The Student Sustainability Fund: What unaddressed needs does it meet?

Staff Columnist

In the Feb. 24 issue of Student Life, Eliza Adelson introduced to the student body the basic functioning of the Student Sustainability Fund. But the article was unable to address what makes the fund both unique and vital to Washington University’s sustainability movement. Here is my answer: The Student Sustainability Fund will meet individual student needs and the desires of the student body in ways that cannot be addressed by the Washington University administration, the Office of Sustainability, student groups and academic departments.

Washington University, in conjunction with the Office of Sustainability, just released its sustainability plan, but the plan focuses solely on efficiency and economically expedient measures that will turn a profit for the University. It has no stipulations for student involvement, for sustainability education of the student body, or for educational and pilot projects that wouldn’t provide a quantifiable return on investment. The Student Sustainability Fund will fund projects by students for students—projects that will benefit the student body as a whole through educational initiatives or services that increase sustainability. Examples of such projects include implementation of a rain-barrel irrigation system, a green-roof pilot project, permanent signage to remind students to turn off lights, and speakers who address sustainability.

Green Action and other student groups manifest their commitment to sustainability differently than in projects funded by the Student Sustainability Fund. This is primarily because of the Student Sustainability Fund’s specific focus on directly benefiting the student body.

Additionally, there are inherent differences in the infrastructure, resources and timescale for project implementation between student groups like Green Action or Verde and the Student Sustainability Fund. These differences would result in the Student Sustainability Fund’s support of initiatives very different than those of existing student groups. The Student Sustainability Fund would be unique from most groups in its access to consistently available funds, ability to sustain multiple and diverse projects, wide cross-school membership and focus on campus improvement. The Student Sustainability Fund will provide students with the resources—notably the finances and relevant on- and off-campus connections—necessary to implement their projects successfully. Finally, the Student Sustainability Fund will serve as a hub for all undergraduate students, academic departments and administrative departments to collaborate on sustainability projects. This will enhance the quality and effectiveness of initiatives and will also reduce redundancy of projects across groups.

I would like to step briefly through the function of existing environmental groups to further clarify the differences between their purpose and that of the Student Sustainability Fund. The Green Events Commission is a Student Union organization with a specific focus on providing free consulting services to student groups who want to “green” their events by increasing recycling, using reusable materials, etc. The Student Sustainability Fund is unique in that it is available to individuals and to groups of students. In addition, its agenda is flexible and can support a greater diversity of sustainability projects and events. Though this doesn’t preclude funding for “greener” events, the Student Sustainability Fund is not limited to this function. In addition, the membership of the Student Sustainability Fund includes student representatives from SU, CS40 and the student body as well as faculty, an administrator and facilities personnel all with different skill sets and connections in all areas of the University.

The Student Sustainability Fund also meets a need unaddressed by funding from academic departments. The departments, which provide funding for student research with faculty members, support projects with a specific departmental focus and require semester-long or yearlong commitments for research and implementation. The Student Sustainability Fund would grant access to more varied projects and initiatives of any duration. The Student Sustainability Fund is different in that it would work with students and faculty across disciplines and across schools. This would enhance the innovation and effectiveness of projects.

The Student Sustainability Fund combines the strengths of these various other sustainability initiatives on campus. It adds the benefit of coordination of people from all over campus in the pursuit of two goals: improving campus sustainability and increasing student awareness by providing students with the financial and organizational tools to implement their project ideas. Students have the motivation and the ideas; all they need is the Student Sustainability Fund to provide the capital, the partners and the guidance to implement their sustainability projects or put on their sustainability events!

Ellie is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at ercooper@wustl.edu.

  • Nurma

    Wondering how many funidng opportunities you’ll seek, particularly in regards to upside and potential failure. I’m thinking of the venture capital model, where funidng goes to a bunch of different projects, with the expectation that a third of them will fail but the couple percent that succeed will have such extraordinary upside it covers the other outlays of cash. (Of course all the projects pitch that they will be the ones with the extraordinary upside). On the flip side, if you fund only a handful of projects, and two or three of them failed, than the whole Labs idea itself might look like a failure. Funding many projects might make you more interested in the wilder but potentially game-changing ideas, just because you’ve built in the ability to be risky in your model.Then again, there may not be that many projects out there to even consider.