December 20, 2018

Think Green

UMass Amherst students, faculty, and staff projects boost campus sustainability

A sustainability-minded UMass Amherst student can buy a used fridge at the annual New2U tag sale, recycle electronics and clothing in dorms, work at an organic student-run vineyard, and shower under an ultra-low-flow showerhead.

All these initiatives received funding from the Sustainability Innovation and Engagement Fund (SIEF), established in 2013 to help make campus sustainability projects a reality. Students, faculty, and staff may apply for SIEF grants to fund their green ideas.

The seven projects backed this year include a new iClicker loaner program, conceived by Nancy Symmes ’19 and run by the Student Government Association (SGA). Handheld iClickers, required in many classes to report attendance and take quizzes, are often discarded when students graduate, despite the device’s long lifespan. The SGA used SIEF funds to provide gift cards to encourage students to donate used iClickers to the program. Currently, 102 iClickers are on loan, according to Alexia Perides ’20, SGA secretary of sustainability. “It’s very exciting that we are both making college more affordable and reducing electronic waste through this program,” she says.

Solar Panels at UMass

Solar panels help power the green UMass Amherst campus.

SIEF also provided funding to donate 25 free UMass Student Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares to low-income UMass community members. The shares, valued at $350 each, include 25 pounds of vegetables each week for 10 weeks in the fall. “There is a higher level of food insecurity on our campus than you might think, and we are grateful to be able to provide people with a guaranteed source of top-quality food for free through these shares,” says student farmer Kayleigh Boucher ’19. She estimates the 25 shares can feed 75 people for the season. This fall the farm shares have included a cornucopia of carrots, peppers, squash, cabbage, potatoes, and much more—all harvested on Friday mornings at the UMass Student Farm and distributed on Friday afternoons at the UMass Student Farmers’ Market.

It’s programs like SIEF that have helped UMass Amherst earn a gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. In June, the association rated the campus as No. 9 in the nation for sustainability among doctoral-granting institutions, as well as a #7 ranking amongst all colleges and universities in the 2018 Sierra Magazine Cool Schools. While large-scale green projects such as campus solar installations, energy-efficient construction, and the creation of a School of Earth and Sustainability boost UMass in the ratings, smaller grassroots projects such as those funded by SIEF contribute to the pervasive culture of sustainability on campus.

SIEF is funded by the Chancellor’s Office and administered by the Physical Plant Sustainability Office with support from the SGA and the Chancellor’s Sustainability Advisory Committee. Grant applications are open for the 2018-2019 academic year. The proposal deadline is February 15. What are your bright green ideas?