The recent release of the 2008 College Sustainability Report Card, produced by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, shows that two-thirds of all institutions improved their sustainability endeavors this past year. The areas in which they improved the most were in: the appointment of “green” administration, the use of renewable energy, green buildings, food and recycling, and transportation.
Walking on many college campuses today, you will now find Fair Trade coffee, organic food, hybrid campus cars, sustainability departments, and energy-efficient buildings. Of course, there are major differences between “College Sustainability Leaders,” who earned grades of an A-, and those who lag farther behind. In general, however, the report states that the recent developments on college campuses points to what amounts to a “green groundswell.”
Although some university administrators have been pro-active in this “groundswell,” I think that today’s students deserve most of the credit for the current green college movement. Having worked on a campus sustainability campaign at Columbia University this past year, I can personally say that the new wave of young environmentalists have mobilized in unique ways to get their administrators to think beyond placing recycling cans in the dorms.
In our “Wind Power Now” campaign, for example, we consulted with wind power providers, met with campus maintenance management to secure energy audit info, and compiled research from engineering professors to provide top administrators with detailed proposals for securing green energy for our campus. We also devised an online petition and sold “Blow Me” windmill T-Shirts to galvanize student support. Rather than stage protests or “demand” sustainability, we work within the system to help decision-makers along in this process. We are educators and consultants, as well as students, working to transform our outdated infrastructure. Movements like ours can be found on almost every major campus in the country right now.
Unfortunately, none of this is captured in the 2008 College Sustainability Report Card. The report is based on information gathered from administrators themselves, many of whom inflate the progress of sustainability initiatives or take credit for endeavors that were initiated and executed by students.
Despite this flaw in the reporting process itself, I do applaud the work of the Sustainable Endowments Institute for producing this report. It is interesting that the area most in need of improvement is in sustainable endowment investing. Higher education represents $315 billion in our economy, most of which is held in non-sustainable endowments. If we are to see changes in green investing of education dollars, this change will most definitely be led by innovative and informed student initiatives. Maybe they might even get credit this time…