University sustainability grade improves

An environmental organization rated the University significantly higher in its College Sustainability Report Card last week, noting that the school’s biggest shortfalls now stem from its endowment.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute, which surveys sustainability at 300 universities anually, gave GW a C+ in its third report card – up from last year’s D+. The news comes only a month after the Sierra Club, a leading environmental organization, named GW one of the least eco-friendly schools in the country.

The institute gives universities a letter grade in nine categories. Six are focused on campus environmental initiatives and three are centered on school endowment policies.

On campus sustainability issues, the University improved in four of six categories, including a jump from a D to an A in transportation, reflecting the school’s Metro-centric campus plan and car-sharing programs.

The University received F’s for its endowment transparency and shareholder engagement because GW does not publicly list endowment holdings and leaves many of its investment decisions to outside fund managers.

Don Lindsey, chief investment officer for the school’s $1.1 billion endowment, said they are planning to take over much of the responsibility from fund managers soon.

He added that the school’s policy on endowment transparency was unlikely to change unless the Board of Trustees decided to change course.

“Our policy is consistent with other universities,” he said.

The fund received a B for its investment priorities, up from a C last year. Lindsey touted the endowment’s investments in renewable and alternative energy, which he said the scorecard missed.

“We already invest in alternatives; they are an important part of our strategic outlook,” he said, pointing to extensive commitments in solar energy, hydropower and coal-bed methane. Lindsey also noted investments in no-till soybean agriculture and in a company building credit markets for greenhouse gases.

“Our motivation is always to maximize the rate of return,” he said. “Historically there has been a perceived dichotomy between maintaining a strong rate of return and investing in socially responsible ways. But from our standpoint, that’s no longer the case.”

Among local schools, American jumped from a D+ to a B-, while Georgetown remained at B-. Other urban campuses like New York University and Boston University also scored a B-.

“It demonstrates GW’s continuing commitment to sustainability,” University spokeswoman Tracy Schario said. “The administration score in particular is a testament to (University President Steven Knapp’s) leadership on this.”

Schario pointed to the school’s commitment to green building policies and the formation of the Office of Sustainability.

“Sustainability has been one of President Knapp’s core issues,” Schario said.

Senior Ivey Wohlfield, executive director of the Green GW student organization, said the University’s efforts over the past year merit the jump.

“I think that President Knapp signing the President’s Climate Commitment and the sustainability task force really kick-started a lot of it,” she said.

But Junior Cory Antonakos, director of green initiatives for the Student Association, said the grades do not fully reflect the University’s efforts.

“We just started all of this a year or two ago; Knapp has only been president for 18 months or so,” Antonakos said. “In that time he’s done a lot.”

She said that as time goes by she expects the school’s score to rise steadily.

“It might take more time to get the results they are looking for,” Antonakos said. “We haven’t implemented everything. It’s really a work in progress.”

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