North Texas universities are exploring the creation of green funds, a small fee paid by students on top of tuition to pay for sustainability efforts and projects on campus. 

Earlier this spring, the University of Texas at Arlington became the first major university in Tarrant County to pass a green fund and plans to institute the fee in fall 2023. 

In March, the UTA student government passed resolutions to create a green fund. The idea was introduced by a senator and received a record 1,100 votes from UTA students in response, said Meghna Tare, chief sustainability officer for UTA. 

The green fund proposal will go to the University of Texas Board of Regents for final approval by Jennifer Cowley, UTA’s university president who took over earlier this year. 

The proposed fund is a flat fee of $5 per student when they pay tuition each semester, once in the fall and once in the spring. The university will also collect a $2.50 fee for summer semesters. Fully online students will not have to pay the fee, Tare said.

The process of starting a green fund at UTA was overall conflict-free, Tare said. 

“The groundwork was already laid in place for us,” Tare said. “All we had to do was educate the students on how it (the green fund) would work.” 

According to projections based on enrollment in fall 2021, UTA expects to collect about $318,790 in  green fund fees for the current academic year after accounting for enrollment for fully online students, Tare said in an email. 

The UTA green fund would address many projects, including electronic waste recycling, expanding its composting program, reducing use of plastic bags and styrofoam, adding an urban farm and creating a climate action plan.

Green funds empower the campus community – including students, faculty and staff – to apply for grants to make a physical change on campus, improve operations, encourage collaboration, support student research and creative projects, create student jobs and build community, said Jill Parrish, the green fund coordinator at the University of Texas at Austin. 

The nature of many projects completed on a college campus also directly impact the surrounding community. UT-Austin’s green fund – which charges $5 in the spring and fall and $2.50 in the summer semester – has generated almost $5 million in support of 200 projects proposed by students, faculty and staff. 

“The nature of many projects, including organic and pollinator gardens, energy and water conservation efforts, certainly impact the surrounding community,” Parrish told the Report by email. 

Funding gone to support research initiatives from the green fund also have the potential to reach beyond the university realm.

The goal of green funds is to positively impact the environment. “Green funds can increase knowledge which can lead to behavior changes, policy changes, increase the amount of native pollinator plants, reduce energy consumption and irrigation water and give students real world experiences,” Parrish said.

Tarrant County universities say green fund isn’t on the table

At Texas Christian University, faculty, staff and students have campaigned for a green fund for more than a decade, said Ashley Coles, chair of TCU’s sustainability committee. Yet, their efforts have not resulted in the implementation of a green fund.

“The administration and the board have said no due to rising fees, but we had also asked if we could have a voluntary fee so students could opt out – but we figured students would chip in a dollar or two if they knew it was going to promote sustainable things,” Coles said. 

TCU’s answer to a voluntary green fund was also a “no,” Coles said. Although the university has not entertained a green fund, sustainable efforts on campus were able to receive money. 

“We just received a very generous $13,200 donation from the Edaren Foundation, which is really substantial – since we don’t have any funding from the university whatsoever,” Coles said. 

TCU has a sustainability committee composed of faculty, staff and students that volunteer their time to promote sustainability on campus. However, a 2017 faculty senate report found that “sustainability has never been centrally coordinated,” leading to a lack of a “distinctive ‘culture’ of sustainability at TCU.” 

After this article’s deadline, TCU also released a statement through its spokesperson.

 “TCU engages in environmentally sustainable practices across campus. Over the last 10 years, 30 new building and renovation projects have been constructed to LEED Silver standards or better. Energy management control systems, water conservation efforts, campus-wide recycling and green cleaning chemicals and practices contribute to reducing our environmental impact. For six years in a row, TCU has been recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation for its efforts to engage students and staff in the spirit of conservation and its 3,200 healthy trees on campus.

“While we’ve made great progress, there is always opportunity to do better and we look forward to working with students, faculty and staff to further educate, engage and grow TCU’s sustainability efforts,” the statement read.

Students and clubs across campus have made efforts to educate students about sustainable practices. In April, TCU students introduced Sustainability Week on campus, a three-day event to educate students about recycling and ways to reduce waste. 

More funding would lead to an expansion of what the sustainability committee and student leaders are already accomplishing, Coles said. 

“I would love to have the funds to have a sustainability careers job fair – or potentially support student research, the Edaren Foundation grant will help hire student workers – we could even use funding for trash bags and gloves for trash cleanups,” Coles said. 

Across town on Fort Worth’s east side, Texas Wesleyan does not have a green fund but has supported other efforts on campus, said Tamara Evans, communications manager for Texas Wesleyan University. 

“However, over the past eight years we have completed over $7 million in utility conservation initiatives that have drastically reduced our carbon footprint while greatly improving our energy utilization index,” she wrote by email. 

Tarrant County College has not considered a green fund, said Susan Alanis, the college’s chief operating officer. There have been no recent efforts to implement a fee, she added.  

“We are building sustainability into the way we do business and overall without a separate fee or fund,” Alanis wrote by email. 

TCC is in the process of creating a sustainability master plan, with plans to present phase one to the college’s board of trustees in November, Alanis said. 

“However, we have been incorporating smart and sustainable building technology in our facilities for years,” Alanis said.

At UNT, ‘We Mean Green’ fund supports garden, sustainable products 

In Denton, just over 35 miles from Fort Worth, the University of North Texas put in place an environmental service fee more than a decade ago after students approved a green fund in 2010. 

The We Mean Green Fund at UNT is run by both staff and students on campus, said Tristen Wheeler, UNT green fund project coordinator. 

“It is two-fold: We are a department on campus, but we have a student-led committee that votes on where the funding is allocated,” Wheeler said. “I am a staff member, but I am at the discretion of the committee as well as project proposers.” 

There are eight students on the committee selected by an application process, including some members of student government. The committee also consists of faculty and staff representatives, a faculty senate representative and a staff senate representative. 

Like UTA, UNT’s green fund is $5 per student per semester and paid when students enroll for classes. UNT’s green fund allows payment exemptions for students on scholarships. After finalizing enrollment numbers, UNT’s green fund budget is around $300,000 per year, Wheeler said. 

The UNT We Mean Green Fund creates pop-up bicycle repair shops to encourage UNT students to replace cars with bikes on campus. Students Logan Dovalina (left) and Tierani Bryan (right) stand in front of the bike repair pop-up on campus. (Courtesy Photo | Tristen Wheeler) 

The UNT green fund focuses on four categories: community engagement, green energy transit, ecosystem projects and waste reduction.

One of the fund’s latest projects is placing sustainable menstrual products in all campus bathrooms. The fund also created a pollinator garden that holds over 700 species to help bring native prairie land back into this habitat, Wheeler said. 

“Next month we are fully launching reusable bento boxes that students can use in the dining hall and the union, which is really cool,” Wheeler said.

The UNT green fund has historically funded up to 10 projects per year, Wheeler said, but saw a decrease in the number of projects completed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Pretty much everyone on campus has a sustainability mindset,” Wheeler said. “The biggest setback actually comes from students only being on campus for four years – if a student has a really big project idea, they don’t always get to see it finished.” 

Tare, who is leading the implementation of UT-Arlington’s green fund, said she and her staff will look at how other Texas universities have accomplished their sustainability goals. 

“To be successful, we will have to do exactly what UT Austin and UNT have done, and establish a green fund committee to have representation from faculty, staff and students and have a transparent application process,” Tare said. “But, I am so excited because this is something that we (UTA) have wanted to do for a long time.”

Editor’s note: The story was updated on Oct. 4, 2022, to include a statement from a TCU spokesperson regarding sustainability efforts made on campus. 

Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Reach her at izzy.acheson@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Izzy Acheson

Izzy Acheson is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Des Moines, Iowa, she graduated from Texas Christian University in 2022 with a double major in journalism and environmental...