Campuses around the world are increasingly working on projects to make their buildings and operations greener. The University of South Florida Saint Petersburg (USFSP) in the United States has taken a unique approach to funding these activities and in particular green campus projects relating to energy: student fees.
I recently had the chance to speak with Eric Douthirt, Todd Shank and Michael Leggett all working on this project at USFSP.
1. How did the Student Green Energy Fund start and how does it work?
The USFSP Student Green Energy Fund (SGEF) began as a student-led initiative where USF system students lobbied the Board of Governors of the Florida State University system to set up this fund to be used for “green energy” projects on campus. In the Spring of 2011, the fund was approved for USFSP and a $1 fee per credit hour was created which essentially became this pot of money (the actual Student Green Energy Fund). Then, the USFSP Student Government was tasked with appointing a student led committee to oversee the fund and determine how it would be used by soliciting for project proposals from the campus community and ultimately voting on which ones should receive funding.
The committee is made up of 6 students and 4 university faculty/staff members. Our chair is Mike Leggett, an undergraduate student in Environmental Science and Policy. We also receive significant help, operationally and otherwise, from several non-voting member students that want to be involved. Much of our time is devoted to soliciting for proposals and generally increasing awareness of the fund to the campus. We meet bi-weekly to discuss business and vote on project proposals twice a year (once in the Spring and once in the Fall).
2. What kind of projects have you already funded?
So far, in our first semester of operation we have approved/funded:
- A revamp of the campus gym with sustainable cardio equipment (treadmills that operate off the energy transferred to it by the user and elliptical/stationary bikes that actually add power back to the grid as people use them). These are currently in place and we actually plan to have our first ever “Save the Watts” indoor race on the bikes and ellipticals during the Spring 2013 semester… a team competition to see which team can produce the most watt hours in a 30 minute time frame.
- Solar Doks: completely off the grid outdoor table/umbrella/bench units, powered by solar panels that allow users to plug in and charge cell phones, laptops, etc. Construction is due to start this month
- A Hybrid Truck for the USFSP Waterfront, a division of the Campus Recreation. The truck will be used to haul equipment to sponsored trips around the state, saving the University an estimated $1300 in fuel costs and mitigating 6395 lbs of CO2 annually.
3. What kind of projects are you thinking about in the future and what would you like to do with SGEF moving forward?
In the past week or so we voted on and approved three new projects:
- Retrofit of parking garage lighting with energy efficient LED lighting which will reduce energy costs for the building by up to 70% and reduce emissions up to 48 MT – CO2 (roughly equal to the total emissions of 6 single family homes in a year)
- Bottling Refill Stations at campus water fountains that visibly measure the number of plastic bottles “saved” – we estimate that the disposal of about 1500 plastic bottles will be mitigated annually through this project.
- An addition of one more Woodway treadmill at the campus gym that is powered completely “off the grid”
Going forward, one of the most important things we are trying to focus on is the educational components of projects. We want the campus community to not only understand how these projects are being funded, but also the importance of these projects and HOW they actually make a difference.
4. How has SGEF been received? By students? Staff? The community?
I attended an event known as the Southeastern Student Renewable Energy Conference this fall and I was greeted by students and instructors who were extremely excited to hear about our SGEF progress. What I found was that SGEF is seen by students across the country as a new mechanism to advocate for sustainable concepts and policy changes. Also, as a committee, we work not only to ensure that SGEF is successful, but also to empower and engage as many minds as possible. This is how we will create a true national movement at our university.
That being said, we have a long way to go with increasing awareness of the fund on campus. Some students might see the fee attached to their tuition bills, but still not really understand what it is, or what it’s being used for. For the next year and a half, increasing this awareness is a top priority for the committee to ensure that the student body is ready to vote to reinstate the fund in 2014.
5. What advice do you have for other schools who might be interested in putting in place a similar scheme?
Obviously whether or not the school is a state-funded institution will have a huge impact on what needs to happen to institute a fee funded program like this. As I already stated, significant efforts were put forth at the state level by students and faculty alike to set up the fund for USFSP. I think my advice is that persistence will pay off. Even our first semester after the fund was approved was full or organizational and committee work that had nothing to do with actual green projects. It can become quite burdensome and a significant time commitment, so it’s important that you have leadership in the group that can keep the committee focused and determined.
Once projects are funded and you see progress being made on campus, it’s INCREDIBLY satisfying!
For more information about campus greening at USFSP, connect with the USFSP Student Green Energy Fund committee via their Facebook page at facebook.com/USFSPSGEF.