A Green University

The UO’s Numerous Green Initiatives Keep the Campus Environmentally Friendly.

The UO is among the “greenest” universities in the country.

By UO student Chelsea Fullmer

At the University of Oregon, “green” is much more than just one of the school’s signature colors.

Classified as an arboretum and home to more than 2,000 varieties of trees, the UO extends its environmental impact with an award-winning recycling program, commuting options, and green building and landscape management practices. While the physical campus is, in fact, green due to the trees and open spaces, several recent buildings have gone “green” and achieved gold and platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

When the UO touts its green credentials it means it, and people nationwide are taking notice. The Sierra Club consistently ranks the UO among the greenest universities in the nation, ranking it as high as No. 13 in 2012. The UO has also been included in every list of Princeton Review’s “Green Guide” for campuses with a commitment to sustainability, and has even been listed on its Green Honor Roll in the past.

The Environmental Studies Program at the UO offers bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees, and in 2013, Canadian business magazine Corporate Knights ranked the MBA program second overall in the US and third in the world among small MBA programs in terms of its commitment to integrating sustainability into its curriculum. The New York Times wrote that the Sustainable Cities Year Program, where UO students work with Oregon cities, counties, districts, or governments to help them reach their sustainability goals, is “perhaps the most comprehensive effort by a US university to infuse sustainability into its curricula and community outreach.” Additionally, the architecture program was ranked No. 1 in the nation in 2013 for sustainable design practices and principles.

The Oregon Leadership in Sustainability program, a one-year graduate certificate program in the Department of Planning, Public Policy, and Management, is one of the UO’s newest opportunities for students to make a difference. The program teaches students how to apply sustainability tools, theories, and policies in communities, academic institutions, governments, and organizations. Students work with local governments and organizations to apply sustainability theory to real-world problems, and the program has been recognized by the Washington Post, Statesman Journal, Inside Oregon, and others for its innovative methods.

At the UO, the sun does more than just give life
to the flowers; it’s captured by the solar panels
at Lillis and powers part of the campus.

The most visible examples of the university’s commitment to environmentally-sound practices are the buildings that make up the UO campus. Classrooms, labs, and sporting arenas alike are doing their part to protect the environment, and in addition to winning awards, they’re making a real impact.

The very first LEED certified building on campus was the Lillis Business Complex, home to the Lundquist College of Business and owner of a silver level certification. Reopened in 2003 after a remodeling, 90 percent of the building’s previous materials were recycled for construction. Its top feature is the five photovoltaic arrays, generating electricity and power not only for Lillis, but also to facilities across campus. Lillis was also the first building on campus with a green roof, with plants and soil that absorb sunlight and reduce heat gain as well as reduce the rate of stormwater runoff, and it also includes an extra floor slab that regulates cooling and heating, allowing for less reliance on central heating systems.

Opened in 2012, The Robert and Beverly Lewis Integrative Science Building not only leads all of the UO’s LEED-certified buildings with the highest certification possible—platinum—but is also one of the few research labs in the world certified as LEED platinum, and was the first laboratory in the state of Oregon to be awarded that certification. Included in the building’s sustainable efforts are a heat recovery unit that reuses heat from heating and cooling exhaust as well as excess heat in the utility tunnel system; 28 solar panels that preheat water; windows that automatically adjust the heating or air conditioning when opened, and have sensors that alert people to the optimum times of day to open them; bathrooms that use reclaimed water; and wood finishing made primarily of bamboo, the world’s fastest-growing plant. The building uses roughly 58 percent less energy than similar buildings designed to minimum code standards.

The Cheryl Ramberg Ford and Allyn Ford Alumni Center—where the UOAA is housed—achieved gold certification when it opened in 2011. Window shades automatically raise and lower based on the sun’s angle to reduce heat build-up, natural lighting is used wherever possible, and a rain garden helps clean and slow stormwater runoff before it is discharged into the Willamette River.

The Office of Enrollment Management switched from paper transcripts and applications to electronic forms in 2006. The Admissions, Registrar, and Financial Aid offices followed suit, saving the university hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper while freeing up more space around the office and creating better organizational systems.

The Athletics Department, with its high profile football team, national championship-winning track and field teams, and No.1-ranked softball team, is equally committed to being the best off the field when it comes to sustainability. All cooking oil used in the concessions stands is recycled and used to make SeQuential Pacific Biodiesel, providing low-carbon diesel fuel for the community. Thanks to a new recycling program and compost collection at the Moshofsky Center, Autzen Stadium’s waste diversion rate is up to 45 percent.

The 2013 NCAA Division I Track & Field Outdoor Championships, held at the UO’s Hayward Field, was the first NCAA championship event to be certified by the Council for Responsible Sport. The event earned the ranking due in part to its use of renewable energy for lighting, and incorporating composting into the waste management system. Now the home of the NCAA track and field championships until at least 2021, the UO avoided putting dates on many of its vinyl promotional banners so that they could be reused from year to year.

The NCAA championships was not the first track and field event at the UO to be recognized for its green efforts, though. The 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials earned the International Olympic Committee’s Sport and Environment Award, while the 2012 trials earned Gold certification from the Council for Responsible Sport. At the trials, 78 percent of event waste was recycled or composted, all serviceware was compostable, free bus tickets were provided to ticket holders to encourage use of public transportation—the number of bus riders increased 29 percent from 2008 to 2012—and a free valet station was set up to service the 4,575 bicycles that were ridden to the event by fans who opted to leave their cars at home.

Home to the UO’s basketball, volleyball, and acrobatics teams, the Matthew Knight Arena earned a gold level of LEED certification when it opened in 2011. The building’s energy performance is 42 percent above state requirement, and many recycled materials were used in the construction of the 400,000-square-foot facility. A 50 percent reduction in the water used for landscaping, a 30 percent reduction in overall building water use, and improved indoor air quality all contributed to the MKA’s sustainability. The Matthew Knight Arena is one of the UO’s three LEED gold certified buildings, after the neighboring Ford Alumni Center and UO Portland’s White Stag building—home of the UOAA’s new Portland office.

Besides individual building and departmental efforts, the campus as a whole has launched many sustainable practices and programs which have since been adopted by many other universities. The Office of Sustainability was created in 2007, and manages numerous initiatives, including the Student Sustainability Fund, the Emerald ECOchallenge, the Green Office Certification program, and the Meyer Fund for Sustainable Environment.

Dining Services, winners of a PETA award for offering vegetarian and vegan options, also sends its used cooking oil to SeQuential, while it has reduced its waste considerably by converting all packaging to biodegradable materials and sending pre-consumer waste to Food for Lane County. Seven percent of all food purchased is locally sourced and/or organically certified; and through Project Tomato, UO students harvest local organic tomatoes and work with Dining Services staff to turn them into pizza sauce.

While Dining Services and the Athletics Department are doing their part to help the environment by converting cooking oil into biofuel, many Ducks are bypassing cars entirely when traveling to and around campus. Roughly 90 percent of students and 50 percent of faculty and staff travel to campus by foot, bike, skateboard, or bus, and the UO has twice as many bicycle parking spaces as car parking spaces.

The university boasts a number of environmentally conscious student groups and organizations, and much of the inspiration and leadership comes from students who constantly push the UO to institute new programs. Despite what Kermit the Frog may try and tell you, it’s actually easy being green at the University of Oregon.