It’s not easy being green—but Columbia is trying to make it so for students.
The Office of Environmental Stewardship introduced a $25,000 fund this semester to support student projects related to sustainability.
The idea for the Green Fund has been began kicked around for years, most recently by Green Umbrella in February 2011.
But with OES disengaged from students for the last two years, the idea was only revived in January, when the office became part of Campus Services and hired a new director, Jessica Prata.
Scott Wright, vice president of Campus Services, spent the summer reaching out to students, former students, and administrators, asking them what they wanted to see from the department in its new configuration.
“What came back loud and clear was that Environmental Stewardship needs to do more to actively support student projects,” Wright said.
When Wright talked to members of the University Senate about creating a Green Fund last spring, they felt strongly that, unlike similar grants at other institutions, the Columbia fund should be used for supporting student projects only, not administrative projects.
Administrators are “opening it up to groups of students who are interested in working as a collective on sustainability projects that need support,” Wright said.
Applications for grants from the fund won’t be open until next semester. A panel of faculty, graduate students, administrators, a representative from OES, and possibly a member of EcoReps will evaluate grant applications.
The Green Fund will go to support only projects that directly affect Columbia properties. It also cannot be linked to projects for which students receive academic credit.
And at this point, the Green Fund is not open to Columbia affiliates, including Barnard students. However, in the future, Wright envisions expanding the fund to include a greater swath of the University community.
“We don’t want to be exclusionary, we just want to be sure that we’re not overstepping any boundaries,” he said.
Wright said all grants would be data-driven and based on clear metrics. All data related to the project will be placed on the OES website.
“If you are going to commit resources to a project, it has to be measurable,” he said. “Sustainability is a measurable enterprise.”
“Without the data, it’s really just a publicity stunt,” he added.
The money for the Green Fund comes from a number of offices, including Housing, Dining, and University Event Management.
“Instead of spending all of their money on things like trash removal and trash carting, why not spend some of the money trying to do the research and development to reduce waste?” Prata asked.
Prata said the fund will help students “use the campus as a living lab.”
“The end game is to get people to change how they think about sustainability on campus and beyond,” she said.
Many students may not currently have sustainability initiatives at the front of their minds, but many can think of ways they would like to make the campus greener.
Sam Heavenrich, CC ’17, suggested “more efficient water usage and heating. Or replacing the disposable plates in Ferris with actual plates.”
Geneva Hutcheson, BC ’17, said she would like to see more funds go to the community garden, “because it combines green action with community involvement.”
Yuval Millet, GS, said he would like to replace “water fountains on campus—they’re pretty old and replacing them with new ones would encourage people to use refillable water bottles.”
Wright said the fund could help implement projects like these.
If environmental sustainability were easy, “I’m sure all of us would be doing it already. It requires a little creativity, inventiveness, or maybe just some people willing to do the heavy lifting,” he said.