Death of sustainability

The Office of Sustainability has played a significant role in environmental and conservation efforts on campus for nearly the past decade. However, this year marks a time of pivotal changes for the organization with their funding dropping by 60 percent over the past two years. With this drop in funding, a new governance agreement must be written for the office, which will now be run under the student government.

Under review will be UAF’s overall sustainability plan as well as the student project grant program that has been supported and funding by the Office of Sustainability in past years.

Examples of these projects are the six solar panel installations on campus, the green bikes program, the electric shuttle which runs during the summer months, electric carts to replace some of the trucks used for summer work and LED light upgrades in several campus buildings to cut down on electricity use.

When the office was originally created, their budget was made up of a sustainability fee of $20 a semester paid by each student and a match of that sum by the Chancellor. This year the chancellor’s match has been cut, dropping half of a office’s budget.

“Since that went away, Vice Chancellor Sfraga felt it was time to write up a new governance agreement that didn’t reflect chancellor’s match,” Michelle Mouton, former sustainability director said.

Now that the office is funded entirely from a student fee, it will be run under the ASUAF umbrella like other student funded organizations. Sfraga felt it was no longer appropriate for the Office of Sustainability to be its own department with the change in funding, according to Mouton.

“We were not aware of the changes until about a month and a half ago when we got a letter saying the office is terminated and you are laid off which was a huge shock,” Mouton said.

In previous years the money collected from student fees has added up to approximately $250 thousand a semester, which was then matched by the chancellor at the time, creating a semester budget of about $500 thousand.

The cut of the chancellor’s match combined with a drop in student enrollment at UAF, has the office of sustainability looking at a budget of about $210 thousand this semester, less than half of what they are normally allotted.

Because of the significant drop in funding, the office is examining which projects will be continued as well as which positions within the office must be cut.

“My position was too much of a draw because it was originally paid from the chancellor’s match,” said Mouton, who will be leaving the office at the end of December.

Mouton, who has been the Director of Sustainability since August 2009, will be staying on half time through the end of the semester to assist in the organizational transition. The office of sustainability will then be run by the Review of Infrastructure and Sustainable Energy (RISE) board under the guidance of ASUAF.

“Fortunately everyone got on board quickly with the RISE board and we have been able to get a lot done,” Mouton said. “They’ve been very aggressive in getting all that they need to get done, done. They now have a new approved governance agreement and are currently working on the bylaws.”

While the office will be run under the student government, the sustainability budget will still be separate, with additional monitoring from the student government body.

The big question now is what to change about the organization now that their budget is less than half its former size, said Mouton.

“Now that the documents are done, our next job is setting priorities for the future,” Mouton said.

The student sustainability fee will be up for discussion again in 2020.

“It was just a ten year fee when it was set up,” said Mouton. “So it will be to the students to decide what they want to do and whether this is something they want to continue.”

There is the potential for large scale changes in the next few months, according to Mouton. The RISE board will discuss whether to continue some of the office of sustainability’s biggest projects like the student projects grant program, the campus recycling program and green bikes. No decisions have been made with regard to program cuts yet but Moudon says that student input is key.

“If students have strong feelings about whether they want they want to continue within the office of sustainability, they need to let the RISE board and ASUAF know,” she said. “We hope that the student body will be vocal because in the end it’s really up to them.”

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