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Brandeis graded C in report on college eco-sustainability

By Dmaron

Section: News

October 26, 2007

The Sustainable Endowments Institute, a Cambridge-based nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainability research and education, issued Brandeis a C grade in the 2008 College Sustainability Report Card released Wednesday morning.

The report assessed the 200 public and private universities with the largest reported endowments in the United States and Canada. Brandeis, with a reported endowment of $691 million in June of 2007, was included in the study as the university with the 106th largest endowment.

The same day that the report was released, the Institute's founder and Executive President, Mark Orlowski, spoke at Brandeis in an event sponsored by the Students for Environmental Action and the Environmental Studies Department about the reports findings and trends in sustainability on college campuses.

Im hoping this report will help spark discussion of what universities can do to be leaders on sustainability and bring to light their shortcomings, Orlowksi said before his presentation.

No reviewed college or university received an A in the 2008 Report, and only six received an A-. Brandeis, with its C marking, was in the company of the majority of the reviewed universities.

A C is not a great grade, but its not a low mark, Orlowski explained.

The report assessed each universitys progress in eight indicator areas. Five focal areas assessed sustainability of campus management at the following levels: administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green buildings, and transportation, and the other three assessed areas focused on endowment sustainability practices.

Brandeis received failing marks in endowment transparency and shareholder engagement, Cs in transportation, green buildings, investment priorities, and Bs in the remaining areas.

Criticisms of Brandeis included its failure to make its proxy voting record or endowment holdings record public.

Brandeis has investment managers who handle the details of proxy voting for the University;

the Institute asserts that each university could use its voice as a shareholder to ask the companies they invest in to engage in more sustainable practices.

Although Brandeis offers a shuttle service, encourages car-pooling, and is on the commuter rail line, Brandeis was downgraded because the grading area includes the use of alternative fuels, explained Orlowski.

The categories in which Brandeis received failing marks were ones in which the majority of reviewed schools scored poorly. 65.5 percent of schools received an F in shareholder engagement and 58 percent of schools received an F grade in the endowment transparency category.

Brandeis is all about social responsibility, this issue is a great opportunity for students to get involved, Prof. Laura Goldin, advising head of Environmental Studies, told Orlowskis audience.

[Our grade] shows that we are on par with other universities and that there is room for improvement. We can use the knowledge of what areas are lacking to improve our status, said SEA co-president Jamie Pottern 09.

Orlowski commended Brandeis for its efforts at improvement. Its consistently making progress across all the categories. Its moving in the right direction, its just not at the head of the class. Its report has more Bs than any other grade.

Brandeis has allotted $7 million to energy conservation efforts over the next three years, Brandeis Energy Manager Bill Bushey said.

Bushey and Mark Collins, Vice President of Campus Operations, both declined to comment on Brandeis C grade, stating they had not yet reviewed the Institute report.

I think the nation is realizing how important it is to…be conscious of what we're putting into the environment. Universities are hubs of inspiration and energy because they are filled with young people with…the drive and commitment to implement new practices and promote them, explained Elizabeth Ginsburg '08, the co-coordinator of this event on campus and a research fellow at the Institute.

The 2008 report, found at endowmentinstitute.org, is the second annual report put out by Institute. Last year's report studied only the top 100 wealthiest colleges in the U.S and Canada, and Brandeis, currently the 106th wealthiest college, was not included.

Of the schools reviewed in last years report, 68 percent improved their overall grade. Orlowski explained that since last year, requirements have become more stringent.

This years report reflects that across the board, the surveyed schools highest grades were in the food and recycling category. 70 percent of schools buy food locally and there is a move towards utilizing Fair Trade coffee.

The report cited Carleton College, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Middlebury College, University of Vermont, and University of Washington as overall college sustainability leaders.

The report card raises awareness about all these issues and highlights comparisons, making…improvement seem more accessible, stated Ginsburg.

Brandeis was applauded in the report for Reinharz's signing of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, and its employment of a full-time energy manager. University administrators, as part of the Climate Commitment, also agreed to hire a sustainability coordinator within the next three months.

By sponsoring Orlowski's presentation, Ginsburg said, I want more people to become aware…that colleges can become more sustainable and that it is important…because there are immediate threats regarding our environment …it's a matter of personal responsibility, and as members of a highly interconnected community we have an opportunity to bring about change.

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