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11 July 2013

SG used referendum money to create ECO Agency

Ready to reduce, reuse and recycle, the Energy and Conservation Organization Agency launched last fall as Student Government’s sixth and newest branch.

ECO Agency is the university’s green initiative programming board that is tasked to reduce UM’s carbon footprint, which is the university’s environmental impact in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

The creation of the agency was a result of the Green U referendum passed in the spring 2011 semester. During this past fall semester, the referendum allocated $5 of the student activity fee per student, per semester, toward the pursuit of green initiatives, Speaker Pro Tempore Doug Aguililla said.

ECO Agency members determine “how to create positive sustainable change on the campus,” SG President Nawara Alawa said.

The branch operates similarly to Category 5, the spirit programming board that became a part of SG by way of a referendum as well. As ECO Agency Chair, senior Jae Shrader was responsible for budgeting the funds and sat on the SG executive board.

“This, again, is student funds and ultimately students need to guide the projects the funds go to,” said Ian McKeown, the university’s sustainability coordinator. “It creates a very proactive process that will lead to engagement of the student body.”

Created with the intent of connecting students with SG and the university administration, the ECO Agency looks to students for proposals of green initiatives, Shrader said.

“After some careful tailoring and detailing, we can present your project to the administration and be approved for funding,” she said.

Shrader, an ecosystem science and policy and biology double major, was ready to apply her environmental knowledge as she worked with the ECO Agency’s annual budget of nearly $100,000.

This realistic change will come in the form of partnerships with other green organizations on campus and proposed initiatives like competitions that motivate students to save energy.

“No promises, but we are currently looking into an energy conservation competition,” Shrader said. “Mainly, we are holding off on starting projects until our new board is assembled.”

Kill-a-Watt, one potential project, involves a competition among the residential colleges. Residents of whichever building saves the most energy would be eligible to win a scholarship equivalent to the amount of money saved on electricity.

This idea is based on Florida International University’s Kill-a-Watt challenge, which saved more than $4,000 after it was held in 2010, according to FIU’s Office of University Sustainability.

The idea has received positive feedback from university officials, but it was not set in stone, Shrader said.

The ECO Agency also hopes to work with Green U, Facilities and Planning, Category 5, Hurricane Productions and any other group looking to “green” its events, according to Shrader.

“I want ECO to be the umbrella organization that links the scattered environmental organizations on all campuses,” she said. “We need to all work together so that our impact is amplified.”

McKeown said that one of the most important parts of the improved green program will be community involvement.

“This means a cultural shift at the university to bike, carpool, walk, take public transit, conserve water, conserve energy, and create less waste,” he said.

Shrader also said that, by exposing students to the simplicity and benefits of environmental conservation, ECO Agency can help students realize that what is good for the environment is good for them, too. For example, unplugging cords and turning off the lights saves not only electricity but also money, she said.

“All I want future generations to do is to teach and act,” Shrader said. “With a little bit of action, initiatives and encouragement, the student body can be informed.”