Sustainable initiative needs work

ASUU has some holes to patch before we buy into its new Sustainable Campus Initiative. Until then, students should keep shopping.

In a nutshell, the Associated Students of the University of Utah’s Sustainable Campus Initiative would increase student fees by $5 to create two funds dedicated to sustainability projects. Seventy percent would go toward a revolving loan fund that, in theory, would be invested in projects that would yield savings equal to its cost. This would ensure that the fund would self-replenish.

For example, a project might be approved to insulate campus buildings. Money would be spent on insulation, to double-pane windows, and so on. Because more heat would be retained, the cost of heating those buildings would decrease. The money saved in heating costs would be deposited back in the revolving loan fund, replenishing the expense of the project and lowering the U’s electricity consumption.

The remaining 30 percent would go toward a student initiative fund. This would be reserved for student-directed sustainability projects, and unlike the revolving loan fund, would not be self-replenishing.

Although the concept of the initiative has potential, it suffers from the lack of achievable goals. It would take several years to build both funds to amounts large enough to complete any projects of significance, though the proposal lacks any timeline as to when either fund would be available for use. Almost every student whose fees would begin building the funds will graduate before that money is available for use. Without any solid plans as to what projects will be pursued, it is asking a lot for students to simply trust it will all work out.

It is complicated by the fact that a revolving loan fund is not a sure thing. If energy costs spike during the course of the insulation project, and the return doesn’t equal the expense, the fund could actually decrease. For this reason, the initiative calls for the hiring of a grant coordinator who would report to the director of the office of sustainability. The grant coordinator would preside over an Allocations Committee to determine projects that would both have a positive environmental impact and be likely to generate monetary returns. Unfortunately, the grant coordinator would be paid with money generated by the initiative itself, making it impossible to pay for the position until the initiative is already in progress. But in the absence of such an expert, no informed plans can be made for future projects.

This puts students in a difficult position. In order to trust ASUU in the long term with a student fee increase, we need to know where the money will go. But in order to know for certain how the money will be used, an informed expert is required.

In addition to these problems, the initiative also suffers from oversights. For example, how much money needs to be raised before the fund is available to students? Is the $5 fee increase permanent? How would the student initiative fund sustain itself, considering it does not self-replenish? If through a permanent fee, then what happens to surplus funds?

Although our inclination is to support the Sustainable Campus Initiative, ASUU needs to fill these holes and provide detailed plans on future project goals before it deserves the students’ money and trust.

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