Colleges: Surge in sustainability and savings


Facing frugal times, more schools are finding that energy efficiency improvements can cut costs without cutting campus services. Connecting the dots between sustainability and savings is an accelerating trend revealed in the new College Sustainability Report Card 2011.

Released this week at, the publication is the only independent evaluation of sustainability in campus operations and endowment practices. Assessing each institution in nine categories, ranging from Climate Change & Energy to Green Building to Investment Priorities, the Report Card provides detailed school profiles and grades for 322 colleges and universities, representing all 50 U.S. states and eight Canadian provinces.

Since the first edition four years ago, Report Card surveys show dramatic increases on 52 green indicators. For example, the percentages of schools that now have the following programs are:
64% – Commitment to carbon emissions reduction (23% in 2006)
70% – Campus farm or garden (9% in 2006)
75% – Trayless dining (0% in 2006)
79% – Green building policy (22% in 2006)
95% – Sustainability committee (40% in 2006)

\”The green groundswell on campus is evident in a wide variety of energy-saving initiatives, such as sourcing food from campus farms and reducing hot water use through trayless dining,\” said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, publisher of the Report Card.

One example of energy savings can be seen at Harvard. In 2009, the university installed energy-efficient lighting in 10 parking garages, resulting in annual savings of $400,000. Funding was obtained through a $1.2 million loan from the Harvard Green Campus Loan Fund and $200,000 in utility rebates. According to Mr. Orlowski, \”The projected return on investment from improved energy efficiency over the next 10 years is estimated to be 23 percent per year.\”

This year, the Report Card is introducing Get Answers, a new tool that will allow people to easily find out whether a school has undertaken a specific program or initiative.

Over 90 percent of participating schools agreed to make public detailed information about their inner green dynamics, resulting in more than 1,100 full survey responses with 10,000+ pages of detailed data and descriptions published on the website. This level of cooperation with the College Sustainability Report Card reflects the highest response rate, by far, of any college sustainability ranking or rating.

Data on school grades can also be accessed by geographic region on the interactive map. This feature enables users to click on a college to see all grades listed by category and to link directly to that school’s full profile. Other popular means of accessing information include sorting schools by athletic league, environmental studies academic programs, sustainability jobs on campus, and renewable energy use.

Grading the schools entailed conducting research based on publicly available information, sending surveys to appropriate school officials and student groups, and assessing each school\’s performance on more than 120 questions across 52 indicators in the following nine categories: Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Building, Transportation, Student Involvement, Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities and Shareholder Engagement.

The total scores of nine equally weighted categories determined a school\’s overall GPA on a 4.0 scale leading to the overall sustainability letter grade. Until now, \”A-\” has been the highest grade awarded in previous editions of the Report Card. This year, for the first time, seven schools achieved the highest cumulative grade of \”A,\” while 45 other schools earned \”A-,\” qualifying a total of 52 schools as Overall College Sustainability Leaders.

The seven schools earning the highest grade in the College Sustainability Report Card 2011 are:
Brown University
Dickinson College
Oberlin College
Pomona College
University of Minnesota–Twin Cities
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Yale University