University of Arizona students are bankrolling green projects across campus - from improving the efficiency of campus buildings to growing mushrooms from pizza boxes, coffee grounds and mesquite bean pods.
The most recent round of awards include a composting toilet and other off-grid amenities for a UA-owned 4-H camp in Prescott, a virtual welder for its agricultural education program and continued support of the UA's community gardens and composting program.
The 22 projects chosen this year are funded with $470,000 from a tuition set-aside of $24 per student.
The Green Fund sorted through $1.7 million in proposals for the fiscal year ending in June 2014, its third year of funding, said Jesse Minor, a doctoral student in the School of Geography and Development who is chairman of the 10-member student committee that makes the selections.
Minor said the group looks for proposals that have the greatest impact on student life, the promise of creating student jobs and the potential to become self-sustaining.
The sustainability fee, approved by the Arizona Board of Regents in 2010, has the goals of "reducing the university's energy footprint and creating innovative student educational and research opportunities in the area of sustainability," the Regents' website says.
Its creation is an outgrowth of a pledge signed in 2007 by then-UA President Robert Shelton. The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment acknowledges the "unprecedented scale and speed of global warming" and commits institutions to reduce their carbon footprints, including a promise that all new campus buildings meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The fee, in addition to supplying $400,000 a year for the Green Fund, was used to create and fund the UA's Office of Sustainability.
Joe Abraham, who heads that office, said the students' decisions on funding can be overruled by Melissa Vito, vice president for student affairs, but she has yet to exercise that veto.
Minor said the committee, with Abraham's guidance, screens proposals thoroughly. Members routinely question the inclusion of salaries, he said.
"A lot of the grants that had components of professors' salaries, we say, 'Well isn't this your job?'"
Most applicants, as reflected in their correspondence with the committee, agree to volunteer their time.
That correspondence, and all proposals and their budgets, are available at the UA Green Fund website.
"Transparency is a very big thing for us," said Minor. "We are using the students' money."
Abraham said the committee, in its third year, is trying to balance its continuing commitments with a desire to jump-start new programs.
The composting program, for instance, has been funded for three years and has yet to develop a revenue stream.
Compost Cats, which was awarded more than $200,000 over three years, has moved to the San Xavier Cooperative Farm and is forming alliances with that group and the food bank, said Ashley Sanders, of Students for Sustainability. It can now share equipment and begin developing revenue, she said.
Students for Sustainability, which runs a number of projects and events with Green Fund money, would like to wean its programs off of grant funding, she said.
Minor said the Green Fund committee does not want to pull the plug on good programs that still need help, but favors those with a good business plan - mushrooms, for instance.
That proposal, from a group headed by Barry Pryor, associate professor of plant pathology, seeks to harness the power of fungi to break down waste and produce a valuable commodity - gourmet mushrooms that can be sold locally.
It would grow them on a substrate of used pizza boxes and coffee grounds, in addition to mesquite bean pods that drop from campus trees.
"What could be better?" asked Minor. "This place runs on pizza and coffee."
The group's proposal says that 28,000 pounds of mushrooms could be grown from waste bean pods alone. The mushrooms sell wholesale for $3 to $8 a pound.
Pryor's group asked for $67,100. The Green Fund gave it $38,900 after removing most of the salaries from the budget.
Green Fund proposals are available at: studentaffairs.arizona.edu/greenfund
Contact reporter Tom Beal at email@example.com or 573-4158.