‘Green fund’ advocates planning new campaign to raise awareness and fees

Posted October 16, 2017

The space in 14B North Hall is officially the custodial services office for UW-River Falls, but it makes for a decent meeting room in a pinch. A group of five committee members were gathered around a table in the smallish basement room Tuesday evening, surrounded by shelves filled with organizational binders and windowsills cluttered with potted plants.

In the background is the desk area of Mark Klapatch, UWRF sustainability supervisor and leader of the committee. His desk and the wall behind it are a cluttered affair, with pieces of evidence of his extensive involvement with the Office of Sustainability layered on top of one another in the form of photos, posters and heaps of paperwork.

The purpose of this committee meeting was to discuss one of Klapatch’s biggest projects, an initiative called the “green fund.” Klapatch has been pushing the idea since it was first brought up on campus around two years ago, and this semester he has managed to put together a research committee on the subject, consisting of students from sustainability-related clubs and courses. The committee will be researching the green fund and coming up with a recommendation for the Student Government Association on how to implement it.

“I really wanted to get involved with my major and get experience and do something that makes a difference on campus and towards students,” said Abigail Rice, a junior double-majoring in international studies and conservation. She got involved with the committee when Klapatch came to talk to her environmental sustainability class about the green fund.

The concept of the green fund, “green fee” or “greenovation fund,” as it has been called in the past, has been floating around campus for a while. The idea, Klapatch said, is to pool together segregated fees from students so that the money can be put to use funding sustainability initiatives on campus like composting and solar power. Past estimates of the dollar amount were around $5 per student per semester. For comparison, the UWRF website reports that students each pay $3 per semester to support media clubs on campus and $243 to run the University Center.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” said Tyler Johnson, a sophomore criminology major at UWRF. “It seems like it would be a good thing, and five, six dollars is a cup of coffee worth of difference.”

The green fund started out as little more than a concept, but in the 2015-2016 academic year the then-student body president, Chris Morgan, began making a push to implement the idea.

“Student Government Association formed the committee CASE (Committee for Advancing Sustainability Efforts),” Klapatch said. “(The green fund) was then discussed more during the 2016-2017 academic year and was approved by the Student Government Association last spring, but it did not get the required number of votes for the referendum.”

After the first attempt at getting the fund in place failed, Klapatch began conversing with the new leaders of the SGA, President Abby Wendt and Vice President Kaylee Kildahl, about reviving the idea. So far, Kildahl said, there’s no opposition from the other members of the SGA.

“Everyone that we’ve talked to so far has been in support of it,” she said. “We just need to make sure that we have all of the solid little details to back it up, to really bring our plan to the chancellor.”

SGA put together the research committee this semester in order to figure out those “solid little details.” Last semester, SGA made a motion to create the fund in the form of a non-allocable segregated fee. They had plans to use some of the money to put up new lighting on the southern path that runs between the campus amphitheater and the Falcon Center.

“Wouldn’t have been able to do that,” Klapatch said, due to UW System regulations on segregated fee funding allocation that the research committee is only just beginning to understand.

The research committee has since begun researching the limitations and options that they face. They began by looking into how other universities with programs similar to the green fund use and organize the money.

UW-Stout, for example, has a “green fee” that amounts to $11.40 per person per year according to their Sustainability Office website. The money is put into a funding pool, and then students, faculty and staff can apply to a sustainability council with project ideas. If the ideas show potential, the council then distributes the money accordingly. It has been used to put up covered bike shelters, install solar panels on a building and build a shed for the campus garden.

The rest of this month, Klapatch said, will be spent compiling the committee’s research and figuring out what they want the green fund to be able to do. They’ll then work with the budget office to make sure their plan complies with UW System regulations.

By the end of the fall semester the committee aims to have a concrete plan drawn up. They will then require a member of SGA to author a formal motion, which will be brought up and discussed in one of the weekly SGA meetings. If the motion passes, the fund will be put on the spring election as a referendum, so that the student body can vote on it. From there it would need the approval of the chancellor, followed by the approval of the UW Board of Regents.

“Ultimately,” Klapatch said, “I’m really glad we have the chance to get an organized process and that we have such strong interest from students on the committee.”

Student interest, he said, is important since the green fund is supposed to be a student-led project. If the SGA approves the motion for the green fund, Klapatch plans to begin a marketing campaign between the months of January and April to make sure students know the details of the fund and how it would affect them before they vote on it.