Proposed Green Fund could increase student fees

By Gwenn Barney

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to reflect an error in the fund’s… Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to reflect an error in the fund’s title. The Pitt News regrets the error.

When it comes to environmental sustainability, Pitt barely makes the grade.

Disappointed by the University’s “C” grade on the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s 2010 College Sustainability Report Card, a group of student organizations proposed a new environmental initiative called the Green Fund.

The fund would be devoted to promoting environmental sustainability on the Oakland campus. The group proposed to raise money with a $5 per semester student fee, voluntary community donations and money from Pitt’s recycling proceeds. That amounts to about $160,000 of funding per year from student fees.

For the past three months, Pitt student Eva Resnick-Day, has worked with Free the Planet — Pitt’s student environmental group — Engineers for a Sustainable World, the Humanitarian and Environmental Alliance and Student Government Board’s environmental committee, among other groups, to try to create the fund.

As it is currently proposed, the fund would be run by a new student organization called the Student Sustainable Projects Committee. The committee would consist of nine members who would decide where the Green Fund money would go. All full-time undergraduate, non-College of General Studies students could apply for positions on the committee.

Any student or student-run organization could submit a proposal to the committee requesting funds for a sustainability project, and the committee would choose which applicants would received “Green Fund Gifts,” based on the likelihood that their projects would succeed and on how much of the Pitt community they would impact.

Allowing the committee to decide how to allocate the money “really empowers students to have a say and have a role in making positive changes,” Seth Bush, co-president of Free the Planet, said.

The committee would keep track of its gifts on its website, Students could also use the site to make donations.

Student Government Board, Dean of Students Kathy Humphrey and the Pitt Board of Trustees must all give their approval to the Green Fund Resolution, which would establish the fund, before it can go into effect.

Phil LaRue, SGB member and Green Fund advocate, estimates that the Board of Trustees will have made its decision about whether or not to support the initiative by the end of May.

It is unclear whether the initiative, which would take effect in the fall semester, will pass.

The initiative has some support from the student body. Students who support the Green Fund initiative have been collecting signatures on a petition since January. Their goal was to collect signatures from 10 percent of Pitt’s student population before taking their campaign to school administration. As of Monday, they had barely surpassed the 10 percent marker with 1,618 signatures.

“We’ve been petitioning like crazy,” Resnick-Day said. She estimates about 350 students have participated in collecting signatures.

Rebecca Schroeder, chairwoman of the SGB’s environmental committee, affirmed that student support for the initiative has been strong.

“A lot of people we petition are weary at first,” she said, “But by the end of our presentation they are really excited about it.”

LaRue will present the Green Fund before the SGB as a resolution at the Board’s meeting next week.

But administrators haven’t always been as forthcoming with their opinions on the proposal.

Humphrey declined to comment on plans for the committee, saying that the resolution could change when SGB votes on it.

Attilio “Buck” Favorini, chairman of the University Senate’s sustainability subcommittee, said his subcommittee reviewed the Green Fund plan at a recent meeting and that it has a good chance of passing.

“There was unanimous satisfaction over the way in which these students have taken active steps with Green Fund ideas,” Favorini said.

People petitioning for the creation of the Green Fund are already considering ideas for projects. Bush suggested harnessing the energy from exercise bikes and treadmills to power University gyms. LaRue mentioned the possibility of Pitt investing in wind energy credits.

“The list is almost endless of what we can do,” LaRue said. “There are so many ways to be sustainable.”

Pitt would not be alone in its efforts to build a green fund. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Illinois and Slippery Rock have similar initiatives.