What’s your job? Green Fund sustainability projects with Ian Aley

What’s your job? is a series focused on the work of FP&M employees. As the largest and most diverse nonacademic unit on campus, it can be challenging to learn everything our division is responsible for. These stories shine a light on FP&Mers and what they do to keep campus safe, sustainable and successful.

In recent years, sustainability has become a top priority for many organizations, including UWMadison. This February, Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin announced a new cross-campus initiative focused on reducing the campus’s environmental impact while also developing a culture of sustainability and climate resilience.

Person with short hair and glasses smiles in front of Dejope.
Ian smiles at the Dejope Watch Party, as attendees observe the window dot installation. Photo by Lauren Graves.

One effective and innovative approach UWMadison has already implemented is the Green Fund program, launched in the fall of 2016 by the Office of Sustainability, a department of both FP&M and the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

While the Green Fund defines itself as a program that “supports student-initiated projects that address the environmental footprint, social impact and operating costs of campus facilities,” its reach often spans far beyond that.

At the heart of the program is Green Fund Project Manager Ian Aley. When students or employees come to the Green Fund with project ideas related to sustainability, Ian helps connect them to the right individuals on campus to get feedback, find out how feasible they are and take steps to translate their ideas into reality.

Students working on Green Fund projects may need to connect with building managers, purchasing staff, FP&M Physical Plant trades, faculty with subject matter expertise and other campus stakeholders to get their projects started. Ian helps make those connections and conversations happen.

“I often find myself facilitating this sharing between worlds that don’t often come together,” Ian said. “One thing that I really love about the job is when there can be this moment of recognition of the value that the different parties are bringing to the table.”

Seven people stand, holding up the bird-friendly window dots.
Ian and crew at the Green Fund Dejope Watch Party on May 13, 2024. Photo by Lauren Graves.

Before he joined the Office of Sustainability in 2016, Ian’s journey led him through a diverse array of locales and professions. His roles spanned from urban farming to telecommunications engineering and even providing entrepreneurial support to small-business owners. These varied experiences have given him the skills to thrive as the Green Fund leader.

Green Fund projects often start small, focused on one building or area of campus, and then expand further across campus if they are successful. For example, a Green Fund project that replaced high-intensity discharge light bulbs with LED light bulbs at D.C. Smith Greenhouse inspired several other greenhouses on campus to switch out their bulbs for LEDs saving a total of 833 megawatt hours of electricity and over $90,000 each year.

Another example is bird-friendly glass, a project the Green Fund worked on with staff from FP&M’s Campus Planning & Design department as well as faculty and students from UWMadison’s Wildlife Ecology department and the Southern Wisconsin Bird Alliance, a local non-profit. This project, which installed dots on large glass windows of Ogg Residence Hall in 2020, helps prevent birds from flying into it and led to a 90% reduction in bird deaths at the building.

The success of this project informed policy change at UWMadison, as well as throughout the City of Madison. New construction or renovations of buildings 10,000 square feet or larger must now have these dots on their windows to prevent bird collisions. The City of Madison ordinance inspired Middleton and other Wisconsin surrounding communities to establish similar requirements.

Two workers put up the bird-friendly window dots.
Two workers install window dots as part of the bird-friendly glass Green Fund project. Photo by Lauren Graves.

Existing buildings are exempt from this policy unless there are renovations underway. The Bird Collision Corps, a citizen science effort, identified Dejope Residence Hall as a location on campus with one of the highest incidents of bird collisions. This summer, the Green Fund is adding dots to these windows. All the students, staff and external partners who contributed to this Green Fund project were invited to watch the start of the installation and celebrate together.

Ian said it’s sometimes hard to keep up with all the student interest in the Green Fund. He pointed out, however, that it’s good that there is so much interest in sustainable projects and solutions on campus. Ideas can come from faculty, staff and students, who all spend time on campus in different ways. He encourages everyone in the campus community to learn more about Green Fund projects and look out for them on campus.

“If somebody observes something that they think could be improved, the Green Fund is a place for people to bring ideas,” Ian said. “We are very welcoming of ideas from FP&M and other colleagues.”

While the Green Fund’s website has an interactive tour and archive of all projects, Ian recommended a selection of projects to read about or look out for around campus:

Ten people stand under a newly made solar bus shelter.
Project partners gather in celebration beneath a newly completed solar bus shelter by the Walnut Street Greenhouse. Photo by Lauren Graves.
  • Solar bus shelters, a project the Green Fund worked on with Transportation Services, can be observed across campus. Look for the curved solar panels, lights and real-time arrival displays.
  • Electric-powered lawnmowers, a collaboration between the Green Fund and FP&M Physical Plant, which can be observed being used by Physical Plant Grounds crews across campus. Looking ahead, these electric mowers are expected to be coming to the UWMadison Arboretum soon, thanks to Green Fund support.
  • Bird-friendly window dots, a project the Green Fund completed with Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture, can be seen at Ogg Residence Hall and Dejope Residence Hall.
  • LeanPath technology, which helped Rheta’s Market reduce its food waste by 40% and has now expanded to Four Lakes Market.
  • Coming soon: Transportation Services and the Green Fund are working together to add a BCycle station to the UWMadison Arboretum. This will increase the visibility and accessibility of the Arboretum for the campus community.

Ian said working with students is energizing and helps him feel hopeful, even when climate change can feel so overwhelming and out of his control.

“I love it when an idea that feels just so far out and just like ‘Whoa, how on Earth are we going to do this?’ actually ends up happening after a couple years of good conversation,” he said.

Want to learn more about sustainability and green projects on campus? More information is available on the Green Fund Program webpage. You can get in touch with Ian Aley at iraley@wisc.edu.

By Anna Krawczyk

Anna is a strategic communications student intern with FP&M Marketing & Communications. She is a junior at UWMadison majoring in Communications and Psychology with certificates in Digital Studies and Science Communication. Anna has been working at FP&M since October 2023.