University receives a B on sustainability report card

A leading sustainability ranking group gave the University a B for the second year in a row in its annual sustainability report published late last month.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute’s annual College Sustainability Report Card gave GW the B for its cumulative grade for sustainability. It is the same grade given to more than half of the national institutions ranked.

Though the University received A marks in many categories – including student involvement in green efforts, reduction of energy use on campus and investment priorities – poor grades in endowment transparency and shareholder engagement dragged down the overall score.

Converting GW into an eco-friendly and sustainability-minded institution is a major goal of University President Steven Knapp, but GW will likely continue to receive mid-level grades in this survey because of the two failing grades it receives annually.

Sophie Waskow, a spokeswoman for GW’s Office of Sustainability, shrugged off the rankings, saying they are not always an accurate picture of GW’s sustainability efforts.

“It will always be difficult to pinpoint what precisely increased or decreased our scores,” Waskow said. “We are pleased with our grade, and look forward to seeing more of the GW community involved in sustainability efforts on campus.”

The reason GW got an F in the endowment transparency category is because the University does not divulge where its endowment is invested, according to the report, making it impossible for the public to know what kinds of companies the University invests in. The University also received a D in shareholder engagement, as the SEI said GW does not “vote proxies for most of the endowment,” meaning GW does not have a say as to where the mutual funds it invests in are put.

GW received the same grades in these two categories since the report’s creation in 2007. University administrators said they have no plans to amend their policies on disclosing where the endowment is invested, despite the report’s disapproval.

Don Lindsey, GW’s chief investment officer, said the lack of disclosure of GW’s endowment is a matter of University policy.

“Most of our investments are in pooled vehicles,” he said. “We have very little ability to get actively involved in shareholder activism.”

The University also does not have a socially conscious investment policy, meaning the endowment isn’t prohibited from being invested in companies that do not follow socially conscious guidelines. Lindsey said the University looks closely at major global issues and how they can be solved using investment capital.

“We believe that investing in areas like renewable energy and agriculture will derive superior returns to us,” he said.

Lindsey said the University has also been looking to invest in areas that deal with global water shortage, but that it hasn’t found any viable investment opportunities.

“It’s a field where there haven’t been many technological advancements commercialized,” Lindsey said, adding that the University would only want to get involved in an identifiable market to mitigate risk.

Lindsey does not see the University’s grades in endowment transparency and shareholder engagement improving in the future.

“It’s just the University policy and the structure,” he said. “I see no reason why we won’t continue to get an A in the other areas unless the SEI change the emphasis and I don’t see them changing anything.”

More than half of the 322 colleges on the report, including Georgetown University, received a B grade, according to SEI. American University scored the highest of all schools in the District with a B+.

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