USF’s Student Government (SG) might be creating a Sustainability Council to review how student’s Activity and Service (A&S) fees are spent.
The council is defined in Senate Bill 57-010, which passed in the Senate on Jan. 31 with a vote of 21 for, four against and one abstention. Now, the bill must be signed by student body president Chris Griffin in order to be made into legislation.
Griffin said he is waiting to make his final decision on the bill until he has conversed with the Student Business Services office as the director is listed to be on the council.
“Our business office has changed its leadership and when the bill was originally (coming up) … we had a different director of Student Business Services, and I want to make sure that the new director is on the same page that the last director was before making a final decision on how we’ll go forward with that,” he said.
The council, according to the bill, would evaluate spending based on three factors – “economic, social and environmental.”
Senate policy chair AlaEldean Elmunaier, who authored the bill, said the council would provide recommendations for spending based upon research it conducted and student feedback it collected on issues students care about. The goal is to look at how the funds are being spent at a deeper level than say, the Senate A&S Recommendation Committee (ASARC), the allocation committee.
One example of a recommendation the council could make, Elmunaier said, would be to discourage or ban spending A&S fees to purchase Styrofoam cups or plastic water bottles due to their negative environmental impact.
On the social side, the council could recommend that money not be spent to buy products from companies that treat their workers badly or don’t pay them minimum wage. The council would research the alternative and also the cost of making a change to determine whether or not it would be a good idea.
Elmunaier said it is a reflection of the university’s push to go green and also evidence of SG thinking critically about its policies. Even something like banning the purchase of foam cups is worth noting, he said.
“I know that seems so minuscule and small, but the environmental impact of this foam is insane,” he said.
According to the bill, the council would be made up of the director of Student Business Services, the Senate policy chair, Senate relations chair, Senate president, student body president, Chief Financial Officer, and two senators chosen by the Senate president. The Senate president, student body president and Student Business Services director would be able to appoint designees to their positions.
The bill states that the council would base its recommendations on issues students find important.
“These standards shall be economical, non-divisive, and should result in minimal negative financial impact,” the bill states.
Senate policy vice chair Sarah Lucker, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, said it will bring positive change if passed. She said with USF’s track record for sustainability and helping the environment, anything SG can do to contribute will only make the environmental footprint better.
“(The council is) a great way for us to kind of reflect on what we’re already doing and come up with some new ideas, and then it would be up to the Senate of that term to decide whether or not to implement these new plans,” she said.
As it is now, Lucker said funds would not be diverted to the council. Instead, it would simply research and analyze how A&S fees are currently being spent and suggest alternatives that are financially sound.
“So basically they’d just be reading into making sure that we’re purchasing things in the most economically sustainable way, so things we can actually afford, making sure that we’re not buying things that are going to be harmful to the environment, and making sure that the things we’re doing are treating their workers well,” she said.
“We’re also going to have incorporation from the students because the relations chair is going to be part of the committee, so we want to hear what issues students are passionate about and what they want to see from this council. So, it kind of depends on what the USF students from that term want and then the things that they’re passionate about. Like say, they want a product not to be used or they want us to switch to something more organic, then they can kind of lobby this council for that and then we’ll look up the research for how to make it happen.”
The council would report to the Senate, where its suggestions would have the opportunity to become bills that could eventually become law, Lucker said.
Elmunaier hopes the council will form and start its work immediately after it is signed by Griffin, if Griffin signs it. Elmunaier said it is more likely that it would begin operating during the summer semester. However, he plans to push to for the council to start as soon as possible.
“Even if it only has a couple of meetings, it’s better to hit the ground running,” he said.
Elmunaier encourages students to give their feedback on the council, to encourage Griffin to sign the bill and to utilize SG to make their voices heard.
“I know a lot of times, it’s kind of like the fourth floor, all in the corner, we’re hidden,” Elumnaier said. “It can even seem kind of scary, but we’re students too … Don’t forget, Student Government, you can use it as a tool. You don’t even have to be in Student Government to use it in a way … to make our college experience even better.”
Lucker shared a similar sentiment, encouraging students to let SG and the possible council know what issues are important to them so that the council can focus on those, if and when it is formed. Until Griffin makes his final decision, the council will not exist, but he said he thinks it is a good idea.
“I think it’ll definitely be able to provide students with the opportunity to make sure that their A&S dollars are going toward more green initiatives,” he said.
However, he says it has pros and cons, as more environmentally friendly options can come at higher prices.
“A lot of times using a more green initiative means we are spending more money, and I think that’s the way, that’s the decision that I have to move forward with in my decision making process is are students going to benefit more by having a green initiative on there that they’re only allowed to spend their A&S fees on or would they prefer to buy things and buy more of them even if they’re not sustainable,” Griffin said. “… That’s the decision that I’m currently debating and that’s where we’ll go from there.”