October 31, 2007
Are Colleges Only Green Skin Deep?
by Anne Moore Odell
The Sustainability Report Card 2008 examines colleges and universities dedication to
sustainability, on campuses and in endowment portfolios.
More venues of higher education are responding to calls to align environmentally friendly practices
on campuses with sustainable investments in their endowments. However, the new College Sustainability Report Card
2008 finds that colleges still have long way to go when it comes to greener endowments. At the
top of the sustainability curve, the Report Card names Harvard, Dartmouth, University of
Washington, Middlebury, Carleton, and University of Vermont.
Focusing on the top
200 largest endowments, equaling over $343 billion in endowment assets, the Report Card finds 68%
of schools have improved their overall sustainability scores from last year. Concern over climate
change and rising energy costs have helped drive colleges toward sustainability.
the second year the Report Card has been created by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a special project
of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
highest grades overall were given to colleges in the five campus categories of Administration,
Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Building, and Transportation. Colleges' grade
point averages dropped, however, in two of the categories that measured colleges' endowments
sustainability. Sixty-six percent of the institutions received "F" grades in the Shareholder
Engagement category while in the Endowment Transparency category, 58% of the institutions collected
Four prominent colleges and universities failed with "F" grades": Juilliard School,
Howard University, Regent University, and Samford University. Twenty-one other schools also
flunked, with "D" grades in sustainable practices.
Profiles for each school were based on
two research areas: campus operations and endowment shareholder practices. A significant amount of
information was available from public sources about campus operations. Much less information was
available about endowment shareholder practices explained Mark Orlowski, Founder and Executive
Director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute.
"The Report Card is the only
independent sustainability evaluation of campus operations and endowment investments," Orlowski
toldSocialFunds.com. "We seek to offer opportunities for schools to learn from each other's
experiences and to adapt best practices. We hope that by releasing the Report Card, we can help
spark discussions about the role of endowment practices in sustainability leadership," he added.
College, a liberal arts college with 2400 students in Middlebury, VT, was named one of the 25
College Sustainability Leaders by the 2008 Report Card with an overall grade of "A-." Jack Byrne,
the Campus Sustainability Coordinator for Middlebury College, explained how the college recently
revised its greenhouse gas reduction goal from 10% below 1990 levels by 2012, to carbon neutrality
"A Steering Committee is presently developing an implementation plan for
achieving carbon neutrality by 2016," Byrne detailed. "We will be looking closely at making gains
in energy conservation, the efficiency of the built environment, engaging the entire College
community more fully in how to reduce GHG emissions, and how to offset any GHGs that we are not
able to eliminate by the way we operate."
Almost 45% of colleges in the report are
committed to cutting carbon emissions in the attempt to slow climate change. Green buildings are
the new norm with 59% of colleges reporting green construction. Colleges are also buying more local
foodstuffs (70%) and serving fair trade coffee (64%).
Another earmark of the increase in
schools' commit to the environment and sustainability is that more than one-third of all surveyed
schools have full-time sustainability staff, and more than two-thirds have a web-site dedicated to
campus sustainability. Yet only a handful of colleges have full-time staff devoted to endowment
However, a commitment to greening the campus alone does not a
sustainable college make, as many colleges have not greened their endowments. Only three colleges
qualified as Endowment Sustainability Leaders: Carleton College, Dartmouth College, and Williams
College. With billions of dollars in assets, endowments can weld a lot of say in the ownerships of
companies, and could help move companies told more sustainable practices.
One reason many
institutions prioritize campus sustainability is due to competition amongst schools in the
sustainability arena. Also, greening campus operations is very visible in most cases, whereas,
changes in endowment policies are largely invisible, Orlowski said.
"There is a large and
prevalent misconception that anything related to endowment sustainability equals divestment,"
explained Orlowski. "When endowment policies are raised, many trustees and senior administrators
automatically think of divestment campaigns. Few university officials understand that they are
missing important opportunities in proxy voting to align endowment shareholder votes with existing
campus policies on sustainability such as improving energy efficiency."
The drive toward
sustainability is coming from various groups. Students at many schools are helping create new
policies and initiatives around sustainability. In some cases, alumni are raising questions about
sustainability in response to fundraising initiatives by schools.
Orlowski offered, "In
some cases, alumni are raising questions about sustainability in response to fundraising
initiatives by schools. Alumni and others considering donations can help call attention to the
importance of sustainable campus and endowment practices. First, they can check how the school
performed on the Report Card and, if the grades are less than stellar, ask the school how it plans
More than two out of three schools have multi-stakeholder campus
sustainability committees, but just one in eight have a similar committee focused on endowment
Orlowski suggested students, alumni, staff, and other concerned
stakeholders propose an advisory committee on shareholder responsibility or a similar committee
structure to help move college endowments toward sustainable investing. These committees are
usually comprised of student, faculty, administrator, and alumni members. Almost two dozen schools,
including Dartmouth, Harvard, Stanford and Williams, have already created advisory committees. In
the past year, Middlebury has established a committee and earlier this year, the Tufts University
board of trustees voted to establish such a committee.
committee-composed of students, administrators, faculty, alumni, and trustees-makes recommendations
to its investment committee concerning the ethical implications of social and environmental
responsibility when investing endowment funds, Byrne explained. For example, in 2006 the College
adopted a policy to not invest in companies whose activities support Sudanese government and
policies in Darfur.
Currently, information about Middlebury's endowment is only available
to trustees, senior administrators and other select members of the school community. Some
institutions, for example Dartmouth College, Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State
University, have opened up their portfolio and proxy voting records to the public. Almost 25% of
schools make lists of endowment holdings available to the campus community with 15% of schools
making proxy-voting records available.
Middlebury has also established a Green Fund as
part of its current capital campaign to which the Class of '07 and other donors have directed gifts
and to which future donors may direct gifts.
Byrne told SocialFunds.com: "Middlebury
recognizes the challenge society faces in living in balance with the capacity of the earth's
ecosystems and in creating a more socially just and peaceful world. By learning how to do this in
the way it operates and in how it educates, we are providing students with important knowledge,
skills, and experiences that they will apply in their adult lives for positive change."
It is also important to the College because its stakeholders, i.e., prospective and current
students, are increasingly looking for higher education institutions that walk the talk," Byrne