Higher Education Moves Toward Sustainability

Forbes logo2 At ecoAmerica, we designed several programs aimed at the higher education audience.  Our hope was that by starting with people and focusing on opportunities and benefits, that we would catalyze a transformation of the higher education sector.  Forbes recently released its report on America's Greenest Collegest, acknowledging the sector's momentum and using two ecoAmerica programs as criteria: the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment and The Princeton Review's Green Rating.


America's Greenest Colleges

Posted Oct. 8, 2009

By Brian Wingfield, Forbes

Everything under the sun is being sold as green nowadays, and colleges are no different.

"Sustainability
is increasingly becoming an area where schools are putting their best
foot forward," says Mark Orlowski, founder and executive director of
the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which just released its annual report card tracking green initiatives at 332 schools in the U.S. and Canada.

Twenty-six schools received the highest grade, an A-. Among them: Arizona State University, Middlebury College, the University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill, the University of Pennsylvania and Pomona College. The
schools were graded on a variety of categories, including green
building initiatives, transportation, climate-change policy, investment
priorities and the administration's efforts on sustainability (a buzz
word for green policies).

In Pictures: America's Greenest Colleges

While it's arguably impossible to pinpoint the greenest school
in the land, we can pinpoint which colleges and universities are ahead
of the pack. In compiling our own list of green colleges, we used the
Sustainable Endowments Institute's 2010 report card as a basis because
of its thoroughness. In most cases, we didn't consider a school that
scored lower than an A-.

However, we also recognize that the
group's report card is open to criticism. Some say it's too selective
because it focuses on the 300 schools with the largest endowments,
meaning that wealthy schools are highlighted. This year 32 additional
schools with smaller endowments opted to pay a $700 fee–in some cases
offset by grants–to be considered in the survey. The idea is to cover
the cost of additional research, but critics might argue that schools
are paying for grades. (Orlowski says "schools which opted in received
no special treatment," noting that the average grade among those
schools is a C+.)

In creating our list, we took other factors
into consideration. Schools earned green marks for participating in the
Environmental Protection Agency's "Green Power Partnership," which
promotes the use of wind, solar and other renewable energy. We also
considered whether a school participates in the American College and
University Presidents' Climate Commitment, which promotes campus
sustainability efforts and aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our
colleges also received credit for making the Princeton Review's "2010
Green Rating Honor Roll." Another plus was a school's participation in
a voluntary sustainability tracking program run by the Association for
the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Some of this year's standouts are well-funded, usual suspects like
Harvard and Yale. Earlier this year, Harvard's "Green Campus
Initiative," which had a $12 million green loan fund, was folded into a
new Office for Sustainability. Yale's sustainability office has been
around since 2005. This year the university installed 10 small wind turbines on the roof of its engineering and applied science center.

But
state schools do just as well. Arizona State University, for example,
is part of the Presidents' Climate Commitment, makes the Princeton
Review's green honor roll and is a charter participant in AASHE's
sustainability tracking program. At the University of Washington's
Seattle campus, at least 75% of commuters take environmentally friendly
modes of transportation, according to the Sustainable Endowments
Institute. The University of North Carolina
buys 20% of its food from local producers. It also gets high marks on
the new report card for green building initiatives and its policy to
purchase energy-efficient appliances.

We also chose to include
one college that wasn't graded in the Sustainable Endowments
Institute's 2009 survey: Washington State's Evergreen State College,
which gets 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. In addition
to making the Princeton Review's green honor roll, Evergreen is a
participant in the university presidents' commitment for climate
neutrality.

Of course, plenty of other schools are making environmental commitments. The University of California
at Santa Cruz and the University of Central Oklahoma are among the
schools that can account for all of their electricity use through green
power sources. Virginia's George Mason University is a participant in
"America's Greenest Campus," a national contest that tracks reductions
in carbon emissions through software provided by Climate Culture, an
Internet firm and online community.

"The benefit in my mind is the education that it provides to a lot
of people," says Colin Bennet, an assistant in the Office of
Sustainability at GMU.

That's Orlowski's point about the
Sustainable Endowment Institute's annual report card. This year, 95% of
the schools that participated in the survey agreed to allow the
institute to share the information online. In addition to going green
for their own sake, universities still want to attract the best
students possible. And with all the new information available, high
school students are increasingly aware of who's green and who's not.

"There's a definite trend" that universities and colleges are "paying much more attention to this area," says Orlowski.

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