Sustainability grade drops below A-level

Students getting back dismal mid-term results are not the only ones watching their grades fall.

Last year, the College received an “A-” grade in the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s College Sustainability Report Card, landing it a spot as one of four “College Sustainability Leaders.” This year, however, the College received a “B+.” It is one of only 10 schools out of the 200 institutions to see its grade drop.

The 2008 College Sustainability Report Card is the second annual review issued by the Cambridge-based non-profit. In the past year, the Institute has evaluated campus operations and endowment investments of 200 public and private universities in the United States and Canada. Each school was graded in eight categories from administration to climate change.

The College received its lowest grade, a “C,” in the new category of transportation. According to the report, high marks in transportation are given for pedestrian- and bike-friendly campuses, incentives for carpooling and public transportation and the use of alternative fuel and hybrid technology. The report mentioned that the College has four electric vehicles for facilities maintenance and several hybrid cars.

According to Stephanie Boyd, manager of special projects, however, transportation is an indicator of lesser value for a school like Williams. “[Because] Williams is a residential college, most of our students and staff walk from one location to another. On larger campuses the need for low-emissions producing means of transportation for on campus movement of students and staff is more important,” she said.

The College’s score in the endowment transparency category also dropped from an “A” to a “B.” An e-mail from Jordan Goldwarg ’04, who is now working with the Institute, stated that the College’s endowment holdings are no longer available online and can be accessed only in person at the investment office. This change from last year’s availability on a password-protected Web site has most likely contributed to the lower score.

Nevertheless, the College remains one of three “Endowment Sustainability Leaders.” In particular, the report commended the College’s Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, which advises the Board of Trustees on the “non-financial performance” of assets in the College’s portfolio. The College was the only school to receive this award last year.

The College was also noted again for its sustainability practices in the category of food and recycling. The report cited the College’s waste composting program and its decision to spend 17 percent of its food budget on locally-produced goods.

Overall, the Institute found that two out of three schools showed an improvement from last year’s report. Only 3 percent of campuses received a score of “A,” while 28 percent received scores of “B.”

Steve Klass, vice president for operations, is apprehensive about investing too much attention in the Institute’s grading system. “I think it would be a mistake to either celebrate last year’s ‘A-’ or to worry about this year’s ‘B+,’ particularly when new items were added, more schools were included, the areas being graded are not necessarily related in a strategic sense and the grading system appears to be pretty subjective,” said Klass.