By Matthew Long, Penn State News
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – With the approval of the university’s budget by the Penn State Board of Trustees last month, a new yearly $250,000 Environmental Sustainability Fund (ESF) from the University Park Student Fee Board (UPSFB) will take effect in the 2021-22 academic year. The fund had been unanimously approved by the UPSFB in March and will enable offices and organizations at University Park to apply for funding for projects that both promote on-campus sustainability efforts and positively impact the student experience. Establishment of this fund will not increase student fees in any way.
Nora Van Horn, an at-large UPSFB member and a senior majoring in philosophy, Chinese and global and international studies; and Claire Kelling, UPSFB chair and dual doctoral candidate in statistics and social data analytics, have been working to get this fund approved since the summer of 2020.
“The Environmental Sustainability Fund will allow students, both involved with UPSFB and otherwise, to leverage additional commitments from the University for sustainability-related projects,” said Kelling. “Through the strong recommendation and prioritization of matching funding from the University, the impact of the funding is more than the ESF budget alone. I hope that the ESF will allow students to have an impact beyond their time at Penn State.”
At the start of the new UPSFB term, a newly formed Environmental Sustainability Subcommittee will call on University Park offices and organizations to submit proposals for sustainability-focused facilities projects with annual budgets up to $250,000, with a maximum of three years of funding.
Proposals can be submitted each year on the UPSFB website by mid-December. In January, the subcommittee will schedule hearings on four proposals to receive funding beginning in the spring. Projects must be completed within five years from initial funding.
In the lead up to the UPSFB approval of the fund, staff members from the Sustainability Institute and the Office of the Physical Plant were invited to present possible sustainability project proposals that this fund could help finance. Among suggested projects that the fund could benefit in the future were energy, transportation and carbon sequestration initiatives, with ideas ranging from installing on-campus native meadows to developing a carbon neutral public transit system.
“Not only do these projects have deliverables that support the University’s goals around sustainability, but students have an active, participatory role in deciding what will directly benefit their peers — a win-win,” said David Cullmer, sustainable operations analyst at the Sustainability Institute. “Often, it’s students who lead the charge in pushing for sustainable development and I’m so excited to see that they have the opportunity to finance projects that directly align with their values.”
According to Van Horn, the idea of creating a student sustainability fund stemmed from a proposal delivered by the Student Sustainability Advisory Council (SSAC) in 2017. Despite not being approved at the time, there was a renewed push for a sustainability fund through a petition created by Penn State Climate Action, a student-led advocacy group pushing Penn State to intensify its efforts to combat climate change.
This petition — now signed by more than 2,000 students, faculty, staff and alumni — asks for the partial reallocation of the existing student fee towards sustainability initiatives, among other requests, such as having Penn State set a goal for carbon neutrality by 2040. Students from Penn State Climate Action, student government organizations and sustainability-focused organizations voiced their support for this fund during discussion at UPSFB meetings last year.
“The student fee exists to improve the extracurricular experience of students. Our hope is that this fund will do just that, enabling students to participate in the development and implementation of these projects and enjoy their benefits,” said Van Horn. “This funding cycle, we heard from students that they want us to prioritize environmental sustainability, especially as we increasingly see and feel the effects of the climate crisis. The implementation of this fund demonstrates that Penn State students support institutional changes that prioritize environmental sustainability; I hope this prompts other, similar changes across the University.”