Beginning with the Fall 2015 semester, students will no longer pay a green/environmental services fee. The $5 fee, which is collected from UTSA students each semester – and $2.50 fee for each summer session fewer than six weeks – is ending. All the monies collected from the fee have been stored in the Green Fund.
The Green Fund was put into motion by the Texas Legislature in House Bill 3353 as a five-year program to “provide environmental improvements” at state universities and medical schools whose students approved the fee with a majority vote.
The fee, approved by UTSA students in Spring 2010, can no longer be collected after the fifth anniversary of its establishment.
Although the Green Fund will stop collecting the fees, the Green Fund committee, a group consisting of students, faculty and staff who review and vote on sustainability projects for the university, will continue to operate until all the money from the fund is spent.
Currently, the fund contains over $600,000, with more than $100,000 to be added in the Spring of 2015. Therefore, the Green Fund committee could theoretically continue to exist for the next few years.
“It would depend on the size of the projects they decide to undertake,” Joe Izbrand, the associate vice president of marketing and communications, said.
The Green Fund committee has collected around $300,000 each year; however, the amount of spending each year has varied drastically. For example, in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, the Green Fund Committee spent around $50,000. In contrast, the committee spent over $400,000 last year.
According to Paula Nguyen, the student chair of the Green Fund committee, the committee received more than 20 project proposals last semester, compared to 10 to 15 proposals per year for previous years, thanks to environmental science students submitting Green Fund proposals as part of their classwork.
Some of last year’s projects included the upgrades to the Sombrilla fountain, the “Big Belly” solar-powered trash compactors and recycling bins and the hydration stations, which refill water bottles with filtered water.
All of the Green Fund committee’s projects are proposed by UTSA students, faculty or staff. The Green Fund committee then reviews the feasibility of proposed projects and votes on whether to pursue them. Before they can be pursued, though, they must be approved by Sam Gonzalez vice president of student affairs.
“It’s only five dollars,” Dr. Afamia Elnakat, an associate professor of research at the UTSA Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute, said. “But cumulatively, over all of (the students), that’s a lot of money, and you can make a decision on how the campus is going to look, how safe it is, how clean it is.”
Elnakat continued, “Students don’t really know about (the Green Fund). Students don’t really apply a lot to it. We need more marketing and an easier online process.”
Only 980 of 29,000 students – about 3 percent of the student population – voted when the fee was proposed. When UT Austin’s student population voted for the same fee four years ago, 8,917 of 48,167 students (about 20 percent of the student population) participated.
Dr. Barry McKinney, the director of student activities at UTSA and a member of the Green Fund committee, said that the Green Fund committee has spread awareness of the program by announcing opportunities at SGA meetings, cooperating with the Paisano and launching a new Facebook page.
Currently, Green Funds at other universities such as UT Austin, UT El Paso and Texas A&M, have detailed websites that display past projects and financial information.
In contrast, UTSA’s Green Fund has a single webpage that only contains a paragraph about the fund and a link to the application for proposing a project.
Izbrand assured that a website for the Green Fund was not against any UTSA regulations but up to the discretion of the Green Fund committee.
When asked about the possibility of a better website, McKinney agreed that it could be a good idea, and Nguyen said that she wants to have the Green Fund featured on the UTSA homepage. However, neither knew why there was no current website or of any progress towards the development of one.
Other universities’ websites reveal similarities among many of the UTSA’s Green Fund projects and those of other Green Funds. For example, many other universities have implemented solar-powered recycling bins and hydration stations.
Gary Lott, the director of financial services and the university bursar, who also manages the Green Fund committee’s finances, credits the similarity of projects to the Texas Education Code’s strict guidelines as to how the Green Fund can spend its money.
However, the Green Fund committee has many plans for its remaining funds. Currently, the committee is reviewing proposals for a UTSA farmers market, organic recycling and the replacement of paper towel dispensers in university restrooms.
Projects currently in progress include timed lights in parking garages and a bike share program.
The biggest project under review by the Green Fund committee is the creation of a UTSA sustainability director. This person would oversee UTSA’s sustainability efforts, help see Green Fund projects that are still in progress to completion and ensure that completed projects such as the Sombrilla Fountain will be kept running by different UTSA departments. The position’s salary would theoretically be paid by the Green Fund for three years.
“I see the director of sustainability taking on the role (of the Green Fund committee),” Nguyen said, speaking on UTSA’s future without the Green Fund. “But without the actual Green Fund, a lot of the ideas that students have can’t be implemented.”
Whether or not the environmental/green services fee will return after the Summer 2015 semester is up for speculation.
According to Lott, the Texas Legislature would probably have to pass a bill similar to the one passed in 2009 to reestablish it.
“I think, in order for it to return, students would have to lobby for it,” Lott said.