Green Initiatives Gaining Ground at Colleges and Universities, Report Finds

While U.S. and Canadian colleges are becoming "greener," with more than two out of three earning higher marks for their sustainability practices and policies over the last year, a majority of the wealthiest institutions continue to lag in applying green metrics to their endowment investments, a new report from the Sustainable Endowments Institute finds.

According to the College Sustainability Report Card 2008 (236 pages, PDF), only 10 percent of the institutions surveyed averaged a failing grade in five operational categories (administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, and transportation). However, a majority of the wealthiest institutions failed to apply practices such as shareholder engagement and endowment transparency to their investments. Indeed, only Harvard, Dartmouth, the University of Washington, Middlebury College, Carleton College, and the University of Vermont performed well enough in all categories to merit the highest overall grade of A-. At the other end of the spectrum, the Juilliard School and Howard, Regent, and Samford universities received an overall failing grade, followed by twenty-one schools with a grade of D-.

The 2008 Report Card, the second such report from the Sustainable Endowments Institute, examined the green practices of the two hundred public and private universities with the largest endowments, with grades determined by reviewing publicly available information, conducting surveys of school officials, and assessing performance across thirty-nine indicators in eight categories. Among other things, the report found that nearly 45 percent of the colleges in the study have pledged to fight climate change through cutting carbon emissions; 59 percent had adopted high-performance green building standards for new construction; and 42 percent are using hybrid or electric vehicles in their transportation fleets. The report also found that 37 percent of the schools purchase renewable energy, 30 percent produce their own wind or solar energy, and 70 percent buy food from local farms. In addition, more than a third of the schools have dedicated full-time sustainability staff, and more than two-thirds have a Web site dedicated to campus sustainability.

"Colleges are rising to the sustainability challenge, but there remains much room for innovation," said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the institute, which is a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. "Many schools are missing opportunities to 'connect the dots' and bring leadership on the endowment side into alignment with existing campus sustainability efforts."

"Green Practices Grow on Campus but Endowment Sustainability Slower to Take Root." Sustainable Endowments Institute Press Release 10/24/2007.