One year on, first UW–Madison Green Fund still in flux

by Scott Hennelly

Across the country, “Green Funds” have become a way for universities to support student-led projects aimed at making campuses more sustainable.

The Associated Students of Madison Sustainability Committee approved the first UW–Madison Green Fund in November 2013. But a year later, the $80,000 allocated from student segregated fees – fees students pay in addition to tuition – has not yet been distributed.

Six student projects were selected this past spring to receive funding. However, the funds are still pending due to legality issues raised by UW System policy document F50, which governs the appropriate use of university segregated fees, says Associated Students of Madison Sustainability Committee chair Kyla Kaplan.

While UW–Madison segregated fees are used to pay for items such as free bus passes, newspapers, and student radio, the Green Fund projects have not yet been approved because of a section within F50 that says the fees cannot be used for “normal campus-wide activities and functions that service the entire institution, such as campus-wide, centrally provided physical plant and institutional support.”

What that means, Kaplan says, is that “if we’re going to pay for something within a [campus] entity, that entity should technically be paying for it.” This interpretation has raised issues with purchasing proposed items such as solar panels and garden beds intended to become a part of the institutional infrastructure.

The restrictions spelled out in F50 are intended to protect against inappropriate use of student money. In this case, however, they have created hardships for the leaders of the six projects originally slated to receive Green Funds this fall.

One of these projects was Traceless Takeout, an initiative approved to receive $20,000 for purchasing 3,500 reusable to-go containers for use at the university dining halls.

“It was going to be awesome, it was going to eliminate trash. I had a customer, my start-up was off the ground. It was like win-win-win-win-win,” says Traceless Takeout project leader Jenny Sharpe.

On August 7, Sharpe received an email saying her funds had to be put on hold until the legal issues surrounding F50 could be figured out.

“It was a really, really bad situation and completely devastating and heart-breaking because students wanted the project to happen. We want to pay for it, so what’s the problem?” says Sharpe.

Kaplan and other ASM Committee members have been working to address these issues by making Green Fund projects fit within the specifications of F50.

“We’re hoping that there is room for argument, especially about the part that says ‘normal campus-wide activities.’ I don’t think these are normal campus-wide activities. These Green Fund projects are innovations and innovations aren’t normal. They’re creative and they’re things that improve different places,” says Kaplan.

But for this year’s applicants like Sharpe, waiting for the Green Funds to become available will be tough.

“We’re behind, we’re really behind as a university in sustainability. We’re stuck in the mud and we need to get out of the mud and move forward,” says Sharpe.

Kaplan sees hope in other large schools such as the University of Maryland. “Maryland has a $300,000 Green Fund that functions the way we want our Green Fund to function. There is no reason why we can’t have a really successful Green Fund too,” she says. Other UW campuses have also worked to institute Green Funds with some success.

While the F50 discussion continues, the Green Fund has been cut from $80,000 to $50,000 in light of the issues encountered this year. ASM is now focusing on having the funds operational for a new round of applicants in the spring.