Low grade for sustainability

Queen’s gets C in North American schools’ green report card

Maia McCarron, Tea Room operations manager, says sustainabilty doesn’t depend on money.
Maia McCarron, Tea Room operations manager, says sustainabilty doesn’t depend on money.

Queen’s received an overall grade of C in a report comparing sustainability practices at 200 North American universities.

The College Sustainability Report Card 2008, released last Wednesday, was conducted by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a non-profit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It evaluated schools based on eight categories.

The report addresses action taken by university administration with regard to sustainability, initiatives regarding climate change and energy, policies and practices of dining services—such as the availability of sustainably-produced food and campus-wide recycling and composting programs—green building design, and the promotion of alternative transportation options. Three additional categories deal with endowment.

Mark Orlowski, the institute’s executive director, said the grade Queen’s received isn’t necessarily negative.

“It seems like Queen’s is moving in the right direction, but it still has a way to go,” he said. “That’s okay—sustainability is not a green or black or white issue. It’s more like a continuum from schools that don’t do anything, to schools on the leading edge.”

Queen’s received Ds in both the administration category and the climate change and energy category.

In the administration category, the report commends the University for its green cleaning system, the establishment of a full-time sustainability manager and for student involvement in the Canadian Unified Student Environmental Network.

In the climate change and energy category, Queen’s is praised for energy-efficient lighting retrofits, solar panels and a cogeneration plant that produces steam heat and electricity.

Endowment transparency, in which Queen’s received a B, refers to the university’s success in making information about its investments public.

“Queen’s has … $660 million,” Orlowski said. “That’s obviously very sizable, and that has a sizable impact.”

He said B is a very high grade—only seven schools received a higher grade—and the only way to improve would be to make information about endowment very easily accessible. Right now that information needs to be requested from Queen’s.

“It’s somewhat cumbersome because one needs to know where to go and what to request,” Orlowski said.

Queen’s also received a B in investment priorities.

“The university reported back to us that they’re exploring investing in renewable energy funds,” he said. “By putting money into these renewable investment funds, it’s helping spark research into renewable energy.”

The only F the University received was in shareholder engagement.

“The reason it’s so important is because it’s about using your voice as an investor,” Orlowski said.

He said shareholder engagement puts the process in the hands of people that are making the investment decisions.

“That’s unfortunate, because they might not know what types of sustainability management procedures the university might have,” he said. “There’s a disconnect there.”

Orlowski said most universities are trying to move forward.

“It’s not that you either reach sustainability or you don’t; it’s that you’re striving to be more sustainable every day of every week.”

This is the second year the institute has published the report. Queen’s wasn’t included in the study last year, when only 100 schools were surveyed.

The institute’s next report card will be published in the fall of 2008.

“Before we started issuing the report cards, there really was no single source of information about details about sustainability activities,” Orlowski said. “If you went to one school website you might find information there, but no fairly comprehensive source and furthermore certainly no evaluation of their progress.”

Orlowski said by making the report card public, the institute hopes to spark discussion within and among universities.

Queen’s is heading in the right direction with the establishment of a full-time sustainability office, Orlowski said.

In June, Vice-Principal (Operations and Finance) Andrew Simpson announced the creation of a sustainability office to oversee environmental initiatives.

“That’s really a good step in the right direction, bringing on staff and including sustainability as a priority at the university,” Orlowski said.

The report’s Food and Recycling category favourably mentions the Tea Room for incorporating sustainability into all aspects of operation.

Maia McCarron, Operations Manager at the Tea Room, said the Queen’s sustainability network is something that needs work.

“At Queen’s, as compared to different universities, the sustainability is quite a bit smaller. I think that the leadership needs to come from the administration to ensure different groups be able to work together more and help each other out,” she said.

Harvard University was one of six top-ranked schools, with an overall grade of A-.

According to the report, the Harvard Green Campus Initiative has 20 full-time staff and 40 part-time student interns working on sustainability.

Harvard also has large purchases of renewable energy, solar panels, biodiesel in campus transportation, green custodial services and a recycling rate of over 45 per cent.

McCarron said Queen’s shouldn’t see its comparative size as a roadblock.

“There’s a lot that can be done that doesn’t require huge amounts of money. You have to look and see how you can get the most bang for your buck,” she said.

AMS Sustainability Co-ordinator Maryam Adrangi said the report card is something to look at critically so the University can see how to make changes.

“I think it’s good that we have something like this because C isn’t the best mark—it’s not the worst, but it’s not the best,” she said.

Adrangi said it’s difficult to compare Queen’s to the other institutions graded by the report because there’s a lot to factor in, such as the number of students at each school.

“It would be most valuable to be self-critical as a university and make the changes that way,” she said.

She said because there are so many colleges in the United States, there are a lot of sustainability-related ideas we don’t know about.

“You don’t want to look at UBC for everything,” she said. “It’s good to have this compiled.”

Adrangi said every university could make improvements in terms of sustainability.

“In a perfect world, there’d be no need for my position. Everyone would be taking these steps,” she said. “But there isn’t that mindset, so it is necessary.”

Criteria for school sustainability

  • Administration—sustainability policies, sustainability staff, green purchasing policies, advisory council, student involvement, center focused on sustainability, website.
  • Climate Change and Energy—carbon emission inventory, commitment to emissions reduction, energy efficiency, energy conservation, renewable energy purchase, renewable energy investment.
  • Food & Recycling—local food, organic and sustainably produced food, reusable dishware and eco-friendly to-go containers, food composting, recycling program for dining halls and office waste, composting of landscaping waste.
  • Green Building—formal policy, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, green building standards in new construction, renovation and retrofitting in accordance with green standards.
  • Transportation—vehicles running on clean-burning fuels or electricity, mass transit, incentives for carpooling or using public transportation, bicycle program, planning for a pedestrian-friendly and/or bike-friendly campus.
  • Endowment Transparency—availability of investment holdings and proxy voting records, accessibility based upon request or a publicly accessible, password-protected website.
  • Investment Priorities—renewable energy and sustainable investment, community investment, optimizing investment return.
  • Shareholder Engagement—providing ways for the school to exercise its shareholder rights, incorporating multiple stakeholders, as well as faculty, students and alumni, into investment advisory, encouraging school community input, sustainability voting record
Source: College Sustainability Report Card 2008

The results

CategoryQueen’s University (Overall grade: C; Endowment: $660-million)Harvard University (Overall grade: A-; Endowment: $34.9-billion)The Julliard School (Overall grade: F; Endowment: $664-million)Administration D A FClimate Change and EnergyD A FFood and RecyclingB A FGreen BuildingB A FTransportation C B FEndowment Transparency
FInvestment Priorities
B A CShareholder Engagement F A F

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