Report Card: The Greener the College, the Higher the Grade

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 6:18 PM EDT
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Report Card: The Greener the College, the Higher the Grade

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, September 29, 2008 (ENS) - College and university campuses and endowment investments are getting greener by the year. The newly released College Sustainability Report Card 2009 shows that two-thirds of the 300 schools scored have improved their grades over 2007.

Issued Wednesday by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, the College Sustainability Report Card 2009 evaluates the schools with the 300 largest endowments in the United States and Canada with a combined total of nearly $400 billion.

The Sustainability Endowments Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Cambridge and funded by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. It surveyed 300 universities and colleges in the U.S. and Canada on their sustainability activities.

Grades were determined by assessing performance across 43 indicators in nine main categories. Each school received a copy of its profile for fact checking before grades were determined and the report card was published.

"The College Sustainability Report Card is the only independent evaluation of sustainability in campus operations and endowment investments and it has the highest response rate of any college sustainability ranking or rating," said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute.

"We had 290 of 300 schools respond to at least one of the three Report Card surveys," said Orlowski. "Many are taking pride in greener campuses and sustainability-savvy investments."

With "A-" as the highest overall grade earned, only 15 schools reached that level and qualified as College Sustainability Leaders.

By contrast, the average grade for all schools surveyed came to "C+," with more than 75 percent of colleges and universities earning sustainability grades in the "B" and "C" range.

Ivy League schools made progress since last year, but not all Ivies were green enough to achieve the highest grade. Only five are among the top 15: Brown, Columbia, Dartmouth, Harvard, and Penn.

"Columbia has long been a leader in pioneering research on climate change and a source of solutions for climate adaptation both locally and globally," said President Lee Bollinger. "This impressive grade illustrates the commitment we have also made to setting an example of long-term environmental sustainability on our own campus and in our daily lives."

Other schools with top marks include Stanford and liberal arts colleges Carleton, Dickinson, Middlebury, and Oberlin.

State school leaders include University of Colorado, University of New Hampshire, University of Vermont, and University of Washington.

"The UW is committed to be all it can to minimize our impact on the environment," said University of Washington President Mark Emmert from his office in Seattle. "This grade of A- reflects the work of countless people who have found innovative ways to make the university more sustainable. There is still a great deal more to do, and we continue to work hard at it every day."

The UW received a grade of A in six of the nine categories - administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, transportation and investment priorities.

In Canada, the University of British Columbia was the only school to earn the distinction.

"The Report Card assessed a broad set of indicators, including green building initiatives, recycling programs, administrative leadership and endowment investment policies," says UBC President Stephen Toope, who earlier this year established the President's Advisory Council on Sustainability to coordinate and advance the university's operational and academic efforts. "It is especially gratifying to see efforts in all areas of our community recognized."

Responding to interest from students applying to college, the GreenReportCard.org provides the first comprehensive college sustainability selection tool for high school students.

Sixty-three percent of 10,300 college applicants recently polled by the Princeton Review said that a college's commitment to the environment could affect their decision.

"Making a commitment to sustainability, ranging from local food sourcing to renewable energy investments, is no longer a priority of only environmentalists," said Orlowski. "Such innovations are capturing the attention of everyone, from college trustees to admissions applicants."

The Sustainable Endowments Institute also handed out two other sets of honors as part of the new report card - eight schools in all were selected for recognition for their leadership in sustainability through these two award programs.

Five Champions of Sustainability in Communities Awards were given to schools with community partnerships that demonstrate the impact of collaboration in achieving sustainability goals - Dalhousie University, University of Chicago, University of Minnesota, University of New Hampshire, and University of Oregon.

Three Sustainability Innovator Awards recognize an additional group of schools, which do not fulfill the selection parameters of the Report Card 2009, for their advancement of sustainability initiatives - Green Mountain College, Northland College, and the University of Prince Edward Island.

GreenReportCard.org users will be able to create side-by-side comparisons of schools, using a broad range of criteria, including athletic league, geographic region, and report card grade.

They can search for schools with specific programs, ranging from shareholder advisory committees and renewable energy investments to green dorms and car sharing, which quickly growing in popularity. Car sharing is available at 42 percent of the schools surveyed - more than double last year's level.

"Along with finding out what's happening at a particular school, the larger question is how schools are using their resources," said Orlowski. "Are they learning from each other and what example are they setting for students and for the community?"

{Service Nation presidential forum at Columbia University, September 11, 2008, photo credit unknown}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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