Green Fees provide groundwork for a sustainable future

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December 2, 2008

12:53 AM

The Nov. 18 Flat Hat editorial “Environmental Budgeting” begins with the assertion that being green is easy, citing the coal industry as an example. The gap between words and deeds could not be more profound. Like Kermit the Frog, the College of William and Mary and the rest of higher education finds it “not that easy being green” — it is a profoundly difficult and challenging prospect. Living sustainably is first and foremost a civic virtue that we are only beginning to accept and understand.

Since last spring, the College has made a number of changes that will enable it to live sustainably. Among students, the growing awareness of environmental issues and the challenges they pose to all our futures emerged as a broad consensus, leading to a student referendum on Green Fees which were subsequently approved by the Board of Visitors. The Student Environmental Action Coalition led the effort, but it is incorrect to suggest that one student organization unilaterally taxed others to fund an agenda and advance selfish interest. The final vote by undergraduate and graduate students across all of the College’s schools, and the BOV’s vote of approval, refute that claim.

Early in his tenure as College President, Taylor Reveley published a broad and comprehensive policy on sustainability and appointed a presidential-level Committee on Sustainability to implement that policy and oversee the use of Green Fees. In this academic year, the student contribution from Green Fees will generate approximately $203,000 (not $230,000 as the editorial stated). Of this, $40,000 will be invested in a Green Endowment — approximately $20,000 for four to five summer research grants offered competitively and open to all undergraduate and graduate students. The remainder will be for funding projects and initiatives like improvements in facilities and operations, financial planning, research and monitoring of effectiveness and outcomes.

The first round of funding from Green Fees addresses three critical areas for future sustainability: waste management, energy consumption management and landscape management. These are primary areas for concern in any sustainable management strategy. Funded projects include important strategic concepts such as “low hanging fruit,” research and education and operational transformation. Picking the “low hanging fruit” is important as an initiating strategy, but it is not sufficient in and of itself as a means of achieving a sustainable future. For that, one must innovate and undertake serious study through research and education that leads to permanent operational and cultural transformation. The Flat Hat editorial missed the mark by not recognizing the leveraging that is likely to occur through these initial awards.

The seed money for the solar cell project, for example, will allow our talented physics faculty and students to define the scope of an ambitious external grant proposal and to plan for a larger installation. The one-time allocation for recycling will be accompanied by student research on the costs and benefits of our program. The installation of electric metering at the Randolph Complex will allow the monitoring of electrical usage in comparable residence halls, bringing home the costs of usage to students and improving their understanding of individual lifestyle choices. The stormwater monitoring grant will result in the collection of data critical to effective management of water flow and landscape on the campus.

The award for occupancy sensors will not only pay for itself in 20 months but also serve as a basis of comparison for studies of use patterns in other buildings. All of these grants were awarded by a steering committee consisting of four faculty, two staff, three students and three ex-officio members.
A sustainable future for the College is no ordinary challenge if accepted honestly and without cynicism. We cannot follow the example of the coal industry. One’s vision is important, as is one’s commitment. That vision is not bounded by the undergraduate body alone, and neither is it confined within the bounds of Richmond and Jamestown Roads. It is inclusive of the College’s graduate schools and their distinct campuses, notably Marshall-Wythe School of Law and Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

As the co-chairs of the Committee on Sustainability, we have found that the commitment is broad and deep. It exists throughout the student body in which students have often led the way in making it possible to address this issue by unselfish commitments of time and resources. It exists in the remarkable way that faculty have risen to give their time and energy to the work of the Committee and to work with students and staff to meet this challenge.

It exists in the commitment and contributions of staff to all levels of this process. This is the College community at its best.

Professors Lynda Butler ’73 and Dennis Taylor are co-chairs of the Committee on Sustainability.

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