Humble but Ambitious Beginnings: UGA’s Office of Sustainability

A mere six years ago, then undergraduate student Mark Milby proposed a bold $3 “Green Fee” per student. That idea would transform into the birth of the Office of Sustainability at UGA. Today, fifty percent of the office’s operating budget ($600,000) is funded by this gallon of gas equivalent fee.

But before Milby played an instrumental roll in creating the new office at the university, he was involved in a handful of other programs and initiatives designed at promoting a more sustainable UGA.

One of the crazier things Milby has done was help start the UGA Gameday Recycling Program. “I’ll never forget our first season, running around like crazy for 20 hours straight digging bottles out of trash cans. My best friends and I would work all morning putting out and collecting bins, then stand in front of Sanford’s gates like human trash cans as the 90,000+ game day horde streamed past. Sometime well after dark we would collapse on the Myers Quad, covered in beer, our hands and legs cut on broken glass. It was a wild ride but media attention, such as radio, Internet, and Atlanta Journal Constitution coverage, as well as large donations from several organizations made it completely worth it.”

The experience with the Gameday Recycling program laid the foundation for Milby to passionately pursue what would quickly become the Office of Sustainability.

“This is something universities need, and we have said this is something that matters to us,” said Milby in January 2010, then helping lead the Go Green Alliance, which developed and promoted the fee. “It puts us on the map. We’re in a league of incredibly progressive institutions. We’re joining late, but it puts us in a great place to make an international impact.” Milby is referring to surrounding colleges like Emory and Georgia Tech who have already incorporated student fees to primarily fund their sustainability offices.

Mimicking greatness, the Go Green Alliance’s campaign to unite multiple green organizations across campus walked in the footsteps of UC Berkley’s Green Initiative Fund. Milby and co. produced a petition with over 1000 student signatures in favor of the Green Fee. Coupled with support from faculty, staff and administration, a referendum made it onto the Student Government Association ballot.

In a record breaking turnout, where 21% of the student population voted, the referendum was passed by an overwhelming 4-1 margin. For the self-imposed fee, the atmosphere could not have come at a more hostile time when there was a moratorium on new student fees. However, such strong support forced the hand of then University President Michael Adams to approve the new office to coordinate sustainability efforts. “It’s very simple. As much as we have done, we have to do more. We will move towards sustainability”

Fast forward six years to today under the leadership of director Kevin Kirsche, the mission of the office continues to, “communicate, coordinate and advance sustainability initiatives on campus.” And while the mission remans the same, “we are moving in the right direction, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Milby now works for Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (MEEA) as a program manager. In this position, he continues to pursue sustainability as he leads activities in the industrial energy efficiency space.

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