Sewanee Green Fund Takes Root

Mon, 29 Oct 2018 12:41:00 CDT  — by: Luke Williamson

In 2013, the Board of Trustees approved a Sustainability Master Plan that was, according to the Provost’s Office, meant to “guide the University’s work in sustainability for years to come.” Sustainability, funding, and student involvement were all, naturally, concerns of this plan. With the introduction of the new “Green Fund” committee on campus this year, Sewanee is one step closer to these goals.

The Sewanee Green Fund is a student-run organization on campus whose primary aim is to support “green” projects through funding allocated to the Green Fund. The Green Fund receives funding from the University, who allocates $6 from every student’s tuition toward the fund.

Comprised of mostly undergraduate students, the Green Fund has an executive board made up of 7 students. Along with voting members of the Green Fund Committee and a staff member from the Office of Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability (OESS), they direct the efforts and funds for the organization.

The Green Fund is an organization dedicated to the ideals of sustainability and environmentalism, to be sure, but Chair of the Executive Board, Hannah-Marie Garcia (C’19), believes that the idea of sustainability shouldn’t be perceived in a narrow or limiting way.

“I think there is a stigma surrounding sustainability in general, that it's just environmental,” said Garcia. For her, sustainability also encompasses social issues, and economic ones. Garcia suggested that the Green Fund’s most important aim is fostering a culture that acknowledges and seeks to address these issues.

“The Green Fund is about building a sustainable culture. We just need to start thinking about projects that showcase the broad application of sustainability. It puts a value or a price tag on sustainability — in order to get funding, The Green Fund is requiring people to think a little harder and to be a little more creative with their planning” said Garcia.

Garcia and Alexa Sinha (C’19), Vice Chair of the Green Fund, have found themselves imagining projects taking shape in different ways.

“Alexa and I both work at Stirling’s, so, one idea is that instead of doing punch cards, there could be a discount for people who bring in tupperware or cups instead of using the to-go containers. Then, the Green Fund could be the compensation for that offset margin,” Garcia shared.

Another way that the Green Fund might integrate itself into student life at Sewanee would be through collaborating with Greek Life.

“We want Greek Life to be more sustainability-minded; we’re hoping to do a lot of stuff with Greek Life in the future which has been really fun. Like, getting biodegradable glitter for all of the Sororities — because the main excuse is, ‘We just don’t have it in the budget!’And now we can respond with a solution to a very simple problem — ‘Apply to the Green Fund and we’ll give you all the glitter you want!’ It meets their needs and those of the environment in the long-term”

Lauren Newman, Sustainability Fellows Coordinator, added that the OESS and Greek Life had already begun working together towards this goal earlier in the semester.

“I had two students approach me close to Shake Day this semester, Annie Corley (C’20) and Grace Metzger (C’20). They were interested in making Shake Day more sustainable,” began Newman. She added that, with the help of Facilities Management, “they were able to gather bins and make sure that [recyclables] were responsibly disposed of.”

Newman explained that there lies still more opportunity in seeing how this relationship could expand in the future, saying that one way this might manifest would be Sustainability or “Green” representatives in each Greek organization to help increase the relevance of sustainability on campus.

Garcia explained that one of the central challenges of the Green Fund is the desire for a sense of tangible and visible change — change that the Green Fund can point to as evidence of their hard work paying off. But seemingly short-term things like social events and non-infrastructural projects would be difficult to assess in this way.

“That's one thing that the Green Fund is still trying to figure out with social events or events that are temporary — that's one reason why diversity is going to be important on the board, because from one perspective, someone might say that certain projects aren’t sustainable, but maybe a Psychology major on the board might be able to say, ‘No that will actually be really beneficial for the long term for fostering environmentally conscious thinking at Sewanee,’” said Garcia.

Garcia emphasized that one of the main goals for the Green Fund is to engage with students from multiple disciplines, not just students studying environmental topics. She discussed how both herself and Crystal Ngo (C’20), founder of the Green Fund who is currently abroad, share this vision.

“One thing that I have learned from both my sustainability major and from my experience in Anthropology too, and in talking with Crystal, is that issues with the environment right now and with sustainability aren’t going to be solved from just one area,” said Garcia.

“[Conversations about Sustainability] should also include the Anthropology or Economics or Computer Science individuals who might have a different perspective. It’s about social sustainability too, so how do we get people there? How we make our community more effective and better for the future is by enabling people who recognize how to address different issues from different angles,” continued Garcia.

The Green Fund faces a number of challenges in the way of its development. For Garcia, some of these challenges emerge merely because it is related to the field of sustainability; others, because this is its first year as an organization.

“I feel like the word sustainable, too, has become diluted; everyone knows now there’s eco-consumerism, everyone knows now that you’re not supposed to be using that plastic water bottle, but I feel like it needs another shock, another wave of recognition that this problem isn’t going away. And I hope that the Green Fund can serve as that reminder and incentive on campus,” said Garcia.

One limitation on the Green Fund is that it must keep its sights focused internally, on campus. Garcia explained, “We are keeping the Green Fund on campus, because there is a portion of the fund already dedicated to off-campus initiatives, but 50 percent of the fund this year will be specifically related to campus activities in order to promote a sustainable culture from within the community itself.”

For now, though, members of the Green Fund are focused on building the infrastructure for the organization and ensuring its prolonged success. One way the Green Fund hopes to do this is by featuring its own good work.

“We’re going to try to showcase projects too,” stated Garcia, explaining that they hope to “once a semester have a community gathering or meeting, just as a welcome back to the semester, and have the Green Fund host it, where we invite all of the successful applicants and maybe have a panel.”

When asked how Garcia envisions the growth of the Green Fund moving into the future, she stated: “I would like to see the Green Fund grow in terms of our budget and be able to be an even greater resource for the community. I would love to see the Green Fund become a collaborative entity that encourages Sewanee to push a little deeper into planning projects that make positive and lasting impacts.”

Ultimately though, returning to the importance of diversity of thought on campus, Garcia explained, “I really hope to see it be a positive presence on campus — that it’s not just a source of money but also a source of conversation.”

She concluded by saying that “by the time I graduate, I want to walk up to someone and ask ‘Have you heard of the —’ And their response immediately be ‘Yes, Hannah-Marie, we’ve heard about the Green Fund.’” Laughing, Garcia added, “I feel like I’ve been campaigning, but you can’t expect change to happen if people don’t know the resources available to them!”

Green Fund Executive Board

From left to right: Allen Doyle (T’20, School of Theology), Katie Roth (C’19), Jackson Campbell (C’20), Hannah-Marie Garcia (C’19), Lindsey Sikorski (C’20)

Not pictured: Crystal Ngo (C'20), Alexa Sinha (C'19), Nick Cookson (Sustainability Program Manager)

Green Fund Voting Members

From left to right: Lisa Vulpas (C’21), Emma Standerfer (C’21), Claire Smith (C’22), Jack Lance (C’19), Hannah-Marie Garcia (C’19), Wilder McCoy (C’20)

Not pictured: Allen Doyle (T'20)

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