Green Fund grants support ideas to make a more sustainable Penn

When College House Eco-Reps Elena Crouch and Michael Shu, both rising seniors at Penn, came up with an idea to implement drying racks in all the laundry rooms at Harnwell College House, they knew just where to turn for support: the Green Fund.

An initiative from the University’s Sustainability Office, the Green Fund provides grants to students, faculty, and staff with ideas that promote a more sustainable campus community.

“The Green Fund is so useful if you have an idea and want to do something that is impactful,” says Crouch, a biology major and nutrition minor.

“It gives a foundation to make a big impact on campus,” says Shu, a biology major.

Since 2009, when Penn’s Climate Action Plan was instated, the Green Fund has helped turn more than 50 ideas into full-blown projects. This past academic year, Crouch and Shu’s project took flight, as well as two others.

One project significantly reduced bird strikes by incorporating glass window treatments at two existing buildings on campus. Created by Joe Durrance, a Penn employee and recent Master of Environmental Studies graduate, the project has served as a pilot and its success will likely lead to additional installations on campus.

“Everyone wants to make Penn more sustainable,” says Durrance. “The Green Fund works well because it supports different scaled projects.”

For instance, the maximum grant amount is $30,000.

Dan Garofalo, environmental sustainability director at Penn, says most of the projects, especially those driven by students, cost under $10,000. Grant applications less than $7,500 are accepted on a rolling basis throughout the year. Those more than $7,500 are reviewed twice a year—once in the fall and once in the spring.

“The projects we are encouraging now are not so much building engineering projects,” says Garofalo. “We’re more oriented to engaging faculty, staff, and students at Penn, and making sure we give people an opportunity to spread the message about sustainability and engage their local community. We don’t want something not to happen because of a lack of $1,000.”

The Morris Arboretum’s Hay Honey Farm intern, Willa Rowan, recently helped secure a Green Fund grant for an eco-friendly, targeted goat-grazing project at the Arboretum’s Bloomfield Farm.

This summer, four goats will be enclosed in a two-acre plot where they will “gorge themselves on poison ivy, Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and all manner of invasive plants that have taken over the ground cover in the area,” explains Rowan. The goats can and will eat these plants without any negative effects.

The goats will stay at the Arboretum for about two months. Rowan predicts they will remove 95 percent of the vegetation growing in the space, and do so in a manner that the invasive plants won’t grow back.

Without the Green Fund, Rowan says, it would not have been “feasible for me to pull money from the department’s budget to pay for a goat graze.” But if the project shows that goats are as effective as power equipment and herbicides, and will save the Arboretum’s staff time, perhaps it will lead to “budgeting for this and other sustainable land management methods down the road,” she says.

The point of the Green Fund, Garofalo says, is to support ideas that “can be replicable, and to help spread the word.”

“We have a relatively small sustainability staff that reports to me, and scores of people that work across the University on sustainable issues,” Garofalo says. “Even though this is a broad initiative at Penn, the people doing this for their job can’t think of everything. We rely on an involved population across campus. If anyone has an idea to make this place greener, we want to hear about it.”