A couple of folks on another post commented on how environmental activity is limited to progressive cities and campuses. Since I just got back from a green campus in a green city, I thought readers might want to hear about some good stuff going on in that small corner of the world.

The University of Oregon’s annual HOPES Conference just wrapped up on the 16th. Now in it’s 12th year, HOPES is a student-run environmental-design conference. If you are depressed by the level of environmental apathy around you, this was a place to recharge your faith and hope in humanity, especially the college-age segment of humanity.

These students are way ahead of the curve when it comes to thinking and talking about environmental-design issues. Conference panels ranged from “Are buildings meant to last?” to one on Portland’s Urban Growth boundary that brought together policy makers, developers, and designers. An all-day design charette was held to design a garden learning center for a local high school. There were also hands-on workshops on green roofs and natural building. And they had a children’s program, so parents like me could come to the conference and share the experience with their kids.

U of O students take sustainability very seriously and weren’t shy about starting difficult conversations. They are also highly motivated to push the envelope on environmental issues in their education. HOPES itself was a Master’s project 12 years ago. There’s a student initiative in the planning stages that would create one of the first ecological-design certificate programs at an accredited architecture or planning school.

It was incredible to be on a campus where sustainability and environmental design are a given, not an option. Of course not all U of O students are involved in environmental issues, but there seems to be a critical mass that makes the campus into a real sustainability laboratory.

Knowing these students are taking their experience and commitment out into the professional world definitely gave me hope (and don’t get me started on what’s happening with Eugene itself — see links below for a taste).

I know this is a fringe school, in a fringe city, in a fringe state, but it’s encouraging to see and experience this kind of enthusiasm and passion. More importantly, these kids are showing us what can be done when the environment is a priority in a school and a community.

Some links to Eugene efforts on renewable energy, bicycle use, and local foods.