Taking Sustainability to the EDGE
College Vice President of Finance, Ron Watts, has committed $40,000 to a student-led fund for energy efficiency projects, inspired by success at other schools and by the current momentum behind environmental projects here at Oberlin.
Dubbed the Fund for Ecological Design and General Efficiency, or Green EDGE Fund, the program will be directed by a board of students, faculty and staff who will review proposed sustainability projects and finance those that provide convincing investments with solid payback. Those involved predict that the board will begin accepting applications at the start of the spring semester.
College juniors Lucas Brown and Nathaniel Meyer and College senior Kristin Braziunas spearheaded the idea, but only recently achieved success after much frustration with the College’s system of funding student projects. “I’d been in so many classes and groups that were overflowing with brilliant ideas that would have earned the College money while helping the environment, but it took backbreaking work to get any of them near implementation,” said Brown.
The fund seeks to address this issue by making it easier for student ideas, large and small, to receive support and differs from previous environmental efforts significantly.
College Coordinator of Sustainability Nathan Engstrom believes the fund is “a very concrete and tangible tool for implementing sustainability and energy conservation projects” and hopes it will “empower students by giving them a very clear and well-defined pathway for proposing projects and having those projects funded and implemented.”
Engstrom is excited about the way in which the fund “puts students in the driver’s seat,” and notes how it differs from previous College-funded green efforts: “Most of our previous accomplishments have been, in a sense, products,” he said. “This one is a process.”
The students in charge share his excitement. “We can’t wait for the fund to start,” said Brown. “The fund will fill an empty niche in Oberlin’s environmental actions. Oberlin is great at the big stuff — the AJLC, the new Jazz Building, the SEED House — but our everyday environmental leadership is lacking. Small efficiency projects are the first to get lost in the shuffle. This fund makes sure we regain our lead as everyday environmental innovators.”
During next week’s referendum, students will have the option to vote for raising the student activity fee to contribute even more money — perhaps as much as $50,000 more per year — to the EDGE fund.
“We want a fund that would be used only for promoting sustainable activities on campus. So that’s everything from buying more compact fluorescent light bulbs to detergent that’s biodegradable...whatever we think is green,” said Senate Organizational Liaison Junior Ben Klebanoff.
Even a ten dollar increase to the student activity fee would give the Senate $57,000 annually for sponsoring green projects. If students agree to a twenty-dollar raise, as some on the Senate are hoping, that number would be raised to $114,000. Whether $57,000 or $114,000, the impact of the fund “can be significant if targeted at strategic projects,” said Professor David Orr, chair of the environmental studies program.
The fund has garnered support from students, staff and faculty alike. Environmental Studies professor John Petersen has played what Brown called an “instrumental” role in the creation of the EDGE fund. Still, he is concerned about how the fund will function.
“The challenge facing the Oberlin students who are creating the EDGE fund is to create a loan application structure that rigorously and realistically calculates return on investment and at the same time to create an application process that is not overwhelming for Oberlin students,” said Petersen.
Petersen also hopes that students will make sure to calculate carbon savings into their applications, as this is often overlooked in campus sustainability: “The College has already demonstrated a willingness to pay a premium for low carbon electricity through the green energy purchasing agreement that we have with Oberlin Municipal Power and Light.”
“If carbon emissions reductions associated with the investments that the EDGE fund makes were credited to Oberlin College, then they would have very real economic value. For example, if someone proposes installing covered bicycle racks that cause people to bike when they might otherwise drive, and if this person can come up with a sound estimate of reductions in carbon emissions that result from this, the monetary value of this carbon should be credited as a return on investment,” said Petersen.
In a open forum held in the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies for interested students, Brown summarized the group’s message to Oberlin students: “All those ideas you had in [Environmental Studies] 101, all those leaky showerheads you’ve wanted to fix, each plan you’ve made for installing [Compact Fluorescent Lights] across campus — we can do it now. We can make it happen.”