Student Fees Drive Campus Retrofits

NWF   |   October 14, 2008

It often takes more than a dedicated student club or well-intentioned administrator to transform campus operations, particularly when it comes to sustainability and energy efficiency. Rather, campus-wide commitment can be the best indicator of success, as at University of Tennessee. Here, student investments, combined with Facilities department involvement and Chancellor support, led to significant retrofits and the beginnings of institutional change.

In 2004, UT students voted for a student fee of $5, essentially an extra tax on themselves, which has been used for campus greening projects. The fee brings in about $425,000 a year, according to Terry Ledford, Senior Project Manager at the university.

Most recently the fee has resulted in significant lighting retrofits to the Stokely Management Center, a 1970s building with retrograde lighting that couldn’t be monitored or controlled easily. According to the university, lights could only be turned off half a floor at a time, meaning that a single late-working professor had to use dozens more lights than necessary to work.

However, with $500,000 of the student fees collected over the past four years, the university installed a new, smarter lighting system which uses motion detectors and light sensors to manage lights according to the natural daylight available and whether a room is occupied or not. While the project was originally slated at $625,000, the Facilities department volunteered labor to bring it in ahead of schedule and under budget.

While this energy-saving move was driven by student involvement, the campus also has support from leading administrators. Loren W. Crabtree, UT’s Chancellor, signed the President’s Climate Commitment in 2007, opening the door for all kinds of changes, such as a greenhouse gas inventory, required by the ACUPCC, which will set a baseline for the campus as it looks to make reductions.

Leith Sharp, former Director of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative, in a recent interview with Grist cited the importance of getting participation from all levels of campus constituents. “Sharp says [middle managers] are the real key to change, since they control most behind-the-scenes systems and processes. But more often than not, they need to know that there’s a desire and capacity from below (students and staff) and a mandate from above (administration) before they will consider acting. So Sharp recommends the “sandwich” method: building grassroots support, then using evidence of that support to get top leaders on board, then taking that buy-in to the middle.”

UT is one of the many schools where support from various sectors of the campus makes the commitment to climate action easier, and so far the changes that have taken place are only first steps. Proceeds from the same student fee that upgraded the lighting in the Stokely building are now being directed towards purchasing green power (at 2.5% per year), an electric vehicle fleet, recycling, and other initiatives.


See More:

Mandatory Student Fees for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency: AASHE

UMD Passes Student Fee Increase for Clean Energy: It’s Getting Hot in Here

Potential for Wind Power at the University of Utah: Campus Ecology Blog