Pacific Lutheran University 2008 Campus Sustainability Leadership Award Application
Four-year and Graduate Institutions 1,000 - 7,500 Student FTE
|Morken Center for Learning and Technology
Photographer: Jordan Hartman
Chair, University Sustainability Committee
Environmental Studies Program
Pacific Lutheran University
Governance & Administration
Pacific Lutheran University has made a commitment to sustainability one of its principle and defining values. This commitment is campus-wide, evidenced by a pervasive culture of sustainability that includes administration, faculty, students and staff. The centrality of sustainability has emerged naturally at PLU from our mission to "empower students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership, and care-for other people, for their communities, and for the earth."
This commitment draws further from the important values of conservation and love of wilderness that define the Pacific Northwest. The Campus Sustainability Committee fosters collaboration and leadership in environmental and sustainable efforts among faculty, administration, students and staff. A particularly close collaborative relationship exists between faculty and the administration on campus.
The Environmental Studies Program has a long history at the university, dating back to the early 1970s. As part of a vigorous, collaborative and interdisciplinary culture at PLU, the Environmental Studies Program conducts regular workshops that bring together faculty, students, staff, administrators and the local community to develop projects and address issues of curriculum and operations. The close working relationship between the environmental studies faculty illustrates the campus-wide integrated approach to sustainability that defines the work at PLU.
PLU has been an early and vigorous regional leader in sustainability and environmental education, as evidenced by:
- On Earth Day 2004, President Loren Anderson signed the Talloires Declaration, making PLU the first university or college in the Pacific Northwest to sign the document and commit to incorporating sustainability and environmental literacy into all aspects of the university. The Faculty Assembly unanimously endorsed the signing of the Talloires Declaration.
- In January 2007, President Anderson was among the first 12 college and university presidents in the United States to sign the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (PCC).
- With the support of a three-year grant from the Russell Family Foundation, PLU developed campus-wide initiatives in water sustainability, and brought together faculty, administration, students and staff for weeklong workshops on campus sustainability.
- Campus master planning documents set priorities for the physical campus over the next 15 to 20 years. These documents explicitly define sustainability as a central principle of its recommendations.
- Among the commitments of the campus master planning documents is that all new construction and significant renovations achieve at least silver-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
- The administration has committed to become carbon-neutral by 2020 and reduce water and energy use at least 20 percent by 2011.
- The Vice President of Finance and Operations is a leader in sustainability in higher education.
The Morken Center for Learning and Technology was the first campus building to be evaluated by the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. It achieved gold-level designation in July 2006, becoming the first gold-certified building in Pierce County, Wash., and the only one at that time at a private university in the Pacific Northwest.
Additionally, the university's 2007 renovation of the University Center (the student center) reached silver-level certification. The current construction project, a new building for national public radio and jazz station 88.5 KPLU (of which PLU holds the license) is designed to achieve LEED gold when completed next year.
Nearly every building on campus has received electric lighting retrofits and re-lamping. All of PLU's residence halls, the Morken Center and the University Center are powered by renewable sources.
The Morken Center and the University Center account for nearly 20 percent of the university's energy use. Through the local utility company, PLU contracted with the Bonneville Power Administration to purchase energy from a renewable source, namely wind.
Additionally, students led an initiative in spring 2007 to increase tuition for the purchase of renewable energy for all campus residence halls. The tuition increase takes effect for the 2008-09 academic year. Eighty percent of the tuition allocation will purchase renewable energy, and the remaining 20 percent will fund energy saving projects. Faculty and staff can voluntarily give to this renewable energy fund through payroll deduction.
Food and Dining
In 2007, PLU's Dining and Culinary Services voluntarily committed to a pilot composting project through the local waste collector. Dining services currently composts all food and paper waste and has diverted nearly 70 percent of dining waste from the landfill. Approximately 20 percent of the menu features sustainable food options, from locally grown produce to organically raised beef and chicken. Dining services has also appointed a staff sustainability coordinator to lead initiatives in the department.
Human Resource Services offers a transit pass benefit to encourage employees and students to use mass transit, like the bus or train, instead of driving their own car. Benefits are also available to those who carpool, ride a bike or simply arrange to work from home periodically.
A formal recycling system was established when the Environmental Services Coordinator position was created in 1995. By making it easy to recycle - placing recycling containers all over campus, accepting a variety of items and hiring a crew of students to sort the materials - the university's recycling rate hovers at 70 percent, one of the highest in the region.
Surplus Sales are held regularly throughout the year, selling used office furniture, supplies and equipment to the campus and surrounding community. When students move off campus at the end of the year, Environmental Services collects and sorts everything from carpeting and rugs to computers, bedding, unopened food and personal products, to be recycled, reused or donated to local charities.
Curriculum & Research
PLU's interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Program represents a significant commitment to teaching and learning related to sustainability and environmental stewardship. It includes a core of 16 faculty members from 11 departments. Both a major and a minor are offered at PLU.
Central to the program is an integrated and interdisciplinary approach to address environmental problems. Students develop grounding in science, an understanding of institutional processes, an appreciation of values, beauty, and holistic thinking, and a solid foundation in various methodologies and skills.
The curriculum integrates the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. Courses introduce students to the scientific, institutional, ethical and aesthetic dimensions of the environment, and teach methodology, integration and interdisciplinary competencies. This enables students to analyze, discuss and engage contemporary environmental challenges, such as how to achieve sustainable societies. For majors, a capstone and internship are required.
In the "Environmental Methods of Investigation" course, taught collectively by five faculty members, students participate in an ongoing study of a nearby watershed. Students learn the methodology of data collection, and analysis and application for environmental studies. The course integrates and utilizes the techniques and principles of environmental biology, chemistry and geology, as well as application to public issues.
Increasingly, general education courses with sustainability content are being offered in a wide variety of disciplines. This demonstrates how the theme of sustainability goes beyond the environmental studies curriculum, and is infused in wide array of courses. Some examples include:
- The religion course "Faith and Spirituality" features a section examining the human relationship with and view towards water from the Christian, Native American and scientific perspectives.
- "Conservation of Natural Resources," a geosciences and environmental studies course, examines resource use on the PLU campus and how it is influenced by operations and daily lifestyle choices.
- One of PLU's First Year Writing Seminars investigates community and sustainability through writings and service learning projects.
- The philosophy course "Philosophy, Animals and the Environment" examines issues such as resource distribution and consumption, obligations to future generations and the nonhuman life.
- "Conservation and Sustainable Development" is one course offered to fulfill PLU's core curriculum requirements. The course examines the relationships among people, natural resources, conservation and sustainable development in a global society.
In addition, the Office of the Provost funds Sustainability Fellowships. Each year two students received $3,500 to research existing practices and the use of resources on campus, while also examining best practices on other college and university campuses and at facilities in the area. Recipients then propose strategies and solutions addressing sustainability challenges at PLU, and help identify funding agencies and opportunities for projects. Students work in collaboration with faculty and staff advisors. Projects have furthered food sustainability efforts on campus by establishing a community garden, created a bicycle co-op, and enhanced student leadership training and new student orientation.
The fundamentals of sustainability have been integrated in the campus culture for decades. In recent years, this commitment has been more visible due to the work of both students, and faculty and staff.
For example, last year's orientation week included the first-ever Zero Waste Picnic, introducing new students to sustainable practices. Nothing at the picnic was thrown away. All the products were eaten, recycled or reused. This year also signaled the creation of PLU's first sustainability pledge. Through the liveGreen Pledge, students, faculty, staff, and campus offices and organizations promised to live a more sustainable lifestyle by taking small steps to lessen their impact on the environment.
The environmental ethos is further ingrained into the campus culture through student leadership training. Each year, select students attend a two-week common leader training program. To further student leadership in sustainability, the fall 2007 training focused on the sustainability to educate and empower campus leaders. It largely targeted resident advisors, who hold incredible potential for modeling lifestyles of sustainability in the residence halls.
Additionally, the Associated Students of Pacific Lutheran University (ASPLU) created a brand new student-government position, the Sustainability Director, to be filled for the first time during the 2008-09 academic year. The director will collaborate with clubs, organizations and departments on campus to advocate for action-based research and programming.
Meanwhile, nearly 50 percent of faculty and staff have opted to join the "Can the Can" campaign, an effort to boost PLU's recycling rate. Employees exchange their trash cans for a 1.5-liter green container to be used for garbage, and agree to take all items that can be recycled to the nearest recycling area.
After spending January Term learning the science behind climate change, students in the Climate Change Ambassadors program worked on ways to educate the community and motivate them to take action. The students reached out not only to the campus community, but also presented at local elementary and middle schools. The Climate Change Ambassadors also teamed up with the student environmental club, Grassroots Environmental Action Now (GREAN), to plan PLU's annual Earth Week.
Finally, PLU's bookstore is doing its part by launching the "Go Bagless" project in April 2008 and expanding its sustainable product line to include green office supplies and PLU clothing made from organic cotton, bamboo, recycled plastic bottles and soy. Located off-campus, the bookstore is a unique combined college and independent community bookstore, so their efforts extend beyond the campus boundaries.
The "Go Bagless" project encourages customers to choose not to use a plastic bag. Those who opt to forgo the plastic bag for no bag at all, bring in or purchase a reusable tote, or reuse a plastic bag from a previous shopping experience are given a wooden nickel. The nickel represent a 5 cents donation the bookstore will make to one of three sustainability-focused organizations: PLU's Sustainability Committee, the National Wildlife Federation or the Sierra Club. So far, $100 has been donated and represents a reduction of 2,000 plastic bags.
Community Service and Outreach
At PLU, more than 34 academic courses with service-learning components are taught in a variety of disciplines, including environmental studies. For example, last spring the following service-learning courses were offered: "Writing on Special Topics: Environmental Writing," "Conservation and Sustainable Development," and "Philosophy, Animals and the Environment."
Students have developed an organic community garden. Originally founded by a group of students in 1997, a Sustainability Fellow reinvigorated the project in 2006 and it is in the midst of its third growing season. It recently moved to a permanent, 10,000-square-foot site located near several residence halls on campus. Members of the campus and surrounding community are invited to volunteer at weekly work parties. All the food grown, mostly vegetables, is donated to Trinity Lutheran Church to distribute to needy families in the surrounding community.