green fee change

Frances Schueren makes a presentation to The Student Sustainability Initiative Funding Board for Clemson Food Collective’s 2020 Food Summit application.

This article was written by a student of ENGL 3330: Writing for the News Media, which is taught by Mike Pulley.

A resolution passed by the Clemson Undergraduate Student Senate to make the university’s Green Fee more sustainable is waiting on its final approval by the university.

The proposed changes stand to halve the optional Student Sustainability Initiative fee to $5 per semester and switch its funding mechanism to an opt-out choice on each student’s tuition bill beginning with the 2020–2021 academic year.  

Proponents of the change believe that it will more than quadruple the amount of money available to fund student sustainability projects.    

“For the initiative to be sustainable it needs to bring in more funding,” said Caleb Todd, Student Government Director of Campus Advancement and a junior natural resources major. 

The current process for opting-in to the Student Sustainability Initiative Green Fee is an easy-to-miss step when students pay their tuition bill in iRoar. Current participation levels are below 1 percent with only 45 students opting into the fee for the Spring 2020 semester.

Changing the fee to an opt-out model makes it more straightforward to support the Student Sustainability Initiative while still providing a choice for others that do not want to pay into the fund. 

“The Clemson University Sustainability Commission overwhelmingly supported the undergrad student government proposal to amend the Student Sustainability Initiative Green Fee in order to raise needed funding for sustainability initiatives on Clemson’s campus,” said Caye Drapcho, Co-Chair of the Clemson University Sustainability Commission and Associate Professor of Biosystems Engineering.   

According to conservative estimates made by the University Budget Office, the proposed changes to the optional fee will increase the funding available to projects to $50,000 a year, said Todd. Other projections indicate that the yearly intake of the fund could swell to as much as $100,000.

The original Student Sustainability Initiative Green Fee was created in 2013 to provide funding for student-driven sustainability projects. At the time, proponents wanted the opt-out structure now awaiting approval, but all prior efforts to set it up that way were contentious. Still, the less desirable opt-in fee gained revenue until 2016. However, awareness of the fund declined after the students that were initially involved with its founding graduated or moved on. 

Todd said he believes that the successful passage of the new opt-out resolution reflects a growing acknowledgment of the importance of sustainability among the campus community. 

“The fund is intentionally meant to be student-driven,” Todd said. “If you have an idea for positively impacting social, environmental or economic sustainability on campus, and you have a plan, the Student Sustainability Initiative is there to support students pursuing those projects.”

Participating in the initiative gives students a way to build a personal connection to broader sustainability efforts on Clemson’s campus.

“Several proposals are being developed by student Creative Inquiry teams in coordination with the Sustainability Commission to increase solar photovoltaic on campus and to fund a demonstration carbon capture system,” said Drapcho. “These proposals will be submitted for consideration for funding by the Student Sustainability Initiative student oversight board.”

Student projects approved during the 2018 - 2019 fiscal year depleted more than 50 percent of the funds accrued during the previous three years. Members of the Sustainability Initiative Funding Board say that with a current budget of $11,000, there is hesitation about appropriating too much of the remaining funds. 

A bill passed by Clemson Undergraduate Student Government (CUSG) a week after the Student Sustainability Initiative resolution last fall provides a set of rules to govern the entirely student-administrated program.

“You just have to be supported by an organization and have a sustainable idea,” said Jill Walton, a member of the Student Sustainability Initiative Funding Board and a senior microbiology major.

Once an application is received, the student or organization then presents a detailed budget and action plan for their project or event. Each proposal is voted on by the Funding Board to decide whether or not to award any funding and to determine how much will ultimately be appropriated.

Projects proposed for funding this semester include the 2020 UNICEF Hunger Banquet and Clemson Food Collective’s Food Summit. Past projects supported include Clemson Food Collective’s 2019 Food Summit, Solid Green’s movie showing, EcoReps’ Community Gardens and Tigers for Green Innovation. 

Not all projects are approved, but once they are, funds are dispensed through the University Budget Office and are available to be spent up to the first day of June of the fiscal year in which they are awarded. 

“I really appreciate the sustainability fund a lot,” said Frances Schueren, a member of Clemson Food Collective and a junior food science and human nutrition major. “It’s been absolutely necessary in putting our event on so we would definitely love to see it continue to grow in size and ability to fund more projects.” 

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