Green Energy Fund Powers Sustainability Projects on Campus

(April 13, 2018) – As Earth Day approaches, one of the unique parts of sustainability at USF St. Petersburg is the Student Green Energy Fund (SGEF), which directly involves students with sustainability, alternative energy and other projects that are benefiting the campus and the Earth.

USFSP students working in the butterfly garden on the USFSP campus

USFSP students working in the butterfly garden on the USFSP campus

SGEF has the largest operating budget of any student-run organization, funded with around $120,000 – $160,000 per year mainly from a nominal student fee of $1 per every credit hour taken. Working on a budget this size, SGEF is able to implement large-scale sustainability projects while providing students direct experience in managing and investing funds.

“Our main mission is to create and fund major sustainability projects that directly produce energy, reduce our energy consumption and eliminate waste,” said TJ Broecker, an accounting senior and current SGEF Chair.

How it works is any student can come to SGEF with a sustainability project proposal, from installing solar panels to replacing plastic with reusable containers for food. They present their proposal in front of the group – which currently consists of 10 students and four faculty/staff members – highlighting the project, the cost, the timeline and energy savings or reductions in CO2 emissions. The organization then discusses the proposal and asks questions before finally taking a vote. If approved, the group works with the student who proposed the idea along with university facilities to help oversee the implementation of the project.

“It is a very impressive feat that we, as a public university in Florida, have this successful program that really makes us stand out,” Broecker said. “Because we are the only student-run organization on campus that has control of our own budget, SGEF offers a ‘big picture’ opportunity to make real change happen.”

Broecker and SGEF members have been hard at work improving energy usage and reducing reliance on fossil fuels at USFSP. Some current projects funded through SGEF include:

Solar carport on USFSP campus

New solar array helping to power the Warehouse Labs.

  • a 40 kW solar array carport that powers 15 percent of Biology and Chemistry Labs;
  • a greenhouse which provides a living laboratory for urban agricultural studies and research, in partnership with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission;
  • the installation of water bottle refilling stations throughout campus and soon to be on every floor of the two residence halls;
  • electric vehicle charging stations, with more to be added around campus through a partnership with Duke Energy; and
  • bikes for a bike-share program, with 20 more to come, that students can rent, even for an entire semester.

“Just over spring break, we approved a project for an LED retro-fit light replacement on two floors in the main resident housing building,” said Sebastian Digeronimo, a senior environmental sustainability major, SGEF member and intern with the Office of Sustainability. “This will reduce the use of energy for lighting by 30-50 percent.”

The LED light project in Residence Hall One will provide SGEF important data on the reduction of energy usage and energy cost on two floors, which they are hoping will fuel future funding to replace lighting in the entire building.  They will be able to determine that reduction through an Energy Monitoring System (EMS).

“We will visibly be able to monitor the energy usage with the new system,” said Ashley Huber, environmental science graduate student, SGEF member and an intern with the Office of Sustainability. “We chose the RHO because the building is sub-metered by floor, so we can use the data we gather to help get approval to install more energy saving LED lights and window film that reduces infrared and ultraviolet rays.”

students identifying waste

USFSP students separating waste to recycle.

SGEF works closely with campus facilities, construction and the Office of Sustainability to ensure projects are compliant with codes and regulations and aligned with certifications, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world and globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement. Four buildings at USF St. Petersburg meet LEED certification standards.

“A lot of what we do people can’t visibly see. There are so many moving parts, hoops to jump through, communicating with stakeholders and determining the best products to make a project happen,” Huber said.

To commemorate the internationally celebrated Earth Day, SGEF will participate in USFSP Earth Week April 16 – 19, hosted by the Office of Sustainability. A packed schedule includes talks on alternative transportation options and learning how to recycle, a St. Petersburg mural bike tour, planting milkweed in the campus butterfly garden, a cleanup at Salt Creek – using bikes to get from campus to the site – and much more.

Earth Week provides an opportunity to educate the campus community not only on how to be environmental stewards, but to raise awareness on projects that are improving campus sustainability.

“We want to make students ideas become a reality on this campus and we need feedback from our campus community to bring these ideas to life,” Huber said.

working in urban agriculture

Situated on an urban campus, the members of SGEF are always looking for ways to involve the community. Currently, they are working on a sustainability youth urban agriculture project with the City of St. Petersburg for at-risk kids, which focuses on social sustainability. They would also like to work more closely with the Kate Tiedemann College of Business, the College of Education and departments like Journalism and Digital Communication to partner on projects to provide expertise in areas of marketing, business planning and developing further partnerships with the extended community.

“I want to leave a mark when I leave this campus, not with my name but with my work, ideas and passion,” said Broecker. “When I come back to the university years down the road, I want to be able to say to my friends that I made this happen!”

Article by Karlana June, USFSP Content Specialist