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Portland State University President Wim Wiewel will receive the inaugural Presidential Award from the U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools next month at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in San Francisco.
The award is given to recognize individuals in higher education at both four-year and two-year institutions for their leadership in sustainability. The council also recognized Jerry Weber, the president of the College of Lake County in Illinois.
"It's a great thing for PSU," said Wiewel, who was hired as the school's president in 2008, discussing the award.
Wiewel brought with him to Portland deep interest in urban development and found a campus awash in a new commitment to sustainability. With the help of the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation's $25 million challenge grant, the school had just launched what is now the Institute for Sustainable Solutions.
"It was just wonderful to see sustainability elevated as an intellectual lens through which everything else is viewed," Wiewel said.
Wiewel said he's energized by the ideas coming from students, such as a campaign to "Take back the Tap" and wean students from bottled water.
"People are always asking, 'How do you get buy-in from leadership on sustainability?'" said Jennifer Allen, the executive director for PSU's Institute for Sustainable Solutions. "Here we have that top-down leadership and bottom-up innovation. It's coming from both sides."
During his tenure at the university — as noted by the U.S. Green Building Council in granting the award — Portland State has added its "Electric Avenue" living laboratory for electric cars in partnership with Portland General Electric. It has also gained a new green building research lab and counts eight LEED-certified buildings on campus.
Kristin Ferguson, who works on strategic projects for the USGBC's Center for Green School's said Wiewel was selected for the award by a panel of experts assembled by the council. The award is intended to recognize leaders in higher education that are thinking creatively, she said.
"We're recognizing models that are working," Ferguson said, "and those that are helping to change the course of how colleges operate."
In addition to his work at PSU, Wiewel also serves on the steering committee for the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment. The national organization has lobbied 650 university and college campuses to implement institution-wide climate action plans, outlining a path toward reduced carbon emissions.
"It's the largest volunteer effort like that you could think of," Wiewel said.
Wiewel signed PSU's own climate action plan in May 2010.
Wiewel has also worked closely with the city of Portland on transit planning to serve the university and he plans to implement an aggressive plan for upgrading the efficiency and sustainability of the PSU campus.
The now-defunct Oregon Sustainability Center, which would have graced PSU's campus, was a good idea, Wiewel said. With that plan dead, he said he would endeavor to lead the university toward other projects that can be a showcase and a lab for urban sustainability. With one caveat.
"I'm not interested in being cutesy," Wiewel said. "It's got to make economic sense."
He also sees more potential in creating and further developing partnerships with the city's businesses.
Even if climate change has all but dropped off the agenda in the U.S. presidential race, Wiewel is firm in his belief that sustainability is the right focus for PSU.
"I don't really care that it's the No. 1 issue people care about," he said. "We know how important it is."