Overall Rating Gold - expired
Overall Score 68.95
Liaison Jenny McNamara
Submission Date June 30, 2016
Executive Letter Download

STARS v2.0

Portland State University
AC-8: Campus as a Living Laboratory

Status Score Responsible Party
Complete 4.00 / 4.00 Jenny McNamara
Sustainability Manager
Campus Sustainability Office
"---" indicates that no data was submitted for this field

Is the institution utilizing the campus as a living laboratory for multidisciplinary student learning and applied research in the following areas?:
Yes or No
Air & Climate Yes
Buildings Yes
Dining Services/Food Yes
Energy Yes
Grounds Yes
Purchasing Yes
Transportation ---
Waste Yes
Water Yes
Coordination, Planning & Governance Yes
Diversity & Affordability Yes
Health, Wellbeing & Work Yes
Investment Yes
Public Engagement Yes
Other No

A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Air & Climate and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

A Tree Inventory is underway for our urban campus, which we will use to measure the ecosystem services associated with our tree canopy (e.g. carbon sequestration potential, urban heat island reduction, water management, air filtering, etc.)

The Waste Audit Living Lab Experience projects puts freshman inquiry courses on performing audits of campus building waste. Education in the classes focuses on the impacts of consumption, promoting reuse, and waste reduction, which have positive impacts on the campus's carbon emissions.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Buildings and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Engineering capstone students are working to rehabilitate the plantings, substrate, and usability of a green roof on our Broadway housing building, including installation and upgrade of a weather monitoring system.

Engineering capstone students are also working on improvements to a paved area behind the art building, including activating the space through design of a stage, improvements to storm water treatment, and other place-making elements.

The Waste Audit Living Lab Experience projects puts freshman inquiry courses on performing audits of campus building waste. Education in the classes focuses on the impacts of consumption, promoting reuse, and waste reduction, and also provides the campus sustainability office with valuable data on buildings' diversion rates.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Dining Services/Food and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

As part of the Waste Audit Living Lab Experience, the Campus Sustainability Office staff performed a food waste intervention in our main cafeteria, showing off uneaten food during lunch time at a "food waste buffet", measuring food scraps left behind, engaging student diners in surveys and educational materials through tabling and posters through out the cafeteria. The intervention is performed for one week each term, and data are also being used for a Phd dissertation.

The Campus Sustainability Office partnered with the Sustainability Leadership Center (a network of student volunteer task forces) and a graduate student in the business school over a year’s time to evaluate current dining services practices and purchases, identify improvement opportunities, and produce a report of recommendations.

Several tangible results have emerged from this work including a much more transparent and efficient tracking tool to better understand the source and quality of foods purchased, a pilot project in our food court aimed at increasing organic options for students and a comprehensive report that will serve as the foundation for an action plan to make food systems more sustainable at PSU.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Energy and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Small Changes, Big Impact: Behavioral Change / Energy Conservation. This project was a partnership between our student sustainability scholars, our utility manager, and sustainability staff. It aims to learn about the changeability of people's behavior as a result of both education on sustainable options and requests to individuals to make sustainable decisions. This project also aims to compare the energy costs of swing doors vs a revolving doors, and the impact of swing door usage on PSU’s library's overall energy consumption. The initial analysis has been completed and a summary report is now being produced. The group conducted hour long collections of revolving vs. swing door usage before and after the placing of signs encouraging revolving door usage. The plan was to tally the number of people entering the library via revolving door and via swing doors for two weeks. The first week of sampling served as control, where no signage was placed and during the second week of sampling, signs were placed requesting people to use the revolving doors and informing them of their energy saving potential.
This project could make a strong case for the future preference of revolving door construction vs swing doors. Most importantly, this project could demonstrate the environmental impact of simple efforts to change people's behavior and could be applied to other areas on campus (turning off monitors, correct waste container usage, etc). Finally, this project coul serve as a model for using research and monitoring to advocate responsibly for sustainable choices.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Grounds and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Several current Living Lab projects are focused on our grounds and meeting the recommendations of our recent Salmon Safe certification. Examples include:
-Designing enhanced stormwater treatment for the vehicle wash station in our landscaping yard, building a covering for the compost and mulch piles in our landscaping yard, and also performing a tree inventory.

PSU hosts a collection of student-focused gardens that offer opportunities to learn about plant care, habitat restoration, community building, food production, cultural diversity, and much more. These spaces cultivate a sense of place, social networks, and appreciation of the natural systems that sustain us. You can find out more here: http://www.pdx.edu/sustainability/campus-gardens

Campus Gardens include:
Community Garden
Community Orchard
Grazing Gardens
NASCC Living Rooftop Garden
Oak Savanna
Shattuck Hall Ecological Learning (SHEL) Plaza
Permaculture Demonstration Garden
SRTC Native Garden
Learning Gardens Laboratory

In particular, an area of grassland on campus serves as an example of indigenous plant species and the regionally endangered "oak savanna" landscape. The area is used by multiple faculty as an outdoor classroom to learn about native species and habitats. Maintenance and restoration efforts have been a partnership between students, faculty and staff.

The Learning Gardens Lab supports academic achievement, leadership development, and local sustainable food systems by providing multicultural, interdisciplinary, inter-generational, and experiential garden-based education for public school students and their families, university students, and community members. Find out more here: http://www.pdx.edu/elp/learning-gardens-laboratory


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Purchasing and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The student leader of our campus Take Back the Tap chapter also sits on a multi-stakeholder Sustainable Drinking Water Task Force (SDWTF) which aims to reduce bottled water purchasing on campus. Resulting from her involvement in that group, she decided to focus her thesis on drivers for purchasing bottled water in one campus building. She surveyed departments who were purchasing bottled water services asking about perceptions of water quality and barriers to drinking from the tap. She followed up by testing tap water throughout the building for a variety of potential hazards and plans to share test results with survey respondents as well as our Facilities Department. This work will provide valuable information on how the SDWTF can better target education and outreach to further reduce bottled water consumption as well as important information regarding campus water quality for our facilities department.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Transportation and the positive outcomes associated with the work:
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A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Waste and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Waste Audit Living Lab Experience (WALL-E) is a collaboration between staff in the Campus Sustainability Office (CSO), volunteers from PSU’s student group the Waste Reduction Task Force (WRTF), the Institute of Sustainable Solutions (ISS), and faculty and students from a variety of disciplines at Portland State University. The program connects CSO staff with various classes to conduct comprehensive waste audits across campus. WALL-E provides snapshots of recoverable materials needlessly being sent to the landfill, assists in the development of targeted educational campaigns aimed at encouraging resource conservation, and directly supports PSU’s waste reduction and climate action goals. From an educational aspect, the program provides a deep analysis of waste management and community-based social marketing with suggested readings, discussion questions, and activities. The WALL-E team develops instructional content that can be fully integrated into courses or selectively used as inspiration for lesson plans.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Water and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Several current Living Lab projects are focused on our grounds and meeting the recommendations of our recent Salmon Safe certification. Examples include:
-Designing enhanced stormwater treatment and mitigation strategies (e.g. a rain garden) for the vehicle wash station in our landscaping yard, building a covering for the compost and mulch piles in our landscaping yard to prevent nutrient runoff into sewers/river ecosystems, and improved stormwater management features in the lot behind our art building.

A team of students and a faculty adviser from the Engineering Department recently worked with the Campus Planning Office and the Facilities Department as clients to inventory campus storm water flows and opportunities for improved storm water management. The work resulted in a comprehensive report outlining significant findings, as well as recommendations and potential strategies for improving the quality and reducing the quantity of storm on campus. The plan was submitted to the Campus Planning Office for review and will be a valuable tool in the next iteration of a campus storm water master plan.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Coordination, Planning & Governance and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

During 2014 significant time was spent to convene stakeholders and build a process for executing strong living lab projects -- This process in and of itself became a Living Lab exercise in Coordination, Planning, & Governance.

Living Lab projects partner students and faculty with sustainability staff to make measurable progress on campus sustainability goals.These collaborations are already taking place, but vary in quality and impact. The purpose behind developing a process, and a team to shepherd that process, was to build more opportunities for high quality student and faculty engagement that would be seen as an asset the staff involved.

The team that was assembled represented the staff perspective, the student perspective and also the administrative perspective. This team also have key capacities such as assessment, partnership development and curriculum design. Through a series of conversations, the team developed a two-step process to endorse projects and then to sponsor them. The endorsement is a less labor intensive process than sponsorship, and acknowledges the accomplishments of the project and the design. The sponsorship application can only be completed after endorsement has been received, asks more in depth questions and also allows for budgeted items. The team is currently in the process of piloting and assessing the process with a few projects, and also is working towards developing an awareness and engagement campaign that could help cultivate more interested in Living Lab projects.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Diversity & Affordability and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

PSU’s Social Sustainability Month features four weeks of events that explore the connections between social and environmental issues and celebrate equity, diversity, and cultural tradition. The Sustainability Leadership Center works with faculty and students to develop events to create a more inclusive sustainability community by dismantling positions of privilege, highlighting marginalized perspectives, and encouraging collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds.

For example, The Storysharing and Service Project was a class project created by Dr. Judy Bluehorse Skelton. The event explored the ethno botanical and bio cultural connections between the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and Oak Savanna ecosystems. Guests learned about historical and current uses of native plants and trees, and had the opportunity to interact with community leaders. Presenters shared the processes and challenges of managing complex ecosystems in urban environments.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Health, Wellbeing & Work and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

A campus apiary has been developed in our orchard, with a focus not only on educating the campus community about bees and their contributions to a healthy ecosystem and food system, but also promotion of pollinator-friendly grounds, which also helps with air quality and a sense of place and wellbeing for our campus community.


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Investment and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

The Student Sustainability Leadership Council (SSLC) is a coalition of student sustainability leaders from student organizations across campus. In Winter 2014, the SSLC launched a Divestment of Fossil Fuel campaign at PSU. The council worked with the PSU student government to pass a Divestment resolution and met with the PSU Foundation to discuss investment strategies. The SSLC meeting with the Foundation was successful, and the PSU Foundation has agreed to adopt ESG (environmental, social and governance) strategies as a screen for investments. More information can be found at: https://divestpsu.wordpress.com/home/


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory for Public Engagement and the positive outcomes associated with the work:

Two Living Lab Projects were initiated that benefited both our university neighborhood and Portland State through public engagement:

Parklet Project: The project initiated as a collaboration between the SoMa EcoDistrict (PSU is w/in this district), PSU’s School of Architecture and Institute for Sustainable Solutions. Designs were developed in a partnership between the School of Architecture and SoMa EcoDistrict, which received approval from the City of Portland in May, 2014 to become the first public parklet in the city. The SoMa Parklet is a project to create an attractive public gathering place for downtown Portland’s South of Market Street (SoMa) neighborhood. A parklet is a small space serving as an extension of the sidewalk to provide amenities and green space for people using the street. Our parklet design carefully incorporates environmental considerations, from stormwater management to the use of reused and sustainable materials. It also incorporates different seating styles — low benches with tables, high tables with stools, and high-back benches for longer term seating options. The parklet’s plants were chosen to complement the appearance of the adjacent food carts and feature a series of species including tall plants and low ground cover with different blooming seasons to create a seasonally changing landscape within the parklet. Most importantly, this community gathering space is made for everyone, being both ADA-compliant and wheelchair accessible. More info here: http://www.pdx.edu/sustainability/solutions-blog/soma-parklet-project-gets-green-light

ReUse Fair: The fair was organized and hosted by students in a Senior Capstone course in collaboration with the SoMa EcoDistrict, the PSU Campus Sustainability Office, and the Institute for Sustainable Solutions to study and promote creative waste diversion methods on a neighborhood scale. Students worked closely with residential and commercial buildings in the SoMa neighborhood to collect donations of furniture, office supplies, household goods, books, and clothes.The class also developed a Reuse Fair how-to guide to encourage SoMa and other districts in Portland to host regular reuse swaps. More information here: http://www.pdx.edu/sustainability/news/capstone-students-host-reuse-fair-campus-and-community


A brief description of how the institution is using the campus as a living laboratory in Other areas and the positive outcomes associated with the work:
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The website URL where information about the institution’s campus as a living laboratory program or projects is available:

The information presented here is self-reported. While AASHE staff review portions of all STARS reports and institutions are welcome to seek additional forms of review, the data in STARS reports are not verified by AASHE. If you believe any of this information is erroneous or inconsistent with credit criteria, please review the process for inquiring about the information reported by an institution and complete the Data Inquiry Form.