OSU-Cascades sustainability, net zero goals prominent in its future

Steve Pitman, director of facilities and operations at OSU-Cascades, discusses long-range development net zero energy, water and waste goals of the Bend, Ore. campus and what his staff are currently doing to promote sustainability at OSU-Cascades.

Quentin Comus, OSU-Cascades Beat Reporter

As the current presidential administration under President Joe Biden unveils its national climate plan, OSU-Cascades is addressing its own sustainability and net zero goals through both immediate and long-term action.

Built on a former pumice mine and demolition landfill, it’s hard to believe that Oregon State University’s Cascades campus in Bend, Ore. would be a national leader in sustainable development.

Unlike other universities around the state, including OSU’s Corvallis, Ore. campus, OSU-Cascades is growing up in a new age of environmentalism. As Oregon’s first university to be built in the last 50 years, OSU-Cascades had the ability to implement sustainable campus development from the start.

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Beginning in 2016, with the construction of its existing 10-acre campus, OSU-Cascades incorporated a number of sustainable initiatives. Aside from building energy and water-efficient facilities, the Cascades campus prioritized protecting nearby wildlife habitats and promoting a recycling program.

In that same year, OSU-Cascades released its Long Range Development Plan that committed to becoming a net zero energy, water and waste campus.

While these goals likely won’t be achieved until the campus’ full 128-acre build-out—which could take decades—they are laying the groundwork and aiming for a bright and sustainable future with the construction of Ed Ray Hall this year, which includes a new geothermal Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system.

“We’ll be using groundwater as our source of heat and cooling for [Ed Ray Hall] and future buildings,” said Steve Pitman, director of facilities and operations at OSU-Cascades. “Additionally, it will have all the infrastructure in place to be able to install solar panels and connect them when we do a larger solar installation on campus, which will probably be in the next three to five years.”

While Ed Ray Hall will be net zero energy ready when it opens this summer, Pitman said OSU-Cascades is continuing to work towards OSU’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2025.

The sustainability goals we established were chosen to be supportive of the carbon neutrality goal without modifying it or changing it for our campus,” Pitman said. “There’s a different regional context here in central Oregon where carbon isn’t necessarily as universally accepted as a good metric for sustainability.”

In other words, according to Pitman, OSU-Cascades will support carbon neutrality with its own net zero energy and waste goals working with the Corvallis campus in order to meet as a whole, the 2025 carbon benchmark. 

These carbon offsets represent an investment into a local conservation project that sequesters the amount of carbon that the OSU-Cascades produces annually. This is an alternative to eliminating OSU-Cascades carbon production outright.

In the meantime, OSU-Cascades will look to make significant emissions reductions through operational practices on its campus.

“From the beginning, when the campus was being constructed, our leadership made a strategic decision to construct less parking and invest in programs that reduce the number of people driving alone to campus,” said OSU-Cascades Transportation Manager and pseudo sustainability advocate, Casey Bergh.

Students and staff are encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint by carpooling, cycling or riding public transportation to campus. This includes incentives like free parking for those who carpool and free Cascades East Transit passes for all students.

In addition to transportation considerations, OSU-Cascades is retrofitting its existing buildings to be more energy-efficient.

“Some simple things we’ve been able to do in the last couple of years are replacing the compact fluorescent lights in our buildings with LED’s,” Bergh said.

While replacing light bulbs may seem insignificant, Bergh said it’s one of many small tasks that can help reduce the campus’ overall carbon footprint. These include introducing a composting program, hosting sustainability events and investing in new student initiatives.

“Currently we have quite a few projects being worked on by different departments,” said Associated Students of Cascades Campus Vice President and Student Fee Committee Chair Elizabeth Banderas. “These programs could not be offered without student fees.”

These projects, while currently under consideration by the Student Fee Committee, include providing students with free biodegradable feminine products, implementing a reusable to-go container program within dining services, increasing digital signage and constructing a native grass and fresh produce greenhouse on campus.

This is the first year the Student Fee Committee will consider funding several sustainability initiatives, Banderas said.

“Previously, the Student Fee Committee has not directly had a sustainability line item as part of its planned funding,” Banderas said. “We do plan to be more diligent in what we will do for the school and for students to lessen our carbon footprint and we consider this to be a high priority.”

This high level of priority is attributed to a recent student survey that found approximately two-thirds of students believe the Student Fee Committee should fund sustainability initiatives on campus.

Beyond student fee-funded initiatives, both Pitman and Bergh made it clear that the campus administration appreciates student input and acknowledges student commitments to sustainability. They also added that while the university may not have “bright and shiny sustainability accomplishments, it is putting in the work.”

“We are building a sustainable campus from the ground up and we have a ways to go, but we have set the foundation to be one of the best in the country,” Bergh said.