October 16, 2009
Fourth Green Report Card for Colleges Is Released
by Robert Kropp
The Sustainable Endowments Institute recognizes 26 colleges as Sustainability Leaders, up from 15
For the fourth year, the Sustainable
Endowments Institute has published the College Sustainability Report Card, in which the campus
and endowment sustainability activities at the 332 colleges and universities with the largest
endowments in the United States and Canada are evaluated.
According to the report,
"The profiled schools have combined holdings representing more than $325 billion in endowment
assets, or more than 95 percent of all university endowments."
The 2010 Green Report Card
grades colleges in nine categories: Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling,
Green Building, Student Involvement, Transportation, Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities,
and Shareholder Engagement. The first six categories listed are considered to be campus categories.
Schools performed best in the Administration and Food & Recycling campus categories, with
40% attaining an A rating in Administration, and 36% receiving an A for Food & Recycling. Among the
factors considered for the Administration grade are the presence on campus of personnel dedicated
to sustainability, a commitment to carbon reduction, and green purchasing policies.
Fifty-two percent of the colleges surveyed are signatories of the American College & University Presidentsí
Climate Commitment, which provides a framework for the transition to a climate neutral status
by colleges. Among the tangible actions recommended by the Commitment is the establishment of "a
policy or a committee that supports climate and sustainability shareholder proposals at companies
where our institution's endowment is invested."
In 2006, the Sustainable Endowments
Institute, along with Ceres and the United Nations Foundation, issued a report
entitled Building a Clean
Energy Future: The Role of Students and University Endowments. In his forward to the report,
Mark Orlowski, Executive Director of the Institute, wrote, "While school trustees and investment
professionals carefully weigh financial data, the risk that climate change poses for the bottom
line of endowment returns is largely being overlooked. Thus, few schools have exercised their proxy
votes on climate change and no schools have introduced shareholder resolutions on this vital
The 2006 report concluded with a recommendation that five Principles for Endowment
Climate Action be adopted by college endowments. The five principles are increasing transparency in
endowment investments, actively voting on shareholder resolutions, committing to renewable energy
investments, engaging companies on climate, and establishing a green campus fund.
SocialFunds.com spoke with Orlowski, who said, "The report grew out of a conference of people
from endowments and foundations, where we talked about the role of endowments in affecting climate
change. We made a conscious decision to avoid much talk about negative screening, because at the
time the basic information about where endowments invest was simply not available."
2010 Sustainability Report Card addresses the issues brought up in the 2006 report through three
endowment categories: Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities, and Shareholder Engagement.
The most successful performance was recorded in the Investment Priorities category, which focused
on prioritizing return on investment, investing in renewable energy funds, and investing in
community development loan funds.
The Report Card found that 44% of colleges have
endowment investments in renewable energy funds, and 14% have endowment investments in community
development loan funds. The average grade for the Investment Priorities category was B+, compared
to an average grade of B in 2009.
The weakest performances by schools were found to be in
the Shareholder Engagement and Endowment Transparency categories. The average grade for Endowment
Transparency was C-, and only D for Shareholder Engagement. In 2009, the average grade for
Endowment Transparency was D+, and D- for Shareholder Engagement.
According to the Report
card, only 9% of schools have committees composed of multiple stakeholders that helps inform the
trustees on decisions on proxy voting. In the category of Endowment Transparency, 18% of schools
provide the campus community with lists of endowment holdings, while 12% make their proxy voting
However, according to Orlowski, "More and more schools are beginning to
disclose their proxy voting decisions. But I can count on one hand the number of schools that have
even a part-time staff member devoted to endowment sustainability."
Sustainability Report Card gave 26 colleges a grade of A- or better, making them Sustainability
Leaders. The number of Sustainability Leaders in 2009 was 15.
Twelve colleges received
average grades of A- or better in the three endowment categories, and were recognized as Endowment
Sustainability Leaders. In 2009, 14 schools received average grades of A- or better in the
In comparison, 80 colleges were recognized as sustainability leaders
in the six campus categories.
"It's terrific that 80 schools are campus sustainability
leaders," Orlowski said, "But it's also interesting to compare this number to the fact that only 12
are endowment leaders."
Orlowski concluded, "We're encouraged by the progress and the
level of activity in the areas of endowment. At the same time we're only a small portion of the way