College receives ‘A-’ on Sustainability Report Card

The Sustainable Endowments Institute’s 2011 College Sustainability Report Card recently awarded the College a grade of “A-,” continuing the College’s distinction as an Overall Sustainability Leader among colleges and universities nationwide. Other NESCAC schools received high grades as well, with Amherst, Bowdoin and Middlebury each acquiring grades of “A-” for overall sustainability.

Grades are calculated overall through nine equally weighted categories that address different parts of the school’s operations, including food and recycling, green building and student involvement. Research for the Report Card is conducted through surveys sent to administrators and students as well as through information available to the public.

Overall, the Report Card praised the College as a school where “sustainability is an institutional priority,” and it pointed to the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives and student groups such as the Thursday Night Group as positive institutions that are helping to influence sustainable actions on campuses across the country.

The College was awarded an “A” grade on seven of the nine categories in the Report Card, including food and recycling initiatives. According to the Report Card, Dining Services spends more than 9 percent of its food budget on local and organic products and uses produce from the garden on campus.

“We have had a huge change in our dining halls to promote sustainability this year,” said Chris Abayasinghe, assistant director of student dining. Abayasinghe referenced the reusable containers and more sustainable food purchases as some of the major changes the College has initiated in order to improve the dining halls’ sustainability on campus.

The College received its only “B” grade in the category of green building. According to the Report Card, the College has a formal green building policy that is currently pending approval from the college’s board of trustees. However, the College has received LEED Gold certification in two of its campus buildings, Hollander and Schapiro Halls. A 20 percent reduction in the College’s per capita water use since 2005 was also noted in the Report Card.

“We’ve accomplished a lot in this regard in a short period of time and still have a long way to go within the increasingly complex rubric of sustainability,” said Steve Klass, vice president for operations at the College. “We need to keep our focus on creating human spaces that are inviting and comfortable without trading off our goals to reduce our carbon footprint and to leave a campus for future generations that speaks directly to our commonly accepted environmental principles.”

The lowest grade the college received was a “C” in endowment transparency. This category evaluates how an institution allows endowment information to be viewable to the public along with shareholder proxy voting records.

According to the 2011 Report Card, Amherst received an “A” in this category, while Bowdoin and Middlebury each received a “C.” Amherst received this high grade because its administration “makes a list of all holdings available to trustees, senior administrators and other select members of the school community, and makes a list of asset allocation, external managers, mutual funds and equity holdings available to all members of the school community”.

“It is challenging to compare one school’s sustainability progress to another,” said Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center. “While some schools may be a little farther ahead than others, all of our sustainability programs are in their infancy. We are grappling with how to convert our one-off successes into deeply embedded culture and systems change.”

For the 2011 Report Card, the program evaluated environmental sustainability efforts at 332 colleges and universities, awarding 52 of these institutions the title of Overall College Sustainability Leader. Schools must receive an overall grade of “A-” or higher in order to receive this distinction. The number of schools awarded the title this year was double that of the 2010 Report Card.
According to the Sustainability Endowments Institute, the Report Card highlights colleges and universities that lead the country in campus-wide sustainable projects and operations. Assigning a grade to each college based on sustainability and conservation factors is meant to encourage sustainability as a priority in college operations and endowment investment practices.
Emily Flynn ’09, now a research fellow at the Sustainable Endowments Institute, is excited by the sustainability initiatives the College has developed.

“Williams has budgeted $2 million for sustainability operations on campus, which is huge,” she said. “It’s great that the administration has clearly established that sustainability is a major priority at the College.”