The Office of Sustainability at yesterday’s Earth Day Festival announced a record-breaking $450,633 in University Sustainability Fund grants for 2019, including $150,000 for plastic waste reduction in Dining Services, $61,570 for a stormwater filtration device and $50,000 to offset the climate impact of undergraduate commuters’ emissions.

The grants also support 14 other projects, including research efforts that may have valuable long-term benefits to the campus. “The university should be proud of what this fund has accomplished,” said Scott Lupin, director of the Office of Sustainability.

Besides distributing more money than ever, the Sustainability Fund Review Committee of students and the Sustainability Council also included its largest grant ever allocated, to replace 1.3 million plastic bags, utensils and straws in Dining Services cafes and shops with compostable or recyclable alternatives as part of the Ocean Friendly Campus initiative. Dining Services also aims to reduce the number of paper bags used on campus by providing one complimentary reusable bag for every student who lives on campus, paid for by the Sustainability Fund.

“By making changes to our resident dining model, we have already been able to remove over 6 million pieces of disposable products from the resident dining waste stream every year,” said Colleen Wright-Riva, director of Dining Services. “Students are eager for the next step, and this grant will enable us to extend our plastic reduction efforts to include retail outlets: the cafes and convenience shops. Using this generous grant, and partnering closely with the SGA and RHA, we will bring about an impactful decrease in the amount of disposable plastic used on this campus.”

This year’s grants also marked the first time UMD students have voted to use fund money to invest in carbon offset projects to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions associated with commuting. Undergraduate commuting emissions represented 7% of UMD’s carbon footprint in 2017, and 100% of those emissions will be offset for 2018 and beyond.

"The Sustainability Fund has always inspired a commitment to climate action, since the first student-driven Renewable Energy Credits purchase in 2010,” said Amelia Avis, director of the Student Sustainability Committee of the Student Government Association. “Today, in light of an increasingly urgent need to reduce global carbon emissions, the student body is continuing our commitment to address climate change with the tools available to us. Our hope is the entire university community will join us in our efforts."  

Other grants approved this cycle include the algal scrubber from the UMD chapter of the American Ecological Engineering Society, which could introduce an innovative stormwater treatment technology to campus; the Stamp Student Union’s Weather Technology HVAC Strategy to make the building’s heating and cooling system responsive to outside temperature and humidity; new episodes of the digital video series “Terps vs. Pros Sustainable Food Challenge,” created by students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and a grant for the Department of Transportation Services to create a more robust campus bicycle recycling program. Find the full list here.

Since 2011, the University Sustainability Fund, supported by student fees, has granted $2.6 million to 137 sustainability projects.