School Spirit? More like Green Pride

How would you feel if your alma mater received an F on its last report card?  You’re probably thinking, what report card?  In this case, I'm talking about the green one.  More specifically, The College Sustainability Report Card. So how does your school stack up?  Read on to find out.

Just a few weeks ago the Sustainable Endowments Institute released its 2010 College Sustainability Report Card. Hundreds of colleges around the US and Canada were evaluated by the organization to determine their level of sustainability. A school’s grade is based on their performance in nine categories including: administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, student involvement, transportation, endowment transparency, investment policies and shareholder engagement.

I had the chance to talk to Becca Leonard, a senior at Syracuse University who is a student leader for Syracuse’s sustainability project. Leonard became involved in the project last year after a class sparked her interest.  Syracuse received a B for its 2010 sustainability grade; this is a grade up from its B- for 2009. “Although a B isn’t an awful grade, it’s not great either,” said Leonard. “There is so much more to be done, and we can use all the help we can get.” She hopes that within a couple years Syracuse will be able to bump up its grade to an A. Although Becca will be graduating in May, she still plans to be involved in the school’s sustainability efforts.

While schools like Syracuse are taking their sustainability efforts to the next level, it's not the case at every college or University.  In fact, at least twenty-five schools received a D or lower in the sustainability report.  (Two New England schools, Quinnipiac University in Hamden, CT and Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, NH received grades of D- in 2010.)

Poor grades could be attributed to the fact that Universities "talk the talk" when it comes to sustainability, but the real efforts to make an impact somehow get bumped down on the priorities lists. Despite what they say in their marketing literature, these schools just aren't playing their part when it comes to making the world a more sustainable place.  Universities should take this opportunity to raise their grades and capitalize on the "green PR" opportunity.

So how hard is it to become sustainable?  It's not impossible - if some schools are making the grade, you'd think that any school could do the same.  Some may argue that it's a budget issue.  Certain schools have much larger budgets, while smaller schools have very little funding to work with.  However, the report card results found this argument to be false. Even schools with very low endowments still managed to receive the highest grade given (A-). Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, WA, and Luther College in Decorah, IA are examples of schools with small endowments that were awarded high marks. On the other hand, some schools that have large endowments received poor grades. for example, University of Texas, Dallas which has the 5th largest endowment out of the hundreds of schools rated, received a C-. 

I also had the opportunity to talk to Cameron Bruns, who was part of the Sustainable Endowments team that issued the grades.  Bruns was happy with the schools that received high marks, but not completely satisfied. “We are glad that more and more schools are instituting sustainability policies,” said Bruns.  "We hope that this is an ongoing trend and that all schools will continue to have improving grades."  Overall, twenty-six universities achieved high marks in the 2010 green report card.  Local schools that were among the top twenty-six include Harvard, Smith and Williams. Although encouraged by these results, Bruns continued to stress and acknowledge the substantial amount of work that still needs to be done.

So whether you’re a current college student or eco-conscious alumni, it’s time to step up and take some responsibility. Sure, we all love to follow college sports and have pride in our schools athletically. But let's start being proud of something a little more meaningful.  As students, alumni and members of the University community, let's encourage the higher education institutions of the world to commit to a more sustainable future.  To see how you can get involved click here.

To learn more about The College Sustainability Report Card or to see how your school measured up, visit their website: www.greenreportcard.org.

Contributed by Greenough Intern Jessica Boardman. Follow her @Jboards