Green is the new black

When students cast their ballots Tuesday in the 2013 Homecoming elections, they’ll be asked to make an important decision regarding sustainable projects at The University of Southern Mississippi.

“The Green Fund is going to be the official title on the ballot,” said Marcus Ocmond, Chairperson for the Student Government Association’s Committee on Sustainability.

The Green Fund is an initiative spearheaded by the SGA that seeks to provide money for sustainable projects on campus. The money would be pulled from either an annual student fee or a small increase in tuition.

“A student Green Fund can provide an avenue of empowerment to the students because, as its designed, [students] are both the input and the output,” said Haley McMinn, USM assistant director for sustainability. “Students will take a very active role in the success of Southern Miss in our quest to minimize our impact on the environment and future generations.”

In Tuesday’s election, students will be asked to vote yes or no in support of the Green Fund and asked to choose a specific dollar amount they would be willing to contribute. The initiative will only appear on the Sept. 24 Homecoming ballot.

According to Ocmond, the initiative is still in the rough draft phase and the financial aspect hasn’t been finalized. It could involve an opt-in system, opt-out system or an annual student fee.

The opt-in system would allow students to log into their SOAR accounts and contribute money to the Green Fund. The opt-out system would automatically sign students up to donate to the fund, but they could opt-out at any time via their student accounts.

“It’s not set in stone,” Ocmond said. “We’re still doing research to see how other universities do it, but we’re gonna do what best fits Southern Miss.”

Those other universities include The University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University, who both moved forward with their own Green Fund initiatives in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

“State and Ole Miss have opt-in systems and they’re trying to move toward a fee,” Ocmond said. “[Students] have the say in what they’d like to be charged.”

“It would be very minute compared to a tuition increase; in any given year it could be $10-$20,” he added.

According to Ocmond, Green Fund projects could include something “as small as putting stickers above all the light switches as a reminder to turn the lights out.”

“It could also be installing energy efficient dryers in the bathrooms so we don’t have to use paper towels,” he added.

Ocmond said it could also help USM achieve its Climate Action Plan goal of being carbon neutral by 2050.

“It’s not a problem of today, it’s a problem of the future and we’re trying to make sure it’s continually being looked at and observed,” Ocmond said. “That way by 2050, we will be carbon neutral.”

If the Green Fund initiative receives enough student support, a formal proposal will be drafted and presented to the SGA, administration and various departments on campus for feedback. If accepted and written into legislation, the Green Fund could become a reality as early as next school year.

“In the future, if we run into stumbling blocks, we may have to put it before the students again,” Ocmond said. “It may or may not be the last time [students] see it on an official ballot.”

McMinn believes that students will be the driving force behind this sustainability movement.

“The important thing to remember with this Green Fund is that students are asking for it, students are championing its cause and students will have a central role in its operation,” McMinn said. “The student movement for sustainability on campus is growing and this fund is a great indication of that.”

For more information on the Green Fund or how to get involved, contact Marcus Ocmond at Marcus.Ocmond@eagles.usm.edu.

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