October 15, 2011
Billion Dollar Green Challenge to Universities: $1 Billion in Green Energy Investments
by Robert Kropp
32 universities already commit $65 million to self-managed green revolving funds.
The Billion Dollar Green Challenge may have been launched just this week, but already 32
universities, Harvard and Stanford among them, have committed $65 million to investments that
finance energy efficiency upgrades.
Launched by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) and 15 partner
organizations, the Green Challenge encourages colleges, universities, and other nonprofit
institutions to invest a total of $1 billion in revolving funds to reduce energy consumption and
lower operating costs on campuses. Savings achieved in utilities budgets by the revolving fund will
be reinvested to support future green projects.
Existing green revolving funds have been a
bright spot in a mostly dismal economy, enjoying returns on investment of 32%, according to an SEI study published last year. "We're transforming energy efficiency upgrades from perceived
expenses to high-return investment opportunities," says Mark Orlowski, executive director of SEI.
The 32 universities already committing funds to the Green Challenge have been designated
as its Founding Circle. In addition to Harvard and Stanford, Founding Circle members include
Arizona State University, Caltech, Dartmouth, George Washington, Middlebury, the University of
British Columbia, and Weber State University. A full list of participants can be found on the Billion Dollar Green Challenge website.
For five years, SEI has published the College Sustainability Report Card,
which ranks North American colleges and universities according to their sustainability practices,
including the investment activities of their endowments.
The 57% of endowments that
received a grade of A for investment priorities from the Report Card in 2011 were cited for their
investments in renewable energy funds, as well as community development financial institutions
(CDFIs) and on-campus water and energy-efficiency projects. Nearly half of the colleges and
universities with the 300 largest endowments in the United States and Canada were found to invest
part of their endowment in renewable energy funds.
While Harvard and Stanford were both
among the Sustainability Leaders on the 2011 Score Card, neither was designated an Endowment
Sustainability Leader. Dartmouth and the University of Minnesota are members of the Founding Circle
that also appeared on the Report Card's list of Endowment Sustainability Leaders in 2011.