In the Reuse Room at Portland State University, everything is free and the door is always open.
Students and staff can walk into the converted mailroom anytime to donate or take supplies, ranging from three-ring binders to iPods.
Though the tiny space may not look impressive, the program is a point of pride for PSU as an innovation in waste reduction. Last year the Reuse Room turned over $45,000 worth of supplies and diverted more than 10,000 pounds of trash from going to the landfill.
Like PSU, colleges across the country are trying out new approaches for making their campuses more sustainable. This means educating students and others in higher ed about the impact they are having on the planet and its resources as well as finding ways to reduce that impact.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) brought its annual conference to Portland in late October. The event showcased a wide range of strategies and topics -- from renewable energy to learning gardens to simple ideas like the Reuse Room.
The event is the largest campus sustainability conference in North America, attracting nearly 2,000 students, faculty and staff to Portland from around the U.S. and internationally.
Association chairwoman Jacqueline Johnson says colleges play an important role in advancing the cause of sustainability.
“I think because of how higher education is defined — as a place where research happens and where people gather to learn and to teach and to speak — it’s really a venue for thinking about the things that are needed in the world,” she says.
Many schools in Oregon and Washington have embraced a “campus as a living laboratory” model in which students learn about sustainability topics in their classes while engaging in projects to directly improve infrastructure and practices on campus.
“It’s important that we are in a city where the higher education institutions have an interest in the topic, and also have shown to be leaders,” Johnson said.
This is the first year the conference has been hosted in Portland.