Student Green Fund Implementation in U.S. Colleges and Universities from 1973-2010


by Mieko A. Ozeki as a fulfillment of requirements for a Master of Liberal Arts in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard Extension School.

College campuses across the U.S. and abroad have seen a growth of student campaigns to take institutional action on climate change.  The campus sustainability movement, an outgrowth of the environmental movement of the 1970s, started in late 1990s and has accelerated after 2001, addressing issues related to climate change such as energy consumption and waste management. One of the barriers to implementing sustainability initiatives on-campus has been financing these efforts through existing internal resources, such as general and administrative funds or institutional endowments. Student green fees are one of many alternative financial mechanisms to support sustainability initiatives on college campuses. Documentation on student green fees focus primarily on the creation of this financial structure through student campaigns, but there are limited resources that explore the design and management of these programs once they go into effect.  

This paper reviews the national context and institutional characteristics of 80 colleges and universities in the U.S. that currently collect at least one student green fee.  A total of 87 green fees was identified from student reports, online research, and an online survey conducted in October 2010. A majority of these fees was allocated to a broad range of sustainability initiatives while others explicitly fund services such as recycling programs, green attributes of capital construction projects, or supporting a campus sustainability office. Five sustainability managers were interviewed for an exploratory review of lessons learned on the design and implementation of student green fee programs. Four areas of student green fee design and management are highlighted with advice from these managers, and for further review in a future white paper series for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability of Higher Education, an international campus sustainability organization.