Brett Cease
Op-Ed

Initiative with focus on sustainability needed to help propel UTD towards Tier One status, become more eco-friendly

Imagine having a role in proposing how the fees collected with your tuition are spent. Imagine part of that money will be set aside for specific sustainability initiatives on campus.

These possibilities came closer to reality after April 5, when Student Government senators voted unanimously to pass a resolution supporting the establishment of a Student Government-run Green Initiative Fund. The vastly popular resolution was co-authored by this year’s SG president, Caitlynn Fortner, and vice president, Grant Branam, and myself, and had over 30 sponsors.

So what exactly is a Green Initiative?

As defined by the SG resolution, a Green Initiative is a separate pool of funding that will go toward improving campus sustainability initiatives. This will include efforts such as infrastructure and efficiency improvement projects, recycling and waste and water reduction efforts, expanding mass transit availability, ongoing sustainability oriented internships, scholarships and research grants for students, student-focused sustainability-oriented assistantships/staffing and other sustainability initiatives proposed by university students.

For UTD, this first year’s Green Initiative will be financed exclusively from an allocation of several thousand dollars from the SG executive committee’s budget. In the future, the hope is such an initiative will expand to become incorporated as a larger pool of funding, and for the student body to be involved in proposing sustainability-oriented solutions on campus.

Are we in good company (who else is doing it)?

The concept of a Green Initiative (also known as a Green Fund) is nothing new. The University of Colorado Boulder initiated the first one in the United States in 1973. The Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education tracks such initiatives and estimates that, since its humble beginnings, there are now more than 150 of them set up on college and university campuses across America.

Setting up a Green Initiative actually fits well with our drive to achieve Tier One status. When one looks at the many campuses that have been designated as R1 Doctoral Research Universities, one of the common themes is student engagement through the presence of a Green Initiative on their campuses as well.

In our great state of Texas, eight different campuses have taken measures through their student governments to implement a Green Initiative.These funds have been broadly supported on virtually every campus that has adopted them. For example, Texas State’s was approved by an overwhelming 82 percent of the student vote, while UT Austin’s student body ratified their Green Fund referendum with over 70 percent of the student vote.This kind of support is seen here on our campus as well. In early February, SG members conducted a weeklong, in-person survey of the UTD student body. We spoke with over 200 students passing through the Student Union about the idea of a campus Green Initiative and found that over 94 percent of those we talked to support it.

How does it work?

One of the appealing features of a Green Initiative is that it empowers students in multiple ways to have more engagement in the decision-making on campus.

On one level, students stand to gain valuable experience making financial decisions after conducting reviews of submitted project proposals if they serve on the SG Green Initiative committee. On the next level, students are engaged by being sought after to propose ideas and solutions on how to use our campus Green Initiative to help UTD save energy, water and our campus’ biological diversity.

As a student senator who has spent the past year having many conversations with students, staff and administration regarding this topic, I have found our campus culture to care deeply about being green. From the many student organizations that have supported SG’s efforts to institute a Green Initiative, to the amazing research our professors are doing in fields related to sustainability, renewable energy and battery storage, the pursuit of sustainability surrounds our community.