Defining sustainability: Keeping the power going

2011-04-05T11:15:00Z Defining sustainability: Keeping the power goingBy GAIL COLE, Corvallis Gazette-Times Corvallis Gazette Times
April 05, 2011 11:15 am  • 

OSU’s sustainability coordinator seeks proper use of oft-used term

Brandon Trelstad wears many hats as Oregon State University’s sustainability coordinator. He joins another full-time employee and three students in OSU’s Sustainability Office to have a hand in community outreach and networking, campus infrastructure projects, student engagement and policy, implementation and planning of all things relating to sustainability.

“It’s quite a flashy thing right now,” Trelstad said.

But one of his biggest responsibilities is being a self-described “policeman” on the use of the word “sustainability.”

One thing he’d like to clear up: Sustainability isn’t narrowly focused on ecology and natural resources; it’s the term that describes how the environment, economy and society all can work together, like a gyroscope that never runs out of power — or resources or jobs.

“It’s not just about the environment,” Trelstad said.

For example, when it comes to construction, a building that earns a “platinum” LEED certification (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and is a worldwide system for rating green buildings) typically uses environmentally friendly building materials and low-energy lighting, heating and cooling.

However, Trelstad notes, these types of buildings aren’t necessarily sustainable, because a truly sustainable building would have both no net carbon emissions and no net energy consumption.

But this isn’t to say OSU hasn’t been a leader in making connections between the environment, economy and society — Trelstad explained that OSU has been at the forefront of sustainability for decades, thanks to its Extension Service.

“Using terms like sustainability — that’s new,” he said.

Trelstad’s been in his position since November 2005. He worked in OSU’s government relations office for four years before helping establish the sustainability coordinator position after seeing a need to connect departments around the university, along with the larger Corvallis community, to OSU’s sustainability efforts.

Those efforts range from maximizing energy savings to wiser purchase, preparation and disposal of food, thriftier purchasing, recycling, transportation and packaging, to name a few ongoing efforts.

“OSU was doing a lot of sustainability work that no one knew about,” Trelstad said. “On issues of sustainability, it’s nice to have someone or several people who know a lot about what’s going on.”

Trelstad also advises the Student Sustainability Initiative, a student-run organization made up of 10 paid staff and 500 volunteers. The group is headquartered at the Student Sustainability Center, located at 738 S.W. 15th St.

Trelstad’s office also works closely with Campus Recycling as well as university marketing officials — “sustainability” is the theme of the university’s social media-driven “Powered by Orange” campaign for the month of April.

His office also connects students with experiential learning projects; last year, it helped fund an upgrade of several lighting fixtures in Rogers Hall after a group of mechanical engineering students studied energy use and determined some changes could be made to make it more efficient.

Trelstad hopes to offer more opportunities for these types of student projects, as he sees the campus as a whole as a giant classroom for students to learn about sustainability issues.

“That’s the power of our university,” Trelstad said.

Contact Gazette-Times higher education reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or at

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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