In September 2009, Environmental Studies Professor Harold Glasser escorted a group of students to Ball State University's Greening of the Campus Conference in Muncie, Indiana. Kaitlyn Shields (2011) was a member of this group and attended a session on "green fees" to fund sustainability on college and university campuses. Inspired to bring such a fee to WMU, Kate returned from the conference and began an independent study research project that would lead to the Sustainability Fee Initiative (SFI).
Kate started by examining green fees at other campuses, and gained support from students and alumnae. Samantha Cooper (2007), a post-graduate researcher for the President's Universitywide Sustainability Committee, joined Kate in November to assist with her report. Kaitlyn and Samantha discovered a previous report by a student named Jacob Bintliff who was studying at the University of Texas. His report, titled Student Green Funds 1997-2009, already documented over sixty green fees at other schools. Equipped with this expansive data set, the research project quickly evolved into a campaign.
In January 2010 Kaitlyn and Samantha created the Sustainability Fund Initiative (SFI). They recruited Matthew Hollander (2008) and Christopher Caprara (2011), and began researching ways to create a green fee within WMU's existing structures. After consulting with Vice President of Student Affairs Diane Anderson, Director of Student Activities and Leadership Programs Chris Sleigh, Vice President of Business & Finance Lowell Rinker, and Western Student Association (WSA) Elections Chair Alex Roman, the team decided to pursue a fee through a student referendum in the March WSA election.
By February the campaign was in full effect, and WSA Senators Ryan Koziatek (2011) and Joseph Szuszwalak (2013) joined the team. The pair agreed to author a WSA resolution endorsing the SFI while the team recruited volunteers and sought endorsements from registered student organizations, departments, and other groups. By the end of the SFI the team gathered endorsements from The Gibbs House, Students for a Sustainable Earth, Geography Club, The Peace Center, the President's Universitywide Sustainability Committee, the Hoekje Hall Council, Recycling & Waste Reduction Services, WMU's Natural Areas Program, the Student Conservation Organization, the Student Garden Organization, and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.
The ballot referendum language was submitted to WSA on February 26, 2010, and on March 10 the WSA approved Ryan and Joseph's resolution (#0910-11). Unfortunately, due to a contentious procedural technicality, WSA President Nate Knappen was forced to veto the resolution a week later.
Meanwhile, the team coordinated a large group of volunteers to gather the required 110 signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. In the end, they collected over 500 signatures, suggesting that the WSA setback was minor. The team also distributed nearly 1,000 iconic campaign buttons, hung humorous flyers, and held multiple information sessions in the Bernhard Center and at The Strutt coffee house.
The week-long election began on March 15 with a festival atmosphere in the center of campus. The campaign team organized a rally at the flagpoles on main campus, complete with bicycle billboards, cotton candy, canvassers and a concert by Graham Parsons and The Go-Rounds.
Throughout the week 1,664 students voted on the SFI. 60% supported the referendum. Nearly a month later on April 15, 2010, Kaitlyn Shields, Samantha Cooper, Matthew Hollander, and Ryan Koziatek presented an overview of the campaign and sought approval of the fee from WMU's Board of Trustees. The Sustainability Fee was approved unanimously, establishing WMU as the first college or university in Michigan with a green fee.