North American universities and colleges have made rapid progress in ‘greening’ campuses, according to the College Sustainability Report Card 2008.
Half of the 200 institutions with the largest endowments in the US and Canada are cutting carbon emissions, a quarter have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality, more than two-thirds have green building policies and nearly a third have endowment investments in renewable energy or similar funds.
The Report Card, produced in April by the Sustainable Endowments Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, described a “green groundswell” on campuses: “High-performance green building standards guide new construction at 59% of schools, while 42% are using hybrid or electric vehicles in transportation fleets.
Notably, 37% of schools purchase renewable energy and 30% produce their own wind or solar energy.
A substantial 70% buy food from local farms and 64% serve fair trade coffee.
Six institutions scored an overall ‘A’ grade for campus operations and endowment practices to clinch top recognition as ‘college sustainability leaders’ – Carleton College, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Middlebury College, University of Vermont and University of Washington.
Also, 25 achieved ‘campus sustainability leader’ status and three qualified as ‘endowment sustainability leaders’ (Carleton, Dartmouth and Williams colleges).
Altogether, 3% of institutions earned an ‘A’ grade, 28% earned a ‘B’ and 41.
5% a ‘C’.
At the bottom end of the scale were a quarter of institutions with a ‘D’ grade and four with an ‘F’ grade: Juilliard School, and Howard, Regent and Samford universities.
The College Sustainability Report Card 2008 was the second published by the institute and it examined double the number of universities and colleges than its first report.
There are 200 institutions – large and small, public and private – spread across 44 states in America and four provinces in Canada.
Together they enrol more than 4 million students and have more than $343 billion in endowment assets, or some 80% of all university endowments.
The sustainability of the institutions themselves, rather than academic focus on sustainability in research and teaching, was probed.
The idea was to identify leading institutions in terms of sustainability, which “signifies meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, and to provide information that would enable institutions to learn from each other and improve sustainability policies.
Through a combination of reviewing publicly available documentation and surveys, higher education institutions were graded in eight categories: administration; climate change and energy; food and recycling; green building; transportation; endowment transparency; investment priorities; and shareholder engagement.
The findings were generally positive, with 68% of institutions improving their overall grade from a ‘C’ to a ‘C+’ average and 13% improving by at least one full grade.
”More schools are taking action on sustainability measures, in part reflecting increasing concern about climate change and the realities of rising oil and gas prices,” said the Report Card.
More than a third of institutions reported having full-time staff dedicated to sustainability work, and many were hiring more staff.
Dramatically, the proportion of institutions committed to reducing carbon emissions tripled, from 14% to 50%, the report said: “Notably, more than 25% of schools have committed to achieving carbon neutrality in the long-term by signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.
” As well, 37% of institutions have purchased at least some renewable energy and a third have onsite wind and-or solar energy production.
The ‘transportation’ category also saw “significant positive activity”, with hybrid or electric vehicles at 42% of institutions, biodiesel at 31% and bicycle-sharing programmes at 23%.
The percentage of institutions with green building policies grew from 48% to 69%, although many are not sufficiently comprehensive, and a “substantial” 61% have at least one building certified through the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system or are in the process of constructing one.
There was a significant improvement in the number of institutions buying at least some food from local farms and producers, from 63% to 84%; indeed, institutions performed best in the ‘food and recycling’ category, with 29 achieving an ‘A’ grade.
The Report Card also noted: “The percentage of schools with current endowment investments in renewable energy funds, or similar investment opportunities, more than tripled from 9% to 31%.
”Institutions performed worst in the ‘shareholder engagement’ and ‘endowment transparency’ categories, scoring a ‘D-‘ average grade in the former and a ‘D’ average in the latter.
Sustainability leadership in higher education, the report argued, “entails embracing a long-term perspective and a willingness to encourage a participatory problem-solving process”, as well as leading by example and making difficult choices about the allocation of resources.
It does not necessarily require major financial resources: “Many smaller or less wealthy schools have made impressive strides.
”Mark Orlowski, Executive Director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, concluded: “Colleges are rising to the sustainability challenge but there remains much room for innovation.
Many schools are missing opportunities to ‘connect the dots’, and bring leadership on the endowment side into alignment with existing campus sustainability efforts.
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