After years of relentless striving to reach “carbon zero,” Southern Oregon University has yet again won more major national recognition — this time honorable mention from Climate Leadership Awards at the 10th annual Presidential Climate Leadership Summit of the nonprofit Second Nature.

The recognition at a conference Tuesday in Arizona is a high honor, as SOU is one of only four colleges or universities so named, out of 600 in the nation, says Joe Mosley, director of Community and Media Relations. It has received it before, but this year was one of the top six in the nation. Two years ago SOU was one of the top 12.

The award is given based on a range of green, environmentally sound advances, he notes, including Raider Village, a massive dorm and dining complex with a gold LEED standard, and the student vote to impose a fee on themselves to offset electricity. It was used to make SOU the first campus in the US to offset 100 percent of its water use. Other feathers in the green SOU cap include huge numbers of solar panels on campus roofs, designation as a Tree Campus USA and the first Bee Campus USA in the nation.

In the interest of lowering air pollution and fossil fuel-driven trucks, SOU recently dropped a plan to burn bio-fuel from area forests, opting instead to replace aged boilers, which supply the school with 30 percent of its energy from burning natural gas — the rest being from electricity, assisted by heat pumps, Mosley said.

Natural gas is mostly methane, which transforms to carbon dioxide over time. Both of these are powerful greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, but Mosley says, “It’s unfortunate … There is no feasible alternative right now. We’re always looking for other ways to attain our power. This is kind of where we are now. Most of the greenhouse gases associated with it have to do with drilling and transporting it.”

All these steps are factored into SOU’s overall plan to reach a carbon-neutral state by 2050, which SOU planners realize is a long 33 years away but schools may get on track by vowing a “Carbon Commitment” to work toward carbon neutrality; a “Resilience Commitment” to focus on climate adaptation now and in the future; or a “Climate Commitment” to do both. SOU has chosen the Climate Commitment.

For the third straight year, SOU got its Tree Campus USA recognition from the Arbor Day Foundation. This is for management of its urban forests and engaging students and staff in its conservation. They hold planting festivities every Arbor Day and have planted 24,000 plants and 173 large trees during the event over the past three years. They created a five-acre arboretum next to Roca Canyon, just south of the Science Building, off Roca Street. Arbor Day is on April 28 this year.

Second Nature, formed in 1993 to mobilize higher education toward a goal of sustainability, hosts the leadership summit each year as a touch-base opportunity, he said, for its Climate Leadership Network, comprised of the 600 universities.

Coming in ahead of SOU were Arizona State University and Johnson County Community College in Kansas, named winners of the 2017 Climate Leadership Awards.

— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.