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Framing Sustainability for the Free, Frugal, and Fit & Fabulous

This article was published in TheSoluntionsJournal.com.

By Alexi Lamm, Edwin R. Stafford

Days prior to the February, 2011 Utah State University student referendum, the ‘green police’ were out in force issuing ‘citations’ to students who drove to school or placed recyclable items in the trash. The ‘citations’ were actually political leaflets from representatives of the USU College Republicans dressed in satirical law enforcement garb, protesting the “Blue Goes Green” ballot measure that would impose a 25 cent-per-credit-hour fee (averaging about $3 per student per semester) to fund a proposed Student Sustainability Office and administer a grant program for student initiatives to conserve resources on campus. Although placed on the ballot by a student grassroots movement, the USU College Republicans viewed the fee as a “socialistic” tax. “It’s taking my ability to choose away,” Mikey Rodgerson, the group’s president, told the campus newspaper. “We live in a bad economy … and the school has the audacity to propose an AstroTurf fee. 

Opposition to the Blue Goes Green fee was not unexpected. Utah State, with an on-campus population of about 15,000 students, is nestled in the politically conservative Cache Valley in northern Utah where many students, faculty, and citizens often view green issues with skepticism. Although Cache Valley suffers from numerous unhealthy “red air days” due to winter inversions that trap local vehicular, fireplace, and agricultural pollutants, opposition to solving environmental problems could come from perceptions that it may result in “bigger” government and unnecessary taxes that threaten personal freedom and economic prosperity. USU President Stan Albrecht, nonetheless, had signed onto the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007, requiring USU to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2050. The university established a Sustainability Council, involving faculty and staff to initiate and monitor energy conservation and carbon emissions across campus to comply with ACUPCC. The student-proposed Blue Goes Green grant initiative, modeled after other universities’ sustainability programs, was an outgrowth of that commitment.

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