The college's president attended a U.N. climate conference, and sat on a session panel.

COURTESY: PCC - PCC sustainability manager Briar Schoon and president Mark Mitsui pose with Gov. Kate Brown at the U.N.'s Conference of Parties 23 in Bonn, Germany last week.Portland Community College is playing a larger part in protecting the Earth's climate.

Last month, Portland Community College's president and sustainability manager attended an international conference on climate change and the environment, and have said they plan to continue to offer sustainable courses and programs at its schools.

PCC President Mark Mitsui and Briar Schoon, sustainability manager, traveled to Bonn, Germany, in November to take part in the Conference of Parties 23, a conference which served as the next round of United Nations climate negotiations. They joined about 20,000 attendees from around the world.

Earlier this year, PCC joined the We Are Still In coalition, a non-federal, national group committed to upholding the Paris Agreement despite President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the country from the international climate initiative.

Mitsui and Schoon joined panelists from California State University Northridge and Chatham University in Pittsburgh as part of a panel about higher education and their work on sustainability issues.

PCC's presence at the session reflected the significant attention the community college has garnered in recent months for its sustainability initiatives. In October, the community college was awarded the annual Second Nature Climate Leadership Award for two-year colleges, and Mitsui serves on Second Nature's steering board.

"We've been very thoughtful to integrate sustainability throughout all of our systems: academics, operations and administration," Schoon told the Tribune in an email from Germany.

"This kind of commitment is central to PCC's sense of community and our values as an institution," Mitsui added. "It is a commitment not only to this generation but future ones as well, not only to our part of the world, but others too."

PCC's offers more than 100 sustainability-related courses; maintains the Green Initiative Fund, which has funded student research and implementation of sustainable features such as reusable to-go containers and learning gardens; implements a "closed loop" food program at the Rock Creek campus near Hillsboro in which food is grown on campus for campus kitchens, and leftover food is used as compost in the gardens. The school also became a founding member of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council in 2013.

This summer, the PCC Board voted to divest from companies that profit from the fossil fuel industry.

"PCC is one of a handful of higher education institutions nationwide and the only community college in Oregon to have officially divested in this manner," Schoon said.

Big-name four-year universities often are looked to as de-facto leaders in campus sustainability — but, as Mitsui pointed out, community colleges' flexibility and diverse makeup make them a critical part of the equation.

"Sustainability is woven across our programs and curriculum in the community colleges and we are producing the next generation of leaders in a wide range of career fields and disciplines," he said. "Another important contribution by U.S. community colleges to this field is the diversity of our institutions."

In Germany, Mitsui discussed the importance of forging partnerships between two- and four-year institutions — and said he was ready to learn how those partnerships might be made even stronger.

"I hope to share the tremendous impact that two-year institutions, working together with four-year universities, can have on addressing climate change," he said. "The research at the universities can be transferred to the field and the community colleges can quickly adapt how we provide education and workforce development in this rapidly changing environment. The closer the link, the faster the evolution."

When they weren't presenting at their session, Mitsui and Schoon spent time at the U.S. Climate Action Center organized by the We Are Still In coalition. It was the first-ever American climate center at a U.N. conference that was not operated by and for the federal government, but for community representatives and business leaders.

"One thing that (We Are Still In) members are doing is committing to working more closely together, another reason for the convening," Mitsui said. "By collaborating more closely, we can provide greater synergy in our efforts. And there is already a great deal of momentum to build on."

PCC just passed a $185 million bond measure earlier this month. All of the large new projects funded by the bond, such as the Metropolitan Workforce Training Center and the Sylvania Campus' health technology center, will be LEED certified, meaning they will be built to the sustainability standards of the U.S. Green Building Council.

We Art Still In presented an analysis of what the coalition's 2,500 states, cities, educational institutions, businesses and faith communities have done and can do to combat climate change. Mitsui pointed out one statistic — that in 2016 alone, before We Are Still In even existed, wind power employment grew by 32 percent, and solar employment grew by 25 percent — as evidence that the coalition has the power to change things.

"It is important to remember that this is a global challenge requiring a global solution," he said. "The Earth's atmosphere does not care about political ideology or borders, it simply responds to greenhouse gas emissions in a way that impacts us all. And the window of opportunity to address it is closing."

By Blair Stenvick
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