Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Campus Sustainability report: Colleges going green

New portal allows universal access to sustainability data from 332 schools

Despite budget-breaking investment losses and widely fluctuating energy costs, many schools became greener during the last year, earning higher grades on the College Sustainability Report Card 2010. Released on the new GreenReportCard.org website by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the annual publication provides school profiles and grades along with exclusive insights about sustainability in higher education.

The profiled schools have combined holdings of more than $325 billion—approximately 95 percent of all higher education endowment assets. Widespread investment declines have impacted almost all schools, with the Report Card finding average endowment value dropping by 23 percent in the past year. With red ink dominating school budgets, did green expenditures get axed?

“Surprising the skeptics, most schools we surveyed did not let financial reversals undermine their green commitments,” said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute. “New financial realities encouraged saving money by adopting environmentally friendly innovations.”

To promote shared learning in the down economy, the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s in-depth research on 332 colleges is now available at a new online portal. For the first time, the Institute is offering universal access to 1,100 sustainability survey responses about campus, dining and student initiatives, as well as endowment investment. Access to endowment information is intended to foster constructive dialogue about investment in clean energy and in community development, as well as about sustainability considerations in shareholder voting.

More than 95 percent of participating institutions agreed to share the inner workings of their green practices, resulting in over 10,000 pages of detailed data and descriptions. Overall, the College Sustainability Report Card has the highest response rate of any college sustainability ranking or rating.

“Colleges are now taking pride in greener campuses and sustainability-savvy investments—increasingly important concerns for parents and students in choosing a school,” Orlowski said. “They can find the first comprehensive college sustainability selection tool at GreenReportCard.org.”

Sixty-eight percent of 12,715 high school students applying to college, who were recently polled by the Princeton Review, said that they would value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment. To help students search, the Report Card website offers comparison of up to 10 schools at a time.

Students can also explore schools by geographic region on the interactive map. This feature enables users to click on a college in a particular area to see all grades listed by category and to link directly to that school’s full profile. Other popular searches include listings of schools by athletic league, environmental studies majors, sustainability jobs on campus, renewable energy use and dozens of other options.

Grading the schools entailed researching publicly available information, conducting surveys of appropriate school officials, and assessing performance with 120 questions across 48 indicators in the following 9 categories: Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Building, Transportation, Student Involvement, Endowment Transparency, Shareholder Engagement and Investment Priorities.


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