Campus Green Fund Distinguishes Sustainability at UC Berkeley

This article is brought to you as a Sneak Peak to the 2013-2016 TGIF Annual Report.

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The University of California, Berkeley is celebrated today for its top-ranked environmental studies program, its innovative sustainability initiatives, and its strong community and culture of sustainability; however, UC Berkeley did not always have this recognition.

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Student Leader Sara Cate Jones represents the Student Organic Gardening Association, which has been supported by multiple TGIF grants.

As today’s pressing ecological crisis gained major publicity throughout the last few decades, students and academic institutions moved to take action in the face of this new challenge. Universities across the world have prioritized improving the sustainability of their own campuses, fighting complacency and working hard to initiate numerous sustainability projects. Students have played a critical role in the establishment of sustainability-focused initiatives and infrastructure in academic institutions across the nation, and such was the case at UC Berkeley.

One of the biggest obstacles impeding campus sustainability initiatives proved to be lack of funding. Whether initiated by the university or its students, many projects require significant funding and approvals to make substantial changes to campus operations. Without a reliable source of funding to support campus sustainability initiatives, significant progress seemed intangible to institutions and their invested communities.

In 2006, UC Santa Barbara became the first UC to pass a fee to create a campus green fund that would “reduce the University’s impact on the environment” (TGIF-UCSB). In 2007, UC Berkeley students voted to create their own campus green fund by enacting a $5 per semester student fee. Fifteen students formed a core TGIF design team, with 30 additional volunteers recruited to join the team for the TGIF Campaign. UC Berkeley’s TGIF Referendum passed with 69% of the vote in the ASUC elections, and TGIF launched into operation for the 2007-2008 academic year.

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Cal Zero Waste student-staff Kevin Ong stands beside a newly implemented Max-R Bin, a project funded by TGIF and Cal Zero Waste.

The referendum also established the first TGIF committee, which then developed the fundamental infrastructure and operational processes of TGIF. The Committee wrote the TGIF Bylaws and launched a robust publicity campaign to increase campus awareness of the new fund. The campus community submitted 28 applications during TGIF’s first grant cycle, from which the TGIF Committee selected nine projects and awarded a cumulative total of $168,615. The TGIF Committee received a 2008 Sustainability Award from the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (CACS), recognizing TGIF’s incredible efforts to promote sustainability within the UC Berkeley community.

During its second year (2008-2009), TGIF hired its first Coordinator, Nicole Leung, who worked to support the processes of TGIF and further campus awareness of TGIF’s existence. Even more students applied for funding in 2009, with a total of $286,650 awarded across ten different projects. The following year (2009-2010), TGIF received 39 applications, after introducing the Abstract System as a new step in the grant application process. Of the 39 abstracts, 21 were invited to submit a final application, and 14 proposals were awarded a collective sum of $249,150.

During the first three years of TGIF’s existence, a trend of growth and development in the campus community became visible. Many of the accepted projects increased education of campus sustainability in addition to reducing the amount of natural and financial resources consumed by the university. Some of these projects included the I Heart Tap Water Campaign, Building Sustainability at Cal, Earth Week, the Office of Sustainability and Energy Student Internship Program, the Berkeley Student Food Collective Storefront, and BicyCAL, all of which still have significant presence and legacy of impacts at UC Berkeley today.

In TGIF’s fourth year of existence, a new Coordinator, Katherine Walsh was hired.  “My arrival was the first time the Coordinator position would be classified as a full-time career staff position rather than part-time.” explains Walsh, who is now the Director of the Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC).

“I got to start with a program that was still new and relatively small, develop a vision for it, and work to guide that vision,” says Walsh. “I set a goal for TGIF to become the best campus green fund in the nation. And UC Berkeley was the perfect place to set an ambitious goal like that.” During her first year as Coordinator, Walsh worked diligently to set a precedent for other university campus green funds. TGIF’s publicity and outreach efforts expanded to include attendance at national conferences, where UC Berkeley’s TGIF was considered a leading initiative and model for other universities. “I’m really proud that Berkeley was seen as such a model, and that we had the opportunity to co-author a Best Practices Guide on campus green funds for AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education)”, stated Walsh.

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The Cal Concrete Canoe team poses beside the concrete canoe that they sustainably built, supported by TGIF funds.

Walsh introduced a number of new programs to improve the TGIF grant-awarding process, including abstract-writing workshops and trainings throughout the 2011 grant cycle to provide support for students and their projects, and new, more comprehensive reporting requirements for grant awardees. The next year, she introduced the Fall Mini-Grant program “to finance projects of smaller scope and shorter timelines” because they “found that just having one application cycle in the spring semester wasn’t enough, given the demand,” explained Walsh. This proved to be an immensely successful initiative, and twelve projects were awarded a total of $17,525 in mini-grant funds during its first cycle.

TGIF’s projects foster greater collaboration between campus departments and groups, and grow student-staff partnerships. “TGIF is one of those great programs that bring people together,” says Walsh. “There are staff who love TGIF because it has given them a chance to work with students.” There are evident benefits for which this collaboration is necessary. Jimmy Dunn, a TGIF Program Associate, explains, “TGIF projects require that project leaders receive approval from campus departments and that they have a financial sponsor to receive and administer the funds, which takes care of most of the foreseeable speed bumps in a project’s lifetime.” Tim Pine of Environmental Health and Safety proclaims, “I’ve felt a sense of stewardship in the students I worked with that applied for a TGIF grant, whether they got funded or not.” From the student perspective, Sara Cate Jones from the Student Organic Gardening Association explains, “While it is not necessarily a requirement of TGIF, they also help us administratively as they act as both an advocate and a liaison between our student organization and larger university entities such as the ASUC.”

One of the biggest impacts of TGIF has been on the student community. “TGIF sends the message to the greater community that sustainability projects are a priority and that they’re worth being funded,” affirms Grace Lihn of the Berkeley Student Food Collective, a TGIF-funded, cooperatively run student grocery store that relies on TGIF for advising and support and has reapplied for more funding to grow projects and initiatives of the store. “Thanks to TGIF, the Food Collective has been able to expand its membership and its store, foster resilience within our community, and take one step closer to making real food affordable and accessible.”

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The Refills Not Landfills campaign is a TGIF grant that promotes use of reusable bottles and tap water over plastic packaged beverages.

“In working with TGIF through Cal Dining, I have been able to push forward projects, like the Bulk Bin Project, that Cal Dining initially was skeptical of, but that in the end became rooted in the management and responsibilities of Cal Dining,” explains Sarah Atkinson, former coordinator of the Cal Dining Sustainability Team. “By providing these funds for long-term projects, TGIF has made the Cal Dining Sustainability Team grow as a resource to Cal Dining in their movement towards a more sustainable campus department.”

“The Strawberry Creek restoration project I worked on as a student would never have happened without TGIF,” asserts Aysha Massell, a Cal Alumnus. “TGIF was willing to take a risk and invest a significant amount of money for the design and permitting stages, which then enabled others to fund the actual construction of the project.”

On the same initiative to restore Strawberry Creek, staff member Tim Pine confidently states, “Because my team within the Office of Environment, Health & Safety (the Environmental Protection Team) has been so active in applying for and receiving support from TGIF, I’ve seen, and continue to see on a daily basis, the positive effects of the initiative–for instance, there are hundreds of native trees and plants thriving in the campus Natural Areas that were started as seedlings in the Strawberry Creek Native Plant Nursery, grown and transplanted by Cal students as well as Berkeley High School classes and children as young as five years old.” The Strawberry Creek Native Plant Nursery started as a TGIF project and continues to bring students together to invest in the campus landscape and gain valuable experience with restoration ecology and familiarity with native plants.

In 2012, a TGIF grant funded the formation of the Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC), which is now the central hub of student environmental activity on the UC Berkeley campus, and TGIF Coordinator Katherine Walsh officially became SERC Director in December 2013. The Student Environmental Resource Center aims to cultivate a collaborative space to strengthen the collective effectiveness of the sustainability community, and provides resources for students to actualize their visions of a more equitable, socially just, and resilient future. SERC was so successful that TGIF transitioned to an initiative under the SERC portfolio. SERC now leads a number of wide-reaching programs including Earth Week, Solar Spring Break, a Career Series, a DeCal Fellowship Program, the Zero Waste Research Center, and Nature Village. More can be found on SERC’s impacts and objectives at serc.berkeley.edu.

Sharon Daraphonhdeth, the current TGIF & Sustainability Initiatives Coordinator, was hired in August 2014. Daraphonhdeth campaigned for a campus green fund at SF State University and views the opportunity to work with project leaders and applicants at UC Berkeley as a privilege. “What TGIF offers to the campus community is support and opportunities for students. Students develop valuable professional project management skills through the process, and can trust that with TGIF’s support their project will not fail,” explains Daraphonhdeth kindly. “I’ve learned that campus green funds hold the power to enhance student engagement, which can inspire great change.”  Since her arrival at UC Berkeley, she has spearheaded a rebranding process to make TGIF more visible and has successfully recruited more applicants from groups of students not previously reached.

Students and staff alike agree that TGIF has also helped foster individual growth. Third year Environmental Economics student and former coordinator for the SPROUTS team (Student Projects Redefining Our University’s Trash, Sustainably) Pallavi Sherikar professes, “TGIF has the unique ability to develop and foster student’s growth through an abundance of practice in grant-writing, leadership and teamwork in a way that produces tangible positive impacts. It is at the flagship of UC Berkeley sustainability.” Lisa McNeilly of the Office of Sustainability and Energy states, “The number of student internships and service learning opportunities has definitely raised the bar for student involvement on campus.”

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The Berkeley Student Food Collective is the largest TGIF grant allocated yet, and it provides students with local, affordable, sustainably-sourced food options.

Furthermore, the more recent projects are continuing to grow in creativity and address large-scale issues, while encouraging cross-collaboration among students and other campus entities. “The projects are becoming more innovative and diverse because we have surpassed basic sustainability initiatives,” states Walsh on the ways in which she has seen TGIF grow. The 2015 Grant Cycle included a clay recycling project in Berkeley Art Studio, installation of community-designed bike parklets and corrals, a pilot e-bike-sharing program among staff, incentives for purchasing Green Lab supplies, and the design of an innovative and sustainable tiny house that demonstrates the union between affordable and sustainable housing.

“It’s hard to find an area of sustainability that hasn’t benefited from TGIF, whether having received seed funding for a new effort or a little extra nudge for an on-going one,” states Lisa McNeilly of the Office of Sustainability and Energy. Many other prominent campus individuals seem to agree. Tim Pine declares that “the positive impacts are all around [him] big and little”. Sharon Daraphonhdeth affirms that “This campus would not have a culture of sustainability without TGIF and the students who bring it to life.”

The impacts and legacy of The Green Initiative Fund at UC Berkeley are unparalleled. This is visible throughout the campus and individual testimonies from the campus community. Yet, there is still a wealth of potential for TGIF to continue to push boundaries, set precedents, and drive UC Berkeley to the apex of campus sustainability. This sustained exponential progress can only be made possible by continued support of TGIF by campus students, staff, faculty, and administrators alike.

 

 

Eva Malis

Eva is a fourth year Environmental Science student and the Communications Associate for SERC. Her passion lies in conservation biology, climate justice, and environmental communications.

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