Going green for some people means something as simple as bringing reusable bags into Kroger for groceries or sorting their plastics and their metal cans into the right bins. For University of Toledo alumni and Green Fund founders Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle, working to help our planet keep on living is a constant work-in-progress.
Bova and Beegle launched their interest in environmental issues at UT as Green Fund founders. Now they are participating in the People’s Choice voting challenge, a part of the Rice Business Plan Competition, which is running until April 16 at 1 p.m. They are competing against 41 other teams for a prize of $5,000.
Bova and Beegle worked together in BOSEF and the Student Green Fund while earning their undergraduate degrees. Now they are working together once again. Bova said his Ph.D. research focuses on the study of renewable plastics made from lignin, a natural polymer found as the “glue” that holds all woody plants and grasses together. In the startup he and Beegle created, they turn lignin into a biodegradable plastic that can be used in the farming industry.
“Modern farms use plastics to cover their soil and keep it warm, moist, and weed free for a longer and more productive growing season,” Bova said. “At the end of every season, these farmers have to pull that plastic off and send it to the landfill for upwards of $300 an acre in labor and disposal costs. Our materials can replace those plastics at the same cost, but instead of going to the dump, they break up during the season and can just be plowed into the ground after harvest, saving farmers valuable time and money better spent growing food.”
Their startup is still in the research and development phase, but Bova says their research has yielded promising results. They’ve entered several competitions with their product and have won $16,000 in just a few months. Bova said they will be competing at the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
“It’s one of the most prestigious and largest competitions in the country for companies started by students, with over $1 million in prizes,” Bova said. “We made it into the top 42 teams out of over 500 applications worldwide.”
Bova believes that projects funded by the UT Green Fund and startups like his own are crucial to making change because they counter the negative effects created by humans on our planet.
“Call me a Captain Planet kid,” Bova said. “There’s only one planet, and apparently a finite number of ways we can work against our own best interests by destroying parts of it without really thinking about the near- and long-term consequences.”
Bova said their inspiration for the Green Fund came from a column written in The Independent Collegian by Braeden Gilchrist on UT’s need for green initiatives. They were united through BOSEF and motivated by green initiatives other students had accomplished at universities across the country, such as BGSU or UC Berkeley. Bova said they thought, “Why can’t we do this as UT?”
“When we first were talking about the Green Fund, we took a look at how the University is rated on its sustainability efforts,” Bova said. “One of the report cards showed that, while marks were generally good for UT, the rating for student involvement was a D or an F, depending on which year you looked at. This told us that all of the sustainability initiatives were top-down and had little to no student involvement. How could sustainability become part of student culture that way?”
As a joint venture with Student Government, Bova and a group of other like-minded students created a proposal for a grant program called the Student Green Fund.
“We thought that the best way for sustainability initiatives to actually be sustainable was to find a way to bake it into the culture of the student body, to create a sense of ownership in the university,” Bova said. “That’s hard enough to do anywhere, especially with what seemed like an administration that was slowly growing out of touch with the students it served.”
Now, the Green Fund legacy continues in the hands of current UT students. As a student-funded program that accepts outside donations from faculty and community members, the Green Fund hears proposals on environmentally friendly ventures that can be implemented at UT.
“While the Student Green Fund is still relatively new, we are growing considerably each year,” said Carly Beck, current student manager of the Green Fund. “This past year, we’ve reached out to many student organizations, such as CAP and BOSEF, as well as professors that may have students interested in submitting proposals.”
In the three years since its inception, the Green Fund has funded several projects including water bottle refill stations, reusable water bottles and bags for Earth Week, equipment to recycle plastic for the 3-D printer in the MakerSpace on the engineering campus, large-scale recycling drop-off locations at all three campuses and three solar-powered picnic tables with charging capabilities.
“Right now, we’re still trying to get many of our projects implemented, which can be a lengthy process, so we do not have the largest presence on campus yet,” Beck said. “However, once highly visible projects like the recycling drop-off locations and solar-powered picnic tables are installed, hopefully many more people will be able to see the exciting things we can do and want to get involved or submit proposals.”
For more information, visit the Student Green Fund’s website on the UT website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about Bova and Beegle’s project and cast your vote at https://rbpc-polls.fbapp.io/rbpc2016