Bemidji State initiates green fee, seeks sustainability coordinator for fall

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Beginning in the fall of 2008, a new student fee at Bemidji State University will empower students to make the Bemidji State campus a more environmentally friendly place and assist in the University’s efforts to hire its first full-time sustainability coordinator.

The green fee of $5 per semester, per student, was approved by the BSU Student Senate after an extensive collaboration with University administrators during the 2007-08 school year.

“If we don’t step up, who’s going to?” said Cody Nelson, outgoing president of the BSU Student Senate. “Everybody’s very excited about it.”

The fee, which is expected to generate approximately $35-40,000 per year, will fund student projects and will support 50 percent of the salary for the sustainability coordinator. Beginning in 2010, the green fee will subsidize 100 percent of the sustainability coordinator’s salary.

The coordinator will aid Bemidji State’s move toward sustainability and collaborate with staff, students, faculty and administrators in making the University more ecologically and economically sustainable. The coordinator also will manage environmental issues on campus and participate in community environmental initiatives. A nationwide search for the coordinator is currently underway, and the University hopes to conclude that search this summer.

Students for the Environment has played an important role in the development of the green fee and sustainability coordinator initiatives at Bemidji State and will help direct the student projects funded by the green fee. According to Crystal Middendorf, the outdoing president of Students for the Environment, initiatives are welcome from any student and might include such things as providing composting bins on campus, investing in locally-grown foods or using generators to power equipment in the Gillett Recreation and Fitness Center.

“Why can’t the rec center be powered by people?” Middendorf asked. “And, it would be cool to study how technology works in cold weather. We could have a center for research. For example, solar panels work well in Arizona, but how do they do in Minnesota?”

According to Erika-Bailey Johnson, co-chair of the campus environmental advisory committee and an adjunct faculty member in the Center for Environmental, Earth and Space Studies, the idea for the green fee at Bemidji State began three years ago when students were laying the groundwork for enrollment in Tail Winds, a wind energy program offered by Otter Tail Power Company. Using student fees, Bemidji State agreed to purchase enough wind energy through the Tail Winds program to power the Hobson Memorial Union, an agreement which helped the University earn recognition as a Green Power Partner with the Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition, Middendorf said a survey of 318 students done by Students for the Environment revealed strong support for a green fee. The survey found more than 65 percent of respondents were willing to pay a green fee of $5 or more per semester.

On the same day as the student senate vote on a student fee increase to implement the green fee, Nelson was at the state capitol lobbying the Minnesota legislature to help lower tuition rates at the state’s colleges and universities. The senate’s vote on the green fee was not unanimous, Nelson said.

“The senate didn’t oppose the premise of the green fee itself,” Nelson said, “But that we were lobbying for lower tuition for students at the same time we were voting to add a new student fee.”

Nelson said the majority of the student senate was eventually won over by a desire to support the University’s signature themes, which include environmental stewardship.

The passage of the green fee and the addition of a full-time sustainability coordinator at Bemidji State are part of a national trend toward sustainability and environmentally-focused programs. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) more than 50 colleges and universities across the country have added full-time sustainability coordinators, have implemented green fees, or both since 2000.

Julian Dautremont-Smith, associate director of the AASHE, credits the Energy Action Coalition for gaining support for green fees through its Campus Climate Challenge. Made up of 48 organizations, including Greenpeace and The Indigenous Environmental Network, Dautremont-Smtih said the coalition has made these fees a major initiative in solving energy and climate problems.

“Students are realizing the kind of world they’re going to inherit,” Dautremont-Smith said. “They’re passionate about solutions. Renewable energy is hot, and students want to get involved in stopping climate change.”