Lyndsey Wajert: Take this home to Mom and Dad

Remember in high school when you would nervously anticipate the arrival of your report card? Well, GW’s 2008-2009 “green” report card is in, and even though our grades have improved, if it were yours, you would probably want to hide this from your parents for a while.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute, with its annual survey of about 300 universities across America and in parts of Canada, gave GW a C+ in overall sustainability (“University sustainability grade improves” Sept. 29, p. 1). The Institute defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own desires.” Although this grade is an entire letter above last year’s report, GW needs to become more ecologically friendly – and quickly.

Now before you protest that you turn off your lights before leaving the room and always recycle the bottles of Diet Coke littering your desk, the report grades more than student involvement and recycling efforts. It also includes everything from transportation, for which GW received an A, to endowment, for which it received an F. Clearly, the ecological awareness of individual students is not enough to garner straight A’s for the University.

This is not to denigrate the ongoing efforts made by students, the various green campus organizations and, of course, University President Steven Knapp.

This campus, especially during a presidential election, is very focused on the future. My very first day on campus, a group of students knocked on my door and slapped a sticker onto my light switch as a reminder to be eco-friendly. This past year, President Knapp signed the Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging to exercise leadership in modeling ways to minimize global warming emissions, and commissioned a task force, which made recommendations to enhance academic initiatives and University policies on sustainability.

But we as a University are not reaching the ecological strides I know we can. The Sierra Club gave GW a failing grade along with four other schools for not investing in efforts to fight climate change. The recent release of the sustainability report card confirms the room for improvement. Student involvement in initiatives is high, with a grade of B, but GW fails in two out of the three endowment categories.

The Institute’s theory is that “access to endowment information is needed within a college community to foster constructive dialogue about opportunities for clean energy investment, as well as shareholder voting priorities.” Endowment holdings and shareholder voting records here are not available to the school community. Similarly, GW lacks a shareholder responsibility committee, which typically consists of students, faculty and alumni who advise trustees in research and discussion of important corporate policies on sustainability.

The improvements in the grades since last year and this year are promising, but GW needs to strive for excellence in this vital area and become a sustainability role model. Even though we must break through the barriers of an urban campus, private endowment reports and the fact that we are named after the man who allegedly chopped down a perfectly healthy, oxygen-producing cherry tree, we as a University should not hide our “green” report card. Instead, it should hang on the refrigerator as a symbol to work harder for next year.

The writer is a freshman majoring in journalism.

View the report card here.

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