A majority of students voting in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln spring elections supported paying an annual fee to support environmental sustainability projects on campus, a survey showed.
Nearly 4 out of 5 students casting ballots Wednesday in the annual Association of Students of the University of Nebraska (ASUN) election said they were interested in paying $2 to a “green fund” that would be available for student-led sustainability projects.
Reed Broderson, a senior environmental studies and biological sciences major and chair of ASUN’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, said a green fund has been discussed by student leaders for more than three years.
“We recognized it wasn’t quite time to implement one -- the culture wasn’t quite there yet, but the mindset of sustainability was forming,” Broderson said.
Along with junior political science and environmental studies major Thien Chau, the Environmental Sustainability Committee co-chair and ASUN president-elect, Broderson traveled to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s national conference in Portland, Oregon, last year.
There, they learned how to best implement a sustainability program at UNL and best practices from other universities that promote sustainability, Chau said.
Support of sustainability also emerged as a consensus issue during the elections this spring. Each of the two parties seeking seats in the student senate -- Empower and Launch -- listed sustainability among their platform planks.
“This is not a dividing thing -- it’s something we can all get behind,” said Chau, a member of Empower who will serve as the student member of the Board of Regents representing UNL next year.
Wednesday’s vote has no immediate financial impact on students.
With the apparent support for such a fund, the Environmental Sustainability Committee is exploring two options for implementing the fee at UNL.
First, students could be asked to approve a standalone fee at next spring’s elections similar to how they approve other fee-based programs at UNL.
Or the student senate could implement the fee into its current fee structure, Chau said.
Broderson said the Environmental Sustainability Committee plans to start the green fund fee at 50 cents in the first year. The fee would grow to $1 the next year and then by 25 cents per year until being capped at $2.
Student senators plan to add a sunset clause to any student fee language to give future student bodies the chance to approve a continuation of the program, amending the fee or doing away with it altogether.
When the green fund fee reaches the $2 cap, it would generate $90,000 per year into UNL’s green fund to be “administered by an independent committee of students and faculty, and allocated through a grant application and review process,” according to the ballot question considered by students.
That could include projects like adding more water bottle refilling stations on campus, improving infrastructure on campus for bicycles or creating an on-campus sustainable garden.
Broderson said specific grant guidelines are being developed, but projects are expected to have a high level of student engagement, an education component and demonstrate a reduced student impact on the environment.
“We want ag majors to use this fund to engage the student body on ag issues, engineering majors on energy issues and so on,” Broderson said.
Prabhakar Shrestha, who was named UNL’s sustainability coordinator last fall, said students will lead any and all sustainability efforts that use the green fund.
“Whatever the students need help with, we’ll be here to help them,” Shrestha said. “We are making good progress with sustainability at UNL, but there is a lot more to do. We have just begun.”
If students approve adding a green fund next year, UNL will become the 11th of 14 Big Ten Conference schools with such funds -- six of which are funded through student fees.
UNL would also join the more than 200 universities across the U.S. that have similar programs.
“We’re obviously supportive of sustainability measures and as an institution we’re delighted that students are looking seriously at investments to better the campus, our environment and the world,” UNL spokesman Steve Smith said. “The university supports this important discussion among our student leaders as they consider the establishment of such a fund.”
About 18.5 percent of UNL’s 23,000 eligible student voters cast ballots Wednesday.