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Grants project aims to make PCC even greener

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Portland Community College will reward students, faculty or staff with financial incentives for coming up with their own green projects to reduce the college’s carbon footprint.Erin Stanforth, middle, works in the community garden at the Rock Creek Campus with Kimberly Shorts-Jackson and her two children

The Green Initiative Fund, approved by the PCC Board of Directors last spring, is a new initiative that provides funding for projects that help lighten the college’s impact on the environment. The fund allocates money to projects that increase the amount of renewable energy used on campus, increase energy efficiency, and reduce the amount of waste created by the college. Portions of the fund will support education initiatives and student internships and will be administered through a student-majority governance board.

The committee that oversees the funds will start taking applications when fall term begins on Monday, Sept. 21. Decisions on whether to approve proposals and disperse money will happen roughly by January of 2010. The money to be used to fund green grants is generated by student activity fees and is a hybrid of several other college and universities’ programs (Harvard, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Chico and others).

“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 idea was born three years ago out of a desire by the student body to make sustainability a priority. As a result, 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 including Kendi Esary, Noelle Studer (former college sustainability coordinator) and others 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 streamline 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.”Jacob Constans, left, and Sean Warner help in the Rock Creek Campus garden, which has become a cornerstone for sustainability at PCC and is the kind of idea the college is looking at for green grants

Johnson said that, as students have become more aware and concerned about the environment and sustainability issues, the idea of green grants got more popular.

“The student voice became very strong and unified in the second year of this process,” Johnson added. “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 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 just for the very reason the green grants became a reality so fast.

“(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.”

For more information, visit http://www.pcc.edu/about/sustainability

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »

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