Here's an anomaly in our sustainable city—Portland State University has the lowest possible ranking among colleges for environmental friendliness, according to Princeton's Review of Green Colleges.

Last week, PSU students took a step that might change their school's future ranking in the review, which measures colleges' environment-related policies, practices and academic offerings.

About 72 percent of students voting in a PSU election approved a referendum that creates a $5-per-student-per-term "green fee."

The fee, which takes effect this fall, will generate about $500,000 annually and will fund projects designed to reduce PSU's current 44,000 metric tons of annual carbon-dioxide emissions.

"This is an opportunity for us to think globally but invest locally," says referendum architect Brendan Castricano, a 29-year-old senior who's majoring in psychology and economics.

The money will initially be used to:

Fund a TriMet/FlexPass subsidy that could result in a $10-to-$15 decrease in three-month passes now costing $175 per student at the school, which is primarily composed of commuters.

Finance a special sustainability projects fund: a student-governed grant program for "sustainable capital projects" such as bike-parking stations, water-bottle refilling stations and acquisition of bikes for a bike-loan program.

Fill a new university position for a conservation and renewable-energy manager that Castricano expects will pay at least $80,000 a year.

Start a "green revolving loan" program similar to what's been done at other schools nationwide. The loan program is designed to be self-sustaining, with funds loaned at a zero percent interest rate and money from energy savings then reinvested in other projects. The program will target efforts such as lighting efficiency, and water and energy conservation.

Although the fee won strong support among voting students, it's worth noting that only 3 percent of the university's 26,321 students voted—the lowest turnout at PSU since 1998.

"Sustainability is good in its ideals, but it is kinda a fad," says a nonvoter who didn't know about the election, sophomore physics major Daniel Olivares. "Five bucks is not that much at the end of the day. But how does that change the world?"

Castricano responds that programs like the green revolving loan fund have proven successful at other campuses with startup money.

"The green fee is a great way to plug into that," Castricano says. "We are doing what we can in our own circle of control."


Other fees PSU students pay each term include a $218 incidental fee for "various student activities" and a $167 health fee.

Harvard University estimates its revolving green loan program saves the university $4 million a year.