When they brought their proposal to the finance committee on the Board of Trustees back in Spring 2010, they never thought it would be approved so quickly and without questions. John Cappele, Keith Hansen, Madison Hohman and Jen Jones were elated to see their efforts had paid-off.
According to Jones, about three or four years ago, these individuals started gathering data on Cougar polls, asking students their opinions concerning an additional fee to fund sustainability. Over 85 percent said they supported it. At this point, the push was made to get the administration to take notice.
Jones said, “When I came in 2009 and heard about the push, it made so much sense to me and I got involved. We tied up all the loose ends and then came up with a proposal and brought it to the administration.”
Because of the administration’s approval, the Green Fee was collected for the first time last academic year. Every full-time student now pays $10 a semester to go toward funding sustainability projects on campus.
While the Green Fee was mainly student-driven, the administration itself decided to push for sustainability efforts. On Aug. 22, 2011, a little over three weeks ago, the Office of Sustainability was created within the division of Business Affairs. The revenue that the Green Fee produces goes to the Eco-collected Fund, which will be used for sustainability-related projects that students working under the Office of Sustainability will be planning and then implementing.
Under the Office of Sustainability, there are five paid undergraduate internships with additional volunteers to help with the projects. However, the unpaid volunteers will be in a prime position for receiving the paid positions in the following year. The five paid positions this year have been given out to Adrian Barry, Caroline Horres, Kyle James, Isaiah Nelson and Suzanne Sifri.
Brian Fisher, Director of the Office of Sustainability and political science professor, said the projects coming out of the new office will be mainly student-driven. He said, “I’m giving each student relative autonomy to work on their projects. Not only will they be learning, but they’ll be building a resume, being professional and most importantly, gaining leadership.”
In addition to the various projects the students will be working on, Fisher said the goal this year is to build awareness of the new office on campus and in the community. He said, “I asked my class about the Green Fee and a quarter to a third didn’t know about it.” With many students still unaware of the Green Fee, Fisher hopes to bring better awareness and involvement from the campus.
According to Fisher, a fee toward promoting sustainability is commonly seen around other campuses. Fisher also noted that the College is behind in its efforts compared to other schools. However, Fisher along with several others said the College’s recent efforts are unique to other campuses.
Adrian Barry, who is one of the five paid undergraduate interns for the Office of Sustainability, said that even though the College is behind, the uniqueness of the office and dynamic of the campus will quickly change this. He said, “We went from being behind to being possible innovators (in the field).”
Barry said the uniqueness of the office is partly because of its designed structure. For example, paying the interns gives a better sense of responsibility and professional feel. Fisher also made a note about structure of the office. He said, “(It’s unique because of the) idea that both undergraduate and graduate students will be working together in and around the campus and even within the community. The synergy is rather a unique one.”
Even though the office was just created, students are already coming up with possible projects to work on this year. Barry mentioned the ideas of composting and water refill stations around campus to cut down on waste and promote clean water. Jones, who can provide the graduate student perspective, said MES students are already working on researching a green roof project and water catchment system.
In addition to the recent creation of the office, there is a new student organization forming on campus that will serve as a counterpart to the Office of Sustainability. Adam Brunelle, MES student and former College of Charleston undergraduate, attended the first meeting of the group, called Green CofC, and said there were over 30 students who attended. From the excited atmosphere of all the students, he said he could tell the group will be active.
The formation of the group came as a result of Fisher’s climate change capstone course last year. Brunelle was a student in the class and said Green CofC was a product of one of the group projects Fisher had assigned students.
Brunelle said, “Basically, Dr. Fisher likes to do experiential learning in his classes – getting students to interact and implement actual projects. One group decided they were going to raise awareness for the Green Fee in some way. During this process, they got so excited about raising awareness that they decided to create an organization called Green CofC, which would raise this awareness, propose project ideas and eventually be a free-standing student organization.”
With the push for promoting sustainability on campus from undergraduate and graduate students, professors and even the administration, the College has come a long way. While Fisher noted that sustainability is sometimes a trial and error process and there is a cost factor due to the long-term process, it will eventually pay off in the end.
Fisher noted that “students have the capacity to do big things.” While the process may be long, students passionate about sustainability will create a success on campus.