Students initiate push for UM Green Fund

By DR. JOHN W. STEWART III / Guest Columnist

One’s desire to make things better is not uncommon. The actual motivation and drive to action is another thing entirely. When we determine to take action that causes us to open our own wallets to make a change, that is responsible, informed citizenship.

That phrase, “responsible, informed citizenship,” concludes the mission statement of the University of Montevallo. Time and again since my arrival here one year ago, I have witnessed this phrase in action among our faculty, staff, students and community members.

Last summer, one of our students attended an environmental leadership conference affiliated with the Sierra Club. During this conference, she had opportunities to speak with fellow students from throughout the Southeast about environmental and sustainability issues. She learned that colleges and universities across the nation were starting Green Funds to help cover the costs of sustainability efforts on their campuses. An idea was born!

When she returned from the conference, she and other members of the club began working on establishing a Green Fund at UM. They conducted background research, wrote a proposal and collected petition signatures. When the students brought the idea to me, they had gathered 1,350 student signatures (more than one-third of the student population) supporting the creation of UM’s Green Fund, which, to our knowledge, is the first of its kind at a college or university in Alabama.

A small fee will be collected from all students each semester to build the fund, which will be used to support sustainability projects on campus. Anyone on campus can write a project proposal. Proposals must include a budget and a plan-of-action. The Sustainability Committee will determine which projects receive funding, and the majority of its voting members will be students.

The desire of these generous students was to create a fund that would be directed solely toward making changes on campus that would make UM more sustainable and that would benefit the earth. The long-term goals include redeveloping UM as an off-the-grid campus; growing food in the Organic Community Garden that can then be used in the cafeteria; creating beautiful green spaces on campus that utilize passive cooling (e.g., trees); and educating students and others about the importance of these efforts for the campus and the planet.

I believe the implementation of UM’s Green Fund, which will begin with the 2011-2012 academic year, blends seamlessly with other sustainability efforts under way on campus and will only help the University to become an even better corporate and environmental citizen.

Dr. John W. Stewart III is president of the University of Montevallo.