This Washington

Despite Rising College Costs, UW Students Push for Green Campus Fee

By Teodora Popescu January 6, 2010

The University of Washington is known as an environmentally conscious campus—so much so that in its last report, the National Sierra Club ranked the UW the second most sustainable school in the nation. However, a large portion of UW’s environmental and sustainability projects, (like the UW’s Green Purchasing Program, mandate to use only 100 percent recycled stock paper in office equipment, and computer monitor recycling program,) exist because of contractual, legal, or research-based agreements. These are things green students support, but the projects leave most students with the passive role of supporting initiatives rather than creating or implementing projects themselves.

If a coalition of green students get their wish, that could change.

In September the UW released its "University’s Climate Action Plan" (the University’s proposed environmental and sustainability goals). The plan called for a 15 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at the UW over the next decade and elimination of all net emissions by 2050.

It also called for more student involvement. A group of environmentally active UW students have decided to seize the opportunity and push for some environmentalism of their own—a campus sustainability fund (CSF).

The CSF, as proposed by the students, would generate $685,000 by implementing a $5 fee on each UW student, per quarter. This fee would fund student-led and directed sustainability projects. The goal of the fund is to create projects (such as installing solar panels on top of residence halls) that would lower carbon emissions, energy use, water use, and waste. The fund is also meant to focus on green education. UW sophomore Katie Stultz sees this fund as a necessity for the UW campus in the next generation. “We [the UW] are behind many other schools in terms of immediate, large-scale environmental sustainability,”she says. Green student funds have already popped up at the University of Berkeley, the University of Oregon, and Evergreen College in Olympia.

As for implementation, the group proposes forming a CSF committee under the current campus Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability office. The committee would be made up of representatives from each major student administrative body on campus, and it would  be in charge of allocating the funds, which will also go to education projects.

CSF campaign member David Corrado says the $5 fee is not only minimal, but the impact could be a huge advantage for the university. “The campus sustainability fund will allow the University of Washington to become the number one sustainable school in the nation,” he says, a title that seems to be growing in importance. In the Princeton Review’s latest college guide, there is a new section rating a school’s efforts towards being "green."

At UW, the CSF has support across the political divide. Members of the Young Democrats are actively campaigning for the CSF and College Republicans President Justin Bryant says, “We are supportive of smart and efficient sustainability efforts.”

Not so fast. The timing of a student fee couldn't be worse.  “As much as I love the environment," says UW Sophomore Eric Dennan, "I love my education more. And with tuition increases, and UPASS increases, and my financial aid being cut, adding a fee, even a five dollar one, isn’t fair right now.”

Dennan could have a point, with 25 percent cuts in state funding last year, and a proposed $20.9 million cut within Governor Christine Gregoire’s all-cuts budget this year, students are feeling the need to save. Students already pay $56.60 in service and activities fees. The $5 CSF fee would bump it to over $60. Meanwhile, UPASS rates doubled this year.

But environmentalists within the UW insist it’s a fee the campus needs for the future. Stultz calls it, “the opportunity for the university of Washington to lead our state and our country in the environmental movement. This is our chance.”

Calls to the UW administration for a comment have not been returned.
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