Green fee aims to improve campus sustainability

Even for a school as committed to environmentally-friendly policies as New College, the path to a student-controlled initiative for funding to improve campus sustainability has been long, difficult and fraught with disappointment. However, after four years, thanks to the efforts of the New College Student Alliance (NCSA) and its Council for Green Affairs members, a student-run green fee — the first of its kind in the state of Florida — seems likely to finally take effect next fall.

The fee, if given final approval by the State University System’s Board of Governors (a decision to be made on Mar. 23rd and 24th), would slightly increase class tuition for students, setting the total collected aside for application to environmental-policy issues by the Council for Green Affairs. Specifically, the increase would be one dollar per credit hour, but because allocating credit hours are among the many things New College does differently, a semester contract will be considered to be worth its “official” amount, 16 credit hours, while a January Independent Study Project (ISP) will be worth four. Thus, regardless of contract size, students can expect to pay $32-36 per academic year to the green fee. In total, depending on the size of the student body, NCSA Co-president Oliver Peckham expects the green fee to raise between $26,000 and $30,000 for long-term sustainability projects each year.

So far, the fee has been met with great approval from students, the Board of Trustees, and the Board of Governors alike, and all involved in the project are confident about its future.

“Going into the next full Board of Governors meeting, I am very optimistic about the green fee’s chances,” Peckham told the Catalyst. Students have consistently supported the concept each year it has been pushed as well, according to polls conducted by the NCSA. The most recent of these was in January, asking students whether or not they would support a campus green fee. Out of 292 respondents, 74.1 percent responded “yes.” This was the third time the poll had been conducted and it also marked the third time that over 70 percent of those who responded showed support for the initiative.

Still, pushing for the fee at the state level has been an uphill battle. Previously, the fee had to be pushed through the Florida state legislature, leading to much of the difficulty involved in getting it approved — even with the support of several other Florida schools. What makes things easier this time around is the fact that the responsibility for the decision has been passed down to the Board of Governors, giving the fee’s supporters a smaller audience to convince and a process less complicated by bureaucracy. That said, Peckham also notes that the plan owes much of its success so far to its consistent history of support. “It’s a very powerful thing to say that your student government has supported it for four consecutive years and that your board of trustees has approved it three consecutive times unanimously, and that your students have held three [referenda], all of which were over 70 percent approval,” Peckham said.

Should the plan be passed successfully, the money it would generate would be purely intended for long-term projects focused on improving New College’s sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint. This means that the money absolutely can’t finance one-off events or visits from speakers and applications will need to be justified by their expected benefits in both the near and far future. Those involved in the fee’s development hope that this guideline will help them bring about changes that will benefit New College for years to come.

As for what the money can be spent on, some of the fee’s supporters have several ideas about where to apply it first. Peckham is interested in expanding the on-campus use of solar power, and particularly hopes to implement solar water heating, solar power for Hamilton “Ham” Center and the dorms and outdoor charge stations for students’ laptops. He also believes that the student body could save money in the long run by using the green fee to pay for the Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus partnership, which is currently being funded by the Student Allocations Committee (SAC).

Green Affairs Representative Nicholas “Niko” Segal-Wright is interested in bettering campus agriculture in the name of both sustainability and a sense of community, improving the student gardens and compost facilities. He is also interested in heavily reducing the use of bottled water on campus, perhaps by introducing water coolers to Ham Center. Regardless of what the money is spent on first, for the sake of the green fee’s future, he wants his fellow students to be just as excited about the changes as he and the other members of the Council are. “We want to kind of ‘make a bang’ with the first year,” Segal-Wright said. “We want people to be like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”

Vice President for Green Affairs Johannah Birney is especially interested in revitalizing organic farming on campus, hoping that students can significantly reduce New College’s carbon footprint by maintaining their own sustainable food source. She also wants to increase students’ access to recycling facilities, citing Ham Center as a location in need of improvement.

As far as ideas for spending go, though, the members of the Council stress the importance of those put forth by the New College community The green fee money is intended to be used by the students, for the students, and with that in mind, the Council welcomes any and all suggestions from students interested in improving campus sustainability. “If you’re a student and you have an idea, give them to us, because the Council for Green Affairs is open to every kind of input from all different inter-disciplinary aspects,” Birney said. “The more minds, the better.”

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