SOOS, Green Fund work to build sustainable future at Pitt

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Pamela Smith | Visual Editor

The entrance to the Student Office of Sustainability on the fifth floor of the William Pitt Union.

By Betul Tuncer, Senior Staff Writer

The Green Fund and the Student Office of Sustainability do more than just create eco-friendly programming on campus, according to Cameron Chase. SOOS works to “creatively revolutionize” and support environmental and social justice efforts in the Pitt community.

“Our goals are to increase the quantity and quality of sustainability initiatives on campus, provide services and support to the campus community, advocate and assist with sustainable innovations on campus and ensure the fulfillment of institutional commitments to sustainable initiatives,” Chase, managing director of the SOOS, said.

The Pitt Green Fund aims to fund sustainability initiatives on Pitt’s campus to promote environmental justice. According to Rachel Vertucci, the Green Fund also hopes to promote diversity, equity and justice on campus through their sustainability work.

There are nineteen student organizations affiliated with SOOS, including the Green Fund. Some of these organizations include Students for Sustainability, Free the Planet, the Fossil Free Pitt Coalition, Plant2Plate Student Garden and the Pitt Pantry. SOOS also collaborates with the Pitt Bike Cave, University of Thriftsburgh, Zero Waste efforts, Pitt Green Team, Clutter for a Cause and Campus Race to Zero Waste, according to Chase.

Vertucci, the Green Fund Advisory Board’s director and a junior supply chain and global management major, said the Green Fund Allocation Board is a group of eight students under the SOOS which funds community initiatives to promote sustainability at Pitt.

“Our board has a diverse group of members of all academic backgrounds, from chem to communications to business to environmental science, and all academic years,” Vertucci said. “This diversity allows us to bring various perspectives to our meetings, and different connections to departments and organizations.”

Operating under SOOS with a separate budget, the Green Fund receives $5,000 each year from the Student Activity Fee, and allocates this money to projects proposed to them. The Green Fund also collects $1,500 to $2,200 a year from projects such as the Bring Your Own Bag program.

The Green Fund Advisory Board reviews project proposals as well as funds and appoints project liaisons to work with the accepted project groups, according to Vertucci. The Green Fund accepted 18 out of the 31 proposed sustainability projects and allocated $8,000 in the 2018-19 academic year, allocated $1,300 to four projects in 2019-20 and funded eight out of 13 projects for $7,000 in 2020-21. They have started to accept project proposal applications for this semester and will begin to review them at their first weekly meeting next Monday.

Erika Ninos, sustainability coordinator at the Office of PittServes and SOOS, said the Green Fund and SOOS are resources that are open to all students who would like to work on projects to make Pitt’s campus more sustainable.

Students can get more involved in the SOOS and other sustainability organizations at Pitt by attending their First Thursday events. These events are on the first Thursday of every month in room 510 at the William Pitt Union. This monthly event allows sustainability-focused organizations and students to gather, network, share information and enjoy pizza, according to Chase. 

Natalie Britton, Green Fund project liaison and senior economics major, said the Green Fund worked to provide funding for COVID-safe events and projects during the pandemic. 

Some of these projects included a greenhouse for the Pitt Hydroponics farm in Pittsburgh’s Homewood neighborhood, personal composting bins for students who attended a virtual composting seminar, a pollinator garden next to Posvar Hall and two summer internships — one to develop diversity, equity, inclusion and justice training materials for student sustainability leaders, and the other to promote composting on campus. 

Britton said an important project that the Green Fund funded in past years was the zero waste period initiative, which aimed to acknowledge the intersection between period poverty and waste diversion by bringing 446 reusable menstrual products, such as menstrual cups and reusable pads, to campus.

“Reflecting on prior years, one of our favorite projects we worked on was the reusable menstrual product drive, which funded Pitt Planned Parenthood and allowed them to distribute reusable menstrual products to hundreds of Pitt students,” Britton said. 

Britton said the Green Fund also allocates funds to the Pitt Pantry every year, to help combat food insecurity on campus. Britton added that the Green Fund financed home winterization and cooking classes from the Pitt Pantry in the past.  

Britton said SOOS and the Green Fund work to encourage interdisciplinary environmental and social justice projects by connecting with students outside of the organization.

“Our plan to achieve this goal is to work with clubs on campus that aren’t already working in the sustainability sphere to promote more socially sustainable/interdisciplinary projects,” Britton said. 

Ninos said it’s important for colleges like Pitt to acknowledge their environmental impact and work on becoming more sustainable. 

“Campus sustainability projects can be tested on a small scale and have a huge impact for the Pitt community while providing an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to see how these projects can be modified to fit larger community needs,” Ninos said. “It is also important that, as a large institution, the University of Pittsburgh recognizes our environmental impact and strategies to decrease that impact and make positive change on campus and in our community.”

Ninos applauded Pitt for its progress in implementing its 2018 sustainability plan and its achievement of a Gold Rating Association from the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System in April 2021. Sierra Club’s Sierra magazine also recognized the University as a “Cool School” for its progress on sustainability goals.

Chase said it is important that students and organizations continue to voice their opinions in order to encourage Pitt to bring about change. 

“As interest and excitement in sustainability continues to increase among students and staff, we continue to look to the University to support projects and initiatives that will allow us, as the Pitt community, to reach and surpass our current sustainability goals and to reduce Pitt’s overall environmental impact,” Chase said.

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