Keeping food production and organic waste management hyperlocal reduces our emissions while educating students and promoting food security on campus.

Over the course of implementing your school’s sustainability initiatives, is there anything that has surprised you?

I have discovered that building strong relationships is absolutely foundational in this work. People tend to be resistant to change, so if you can rely on a personal relationship or if people know they benefit in other ways from partnering with your program, it’s much easier to get things accomplished.

What would you say to a peer who considers sustainability a “nice to have,” but not something that they can seriously implement on a campus?

Sustainability positively adds to the student and staff experience. Our own surveys have found that more than 75 percent of respondents, both staff and students, think it is important or very important for the college to reduce its environmental footprint.

Can you describe how the many layers of the campus sustainability plan work together to deliver a holistic education experience?

PCC is currently working on its first Sustainability Plan, as part of the college’s integrated planning process. The college has a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 2006 levels by 2050. We monitor a number of key performance indicators to identify success and we have currently bypassed, or are on track to meet, nearly all of our Climate Action Plan goals and objectives. 

PCC sustainability stats

  • 9 LEED-certified buildings, including a Path to Net Zero LEED Platinum center, and three solar installments totaling over 700 KW are on campus.
  • 65 percent reduction in energy consumption per square foot has been made since 2006, through efficiency and conservation projects.
  • 100+ courses have been taught covering sustainability topics.
  • 10,000+ pounds of fruit and vegetables grown on campus support a weekly campus market, offers hands-on education, and conserve resources.

Learn more about how USGBC can support sustainability in higher education