GW earns ‘gold’ rating after reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent

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GW attained "Gold" status for sustainability from The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education after reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Updated: March 10, 2015 at 5:52 p.m.

GW earned the second-highest rating for the second year in a row from an organization that tracks universities’ on-campus environmental efforts.

The University has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent since 2010, according to the report filed with the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education on Feb. 27.

GW’s score rose by about three percent from last year as its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions showed steps toward a greener campus. That gave the University its second “gold” rating in two years.

“As GW works toward its carbon neutrality goals, the University will continue to seek projects to invest in to identify ways to reduce its carbon footprint through local measures,” Mark Ellis, the sustainability project facilitator at the University, wrote in the report.

Doug Spengel, GW’s manager of energy and environmental programs, reported a 6 percent increase in energy use since last year. But the University’s gross square feet also increased last year and the number of days that required heating increased because of the longer, colder winter. GW slightly reduced its energy consumption per gross square foot.

Spengel mentioned the Capital Partners Solar Project, which will eventually allow the University to derive half of its energy from a solar farm in North Carolina.

He added that GW is “forging partnerships with other institutions in the Washington, D.C. community” to keep carbon emissions low.

AASHE reports show that silver-rated Boston University — one of GW’s peers, whose buildings’ square footage is almost one and a half times GW’s — used about double the amount of energy GW used last year. Duke University, another peer, reportedly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent last year.

But GW has not improved in areas like water consumption: It saw a nearly 3 percent increase in water usage since last year.

The report also lists areas of sustainable practices that the University has not worked to improve. GW has not shown an interest in creating a committee to ensure that its endowment investments are in sustainable companies, and it hasn’t looked to provide transparency in its investments, according to the report. It also does not have plans to increase biodiversity on campus.

Last month, the Student Association Senate passed a bill to put fossil fuel divestment to a campus-wide vote. That question will appear on the March ballot and also ask students whether the Board of Trustees should disclose GW’s investments in fossil fuel companies.

The University also has no plans to make sure all employees’ wages are “sustainable,” which means their pay can meet basic needs. Boston University provides sustainable compensation for its employees, according to the report.

AASHE allows universities internationally to inspect their own work in sustainability. The organization’s reporting forum is called the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. Universities calculate their own STARS scores, and AASHE checks each for accurate and fair reports.

Numerical scores for STARS are calculated by giving point values to characteristics that make a campus sustainable, like water use and energy consumption. The final numerical score then falls in a range of numbers that corresponds to a medal ranking, ranging from bronze to platinum.

AASHE’s guidelines for the report have changed since the University filed for the first time last spring. For example, sustainability research on campus now weighs less, while energy use counts for more.

Meghan Chapple, the director of GW’s Office of Sustainability, said the report acts as a benchmarking tool.

“The purpose of the STARS report is to provide an in-depth look at GW’s sustainability practices, create a dialogue around our efforts, highlight our success and motivate discussion for ways to improve,” Chapple said. “While the Office of Sustainability may not update its information in STARS every year, our staff did so this year because AASHE introduced an updated version of STARS with additional categories and questions.”

The University would have to increase its score by about a quarter to receive the “platinum” distinction, the highest honor. About 30 percent of participating universities have gold ratings. No university has a platinum rating.

AASHE did not return requests for comment.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that GW decreased energy use by 6 percent. It actually increased energy use by 6 percent. We regret this error.

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