Dec 12, 2009

26 Colleges Named 'Sustainability Leaders’

Despite budget-breaking revenue losses and widely fluctuating energy costs, many colleges and universities became greener during the last year. Of the 332 schools participating in an annual study conducted by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, 26 received ‘A minus’ or the highest cumulative grade level earned in the College Sustainability Report Card of 2010. “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, a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “New financial realities encouraged saving money by adopting environmentally friendly innovations.”

Supporting sustainability concerns, 68 percent of 12,715 high school students polled by the Princeton Review said they would value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment. To help students factor these considerations into college searches, the Report Card website offers a comparison tool, an interactive map allowing for exploration by geographic regions, and listings of schools by environmental studies majors, sustainability jobs on campus, and renewable energy use—to name a few. “Colleges are now taking pride in greener campuses and sustainability-savvy investments—increasingly important concerns for parents and students in choosing a school,” Orlowski suggested.

Grading the colleges involved researching publicly available information, conducting surveys of school officials, and assessing performance on 120 questions divided into 9 categories: Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Building, Transportation, Student Involvement, Endowment Transparency, Shareholder Engagement, and Investment Priorities. The equally-weighted category grades determined an overall grade point average on a 4.0 scale leading to the sustainability letter grade.

Locally, Goucher College and the University of Maryland both received average grades of “B+.” American, GW, Georgetown, Richmond, VCU, and the College of William and Mary were awarded B’s for their sustainability efforts. The only college in the mid-Atlantic region receiving the Sustainability Leader designation was Dickinson, in Carlisle PA.

Area colleges and universities did better within specific subcategories. George Washington received an “A” in the Food & Recycling category for insuring that all coffee served is fair trade-certified and providing customers with discounts for reusable mugs. Georgetown earned an “A” for Student Involvement by incorporating sustainability into mandatory new-student orientation sessions. And American received a top mark in Administration for recently hiring a sustainability coordinator to oversee the university’s Office of Sustainability. Other noted programs included the University of Richmond’s trayless dining program, which led to a 50 percent reduction in waste, and William and Mary’s sustainability-themed residential program.

The College Sustainability Report Card is the only independent evaluation of campus and endowment activities at colleges and universities in the US. More information may be found at

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