Four friends, 1,400 miles and a mint green school bus; environmental science senior Dan Hedden and San Luis Obispo nonprofit Empower Poly Coalition (EPC) traveled to other California universities during Thanksgiving break to talk about sustainability.
While on their journey, EPC leadership met with program coordinators at each school to discuss The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF). The program is designed to fund student projects benefiting sustainability through a $5-per-quarter fee tacked onto each student’s tuition. EPC President Hedden thinks TGIF could be just what Cal Poly needs to achieve its sustainability goals.
The California State University system sets benchmarks in a variety of sustainability areas for all campuses to meet. A few examples include utilizing sustainable food resources, reducing per-capita landfill waste and increasing on-campus power generation. Additionally, in April 2016, Cal Poly adopted the Second Nature Climate Leadership Commitment, a voluntary, systemic approach to mitigating climate change.
More than 600 academic institutions across the United States adopted the commitment. This pledge holds institutions, including Cal Poly, responsible for achieving carbon neutrality by offsetting carbon emissions with alternative energy production and carbon sequestration. According to the 2016 Cal Poly Climate Status Report, administration officials hope to meet this goal by 2050. However, Cal Poly Director of Energy, Utilities and Sustainability Dennis Elliot estimated this would have a price tag of several hundred million dollars.
It will be difficult for the administration to allocate that kind of money, according to Hedden.
The purpose of TGIF is to provide a pilot program for students to propose ideas relating to sustainability, receive funding for experiments and refine these ideas into workable business models.
“TGIF is an initiator, not only for student experimental or creative thinking, but also lowering risk for the university to make investments,” Hedden said.
The fee proposed by the EPC would bring in about $300,000 per year to fund the program.
EPC is looking into several strategies to bring TGIF to Cal Poly, one being a referendum similar to the University Union (UU) referendum last winter. EPC hopes to put the issue to vote Fall 2018. A display explaining details of TGIF is currently located in the UU showcase window across from 19 Metro Station.
The TGIF program possesses real potential to improve lives on campus, Hedden said. At University of California, Berkeley, TGIF provided the initial funding for the Berkeley Student Food Collective, a student-run, locally produced grocery co-op providing cheap, healthy and local food to the campus and community. Hedden said the same model could be applied at Cal Poly to increase availability of organic or healthy food options.
Although TGIF could improve student life, there may be opposition from those who feel Cal Poly should focus on other aspects of campus life before spending time and money on sustainability.
“When you start talking about something new and looking to the future, it’s hard because we have to balance that with the fact that we have classrooms in serious need of upgrade right now,” academic advisor for the Cal Poly Prototype Vehicles Laboratory Graham Doig said. “However, I think it’s completely vital that we show students that we care and get involved in sustainability because that is what we as a society need from the future.”
The TGIF program at Cal Poly is still in the works.
“Our main goal for right now is to educate the students about TGIF,” Hedden said.
In the end, it’s all up to the student vote.
“This is really bigger than us; it’s an opportunity for us to change campus and leave a lasting mark,” Hedden said. “This is for students … They can use it how they want.”