Posted by: Louis Lavelle on October 28, 2010
For four years now, the nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute has been ranking colleges and universities on their efforts in the area of sustainability—their “green cred,” if you will. The group has just published its latest report, detailing the efforts of more than 300 schools in the U.S. and Canada—the good, the bad, and the indifferent—and it makes for some interesting reading.
This year, seven schools were awarded an overall grade of A. Brown University, Dickinson College, and the University of Minnesota all scored As in each of the nine categories the institute tracks, which include climate change and energy, food and recycling, and green building practices. Brown, for example, reduced greenhouse gas emissions 19 percent since 2007, spends 20 percent of its food budget on locally sourced products, and has seven buildings that are LEED certified. Don’t be fooled by the name. Brown, according to the institute’s standards, is very, very green.
The great thing about this report is that it doesn’t just regurgitate the usual pablum about each school’s goals—it measures actual progress, and there’s been a lot. This year, 52 institutions earned grades of A- or better, twice as many as last year. Another sign of progress? The competition has gotten a lot tougher. Brigham Young replaced incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, replaced light switches with motion sensors, and added roof insulation, among other things. And it got an F in climate change and energy. What’s a school gotta do to get a B? Well, conducting a carbon inventory (as 79 percent of schools did), purchasing renewable energy (38 percent), or producing it on-campus (52 percent) would help.
Back when I was covering management, I had a source who liked to say that corporate boards were a lot like subatomic particles—they act differently when observed . Schools aren’t all that different. Since the first sustainability report four years ago, the number of schools pursuing 52 individual green policies has increased. In 2006, 9 percent of the schools had a campus farm or garden. Today, 70 percent do. Four years ago, you could walk into every school cafeteria and find a tray. Today, at three out of four, you can’t.