Sustainability: Glass half empty or half full?

November 11, 2011

Two weeks ago, the Sustainable Endowments Institute published its Green Report Card for 2011.  This is an annual report card of how participating colleges and universities are doing with regard to sustainability.  We got an A- this year, and up from the B+ we got last year, which, in turn, was better than the B we got the year before.

Seven colleges and universities received As this year; we were one of 43 that received an A-.  About 300 total institutions participated this year.

Reaction on campus has been mixed to grumpy.  Wrote one faculty member in an e-mail to colleagues, “The SEI rating, if you look at it, is very basic in its assessed areas
and is skewed toward endowments and investing (which are not insignificant in their impacts on “sustainability”). Personally, an “A-” is a little silly given where we are and where we need to be (not just as a college but as a society). Just be glad we are not [a neighboring college], though, which received a “D-“… ouch!”

Another wrote, “I noted that we are the only reporting Indiana school in the “A” range. Our “C” in Climate Change and Energy does stand out.”  Institutions are rated in nine categories.  We got our worst grade in “Climate an Energy.”  We received As in “Administration,” “Food and Recycling,” “Student Involvement,” “Investment Transparency,” “Investment Priorities,” and “Shareholder Engagement.”

Noted a third, “We score well with SEI, but not nearly as well in the more rigorous and comprehensive AASHE assessment – and our score on climate action is a C even with SEI. Just a way of saying that we have taken some important first steps, but still have a long way to go!”

These are very much half empty assessments; I’m inclined to be cheered both by the grade and by the improvement we’ve shown, though in truth some of that comes from understanding SEI’s criteria better.

As these faculty comments note, we are also participating in another sustainability rating system, this one from AASHE, the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education.  We were a pilot institution for the STARS (Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Ranking System) ratings, and we are soon to submit all our data for this first regular cycle.  I understand we will be the fourth college or university to complete the STARS assessment, and that we are likely to be rated as “bronze,” — good, but not gold or silver.

We’re committed to getting better, and we are working on it.  Half empty or half full?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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