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Grading in green
University earns laudable marks on sustainability  

Sep 25, 2008  
By Monica Chapman  

Red pens aside, grading in green is all the rage. And good marks in sustainability attest to Ohio University's continued leadership in the movement to green up the nation's colleges and universities.

The university earned a B- on the newly released College Sustainability Report Card, which provides sustainability grades to institutions with the 300 largest endowments in the United States and Canada.

This is the first year that the Sustainable Endowments Institute's annual study has included Ohio University, which tied with Kenyon College for the best first-year performance among Ohio schools. Both received a B- overall, matching the University of Cincinnati and Case Western Reserve -- both in their third consecutive year of assessment.

"I think we should be really proud that we came out of the gate with such a strong initial grade," Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus said. "It's a very strong start, but we know we still have a long way to go."

The university earned top scores in four of the report's nine categories, achieving A's in administration, student involvement, endowment transparency and investment priorities. The institute awarded the university B's in the climate change and energy categories, and a C in the food and recycling column. There's room for growth in the categories of green building, transportation and shareholder engagement, for which the university wound up with D's.

Among all ratings -- new and continuing -- Ohio University tied Ball State University and the University at Buffalo-SUNY for the top grade among Mid-American Conference schools. In Ohio, only Oberlin College (A-) and Ohio State University (B) bested Ohio University's grade. Oberlin was the sole Ohio institution among the 15 participating schools to receive the study's top grade.

"I love the fact that two of our strongest areas are students and upper-level administration. That's a very good sign as far as the strength and quality of the movement here at Ohio University," Marcus said. "It recognizes the strong commitment that the upper levels of our university administration have made to the sustainability effort, and it attests to the wide range of opportunities for student involvement."

Current investments in renewable energy funds helped the university earn an A in investment priorities, while the university's high grade in endowment transparency can be traced to The Ohio University Foundation's open records policies.

Marcus said she is confident that the university's composting initiative -- which did not bear much weight on this year's grade -- will have a positive effect on next year's report card.

"I don't know that our grade will necessarily improve by an increment every year, but I want to know that every year, we're making substantial gains toward becoming a more sustainable institution," Marcus said.

She noted that work is under way in areas where the university scored poorly this time around.

In the category of green building, the university will be amending its building standards to address efficiency issues as a part of its House Bill 251 Implementation Plan, Marcus said. The Board of Trustees will consider the 15-year initiative next week.

In addition to the implementation plan, Marcus will present trustees with a proposal to launch a campus sustainability planning process. The process will be designed to produce, in one year's time, a comprehensive plan to address institutional priorities within the sustainability arena.

Regarding transportation, discussions are under way between university and city officials to streamline services and make more options available to students and residents alike. Among those are more bicycle lanes and a commuter shuttle service between Athens and other area towns.

In the area of shareholder engagement, Marcus said universities could wield more influence.

"One of the huge powers that universities have in American society today is the power of the purse," she said.

Universities do have the option of voting on shareholder issues, however Associate Vice President for Finance Michael Angelini said they typically rely on mutual fund managers to make decisions, and a public institution has the responsibility to keep an eye on good financial performance.

"There are opportunities for (participation), but you also have to weigh the effect that it would have on your portfolio," he said. By limiting its investment options, the university also would reduce its portfolio's diversity and, thus, increase investment risks.

Although Marcus acknowledges there's more work to be done, she believes Ohio University's strong overall grade attests to its leadership in many areas of sustainability.

In June 2006, the university became the first public college or university in the state to create an Office of Sustainability. And a year ago, the university hosted the Ohio Climate and Energy Workshop, the first opportunity for Ohio's colleges and universities to collectively address energy and climate issues in the context of new state policies. It also is among the charter signatories to the Presidents Climate Commitment.

"We're only at the beginning of this huge transformation, which will need to take place in the way we live, the way we build, the way we derive our energy, and so on," Marcus said. "I appreciate the recognition of our efforts thus far."

The Sustainable Endowments Institute is a nonprofit organization engaged in research and education to advance sustainability in campus operations and endowment practices. According to www.greenreportcard.org, the combined endowments of the schools represented in the College Sustainability Report Card total more than $380 billion, or more than 90 percent of all university endowments.


To speak with a media contact about this story, contact Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus at 740-593-2911 or marcuss@ohio.edu.


Related Links
Office of Sustainability:  http://www.ohio.edu/sustainability/ 
College Sustainability Report Card (following this link takes you outside Ohio University's Web site):  http://www.greenreportcard.org/  
Sustainable Endowments Institute (following this link takes you outside Ohio University's Web site):  http://www.endowmentinstitute.org/  

Published: Sep 25, 2008 1:00 PM  

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