Senior Sam Ressin standing in front of an array of solar panels, with a glowing object in his hands
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Pitt Green Fund supports more than just sustainable student initiatives

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The creative spirit and efforts of sustainability-minded students have brought pollinator houses and rain gardens, a campus thrift store and bicycle co-op to the University of Pittsburgh campus. They’ve advanced waste reduction, hydroponics and recycling initiatives, and much more.

But it takes green to advance these student initiatives. For that, there’s another student-led effort: Pitt’s Green Fund. 

Housed in the Student Office of Sustainability (SOOS), the Green Fund helps fund student projects and events that advance sustainability on campus, with grants ranging from $50 to upwards of $2,500. The Green Fund budget comes from a student fee allocation, the BYO(Bag) reusable shopping bag program proceeds and donations from the University of Thriftsburgh resale store.

“The Pitt Green Fund is a unique funding opportunity for students to be a positive driving force for sustainability initiatives on campus, said Pitt senior Ellie Cadden, co-director of the SOOS. “The very existence of the Green Fund shows a serious commitment of the University to uplift student initiatives and embrace sustainability.” 

Pitt’s Student Government Board piloted the student activity fee-based funding program for sustainability projects in 2010 and formally recognized the Green Fund advisory board in 2011. 

“It’s grown exponentially over the past five years,” said Student Affairs Sustainability Program Coordinator Erika Ninos, who advises the Green Fund board. “Students have started to realize more and more what a great resource it is.” 

It’s also a barometer of the campus climate, she said. “If you look at the spectrum of proposals and funded projects, it’s a great window into the kinds of things that students think are interesting and important,” Ninos said. 

The fund continues to support environmental projects and advance green events, but has expanded to encompass social equity and justice issues, including co-sponsoring a traveling public art installation on school gun violence and collaborating on making reusable menstrual products available through the Pitt Pantry and via on-campus events.

“They’re working to balance,” Ninos said. “They’re still supporting zero-waste projects, but they want focus beyond just that,” she said. 

“We’ve done a good job with environmental sustainability,” board director Sam Ressin said. "But in addition to saving waste from landfills, we want to support the community and culture and equity aspects of sustainability,” he said. “Are we taking care of students? Meeting their basic needs?

“Projects such as the reusable menstrual products distribution not only reduce landfill waste, but address women’s health and help students save money,” he noted.

The fund’s seven-member student board reviews proposals and awards funding to projects that meet Green Fund criteria for scope and impact, maximizing the reach of the fund’s dollars. “It’s students helping students,” said Ressin.

“We don't fund t-shirts, food, travel or tabling materials,” he said. “Proposals that demonstrate impact and collaboration get us excited. We love it when students cite a Pitt Sustainability Plan goal in their funding request.” 

Senior Clara Grantier, Pitt’s Sodexo Sustainability and Reuse intern, said the Green Fund board’s vetting process and funding criteria maximize the fund’s value to the University. “The students on the advisory board are people with a comprehensive understanding of what's going on in the Pitt sustainability world, which means that they know what is needed and how to build off of programs that already exist,” she said. “Thus, the projects receiving funds are ones that will make progress towards the Pitt Sustainability Plan, strengthen connections between existing initiatives on campus, and have the potential to persist long-term and become self-sufficient.” 

The current board, which includes students majoring in sustainability fields as well as business students interested in gaining experience in the behind-the scenes funding for sustainability-related projects, has been working to raise the fund’s profile, and broaden its scope.

Said Ressin, who is majoring in economics and statistics, “When I became director, I wanted to turn from waiting for projects to come in to becoming a more active fund, reducing barriers as much as possible and going out and making it as easy as possible to apply,” he said.

The fund has boosted its social media presence and reported its disbursements at Student Government Board meetings to raise awareness. It’s reached out to student groups, seeking new board members and project proposals. 

The Green Fund’s website features photos from funded projects, as well as an application form and simple explanation of the funding process. 

The board has vetted a short list of projects so that even the lack of an idea isn’t a deterrent. 

“The Green Fund is setting the course,” said Ressin, who will graduate this spring. “I’m always encouraging the board to do more go farther, think bigger.”

“I’d love for us to run out of money,” he said. “My dream is to have a ton of money and a ton of demand,” envisioning the ability to fund larger projects such as wind turbines, solar installations and large rooftop gardens 

“It’s the students who are building the sustainable future.”