Determined to reduce its carbon footprint, Portland Community College plans to reward students, faculty or staff for coming up with green projects to support its environmental efforts. The innovative move will fund internships and other financial incentives for the best green ideas.
Last spring PCC's board approved a Green Initiative Fund to support projects that help lighten the college's impact on the environment. The fund will allocate money to projects that increase the amount of renewable energy used on campus, increase energy efficiency, and reduce college-generated waste. A student-majority board will decide how to use funds dedicated for education and internships.
"It's the first time we have ever done it," said Erin Stanforth, sustainability coordinator at the college. "The green grants will vary in amounts and will depend on the scope and nature of the projects. The project has to be something that's sustainable and something that will live after the person leaves; it has to be self-sustaining. Really, if somebody said I can build solar panels out of corn husks in a year and they say they need $80,000 to do it we might say 'yes.'"
The fund will start taking applications when fall term begins on Monday, Sept. 21. Successful proposals will be approved by early 2010. The green grants fund comes from student activity fees. Other universities with similar programs include: Harvard, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Cal State Chico.
The idea was born three years ago when students said they wanted to make sustainability a priority. Mandy Ellertson, student leadership coordinator at the Rock Creek Campus in Washington County, and student leader Marissa Johnson explored the complexities of the movement to combat climate change and reduce waste. They attended education conferences and workshops, and collaborated with experts.
"Several of us brought the idea to the students," Ellertson said. "Their initial plan was rejected by the administration because it was rather complicated. So, we adopted a more streamlined approach the second time around. The students worked really hard to develop and vet the program, and it was accepted. It was a total collaboration and the ideas came from a variety of sources."
Johnson said students have become more aware and concerned about the environment and sustainability issues, so the green grants program is popular.
"The student voice became very strong and unified in the second year of this process," she said. "Students began to voice environmental concern on virtually every committee, meeting, and club they attended, both in official capacity as student government leaders and as concerned citizens of the school. I am hopeful that returning students, with the help of Erin, will make great strides in furthering sustainability at PCC."
The state's largest institution of higher learning becomes one the biggest colleges in the country to implement this kind of program. And Erin Stanforth has plenty of experience in this area to help guide the student-led committee charged with deciding what projects get funded. She has a bachelor's degree in sustainable development from Appalachian State and came to Portland in 2007 because of its high level of awareness.
"(Portland) is very progressive, much more than back East," she said. "Oregon is a Mecca of sustainability. The green grants not only serve as a learning tool, to have students think out of the box in different strategies, plans and practices, but maybe encourage a lifestyle change."