The University has signed on to the Billion Dollar Green Challenge with a pledge of millions in eco-friendly investment over the next two years.
The 33 “founding circle” universities – including GW, Harvard, Stanford and Dartmouth – committed $65 million to green revolving funds before the program launched Tuesday. A revolving fund invests in sustainability initiatives to reduce energy consumption, reinvesting energy cost savings into future green projects.
The challenge, organized by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, encourages universities and non-profit organizations to invest a total of at least $1 billion in green revolving funds.
“This is really a low-risk investment that is going directly back in to the school’s capital. We believe that these commitments are the best way to create sustainability initiatives,” Shoshona Blank, a research fellow with the institute, said.
The University committed $2 million to its Green Campus Fund last spring, which counts toward the challenge. Half of that fund has already been allocated to projects, like providing occupancy sensors for lights, chilled water connections, boiler replacements and variable speed drive fans on campus.
Those projects have saved $115,000 in energy expenses and avoided 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions so far, Sophie Waskow, project facilitator in the Office of Sustainability, said.
“For universities with existing revolving efficiency funds, the goal of The Challenge is to help inspire leadership in the field, and to contribute to case studies and research on the efficacy of our funds,” Waskow said.
The Challenge requires each participating university to invest $1 million or 1 percent of its endowment – whichever is less – a standard the University already meets. Waskow said the University is continuing to look at other opportunities for energy efficiency financing, adding that the fund is modeled to grow naturally as savings funnel back into it.
As a founding circle institution, the University will have immediate access to the Green Revolving Investment Tracking System, which will allow it to organize its investments and contribute to research. The challenge also encourages participants to share and provide technical assistance.
“We saw that a lot of universities were developing green revolving funds to finance sustainability projects,” Blank said. “The mechanism was being under-utilized in many situations, but those that were using green revolving funds were seeing great returns.”
The Challenge received funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership, David Rockefeller Fund and the John Merck Fund.
“Part of the reason we got involved was so, in the course of our conversations with our higher education partners, we can say that one of the tools and resources that is available is a green revolving fund, and point them to the resources to do this,” Blaine Collison, director of the EPA Green Power Partnership, said. “GW is well ahead of the curve and is already deeply engaged in assessing its opportunities. I think GW serves as a really bright, shining example of what’s possible.”
Since University President Steven Knapp created the Presidential Task Force on Sustainability in 2007, the University has implemented a greater number of eco-friendly programs and climbed in green college rankings.
This article was updated on Oct. 11, 2011 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly headlined this piece, “GW pledges $1 million in green investments.” The $1 million figure is incorrect. The Hatchet also incorrectly spelled the name of Shoshona Blank.