Making the Grade—College receives C- on sustainability report card

Going green is in the forecast at Albion College—the 2010-2011 academic year has been dedicated to sustainability as part of the college’s strategic plan.

But last fall, the college received an overall grade of C- for 2010 in the College Sustainability Report Card (CSRC), according to The website compiled evaluations for 332 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada last year using information gathered from a series of surveys completed by schools as well as independent research using public records.

“I don’t find the report card especially unusual or informative about environmental initiatives on campus,” said Doug White, sustainability committee co-chair and biology professor. “(I like the idea of) outside benchmarking. My concerns on the other side have to go with who is doing the survey (and) what their objectives are. The question is are these really criteria that the college wants to base its idea of how well it’s doing.”

The CSRC is an initiative run by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which is a nonprofit organization created by the Rockefellers Philanthropy Advisors that aims to “advance sustainability in campus operations and endowment practices” through research and education, according to Schools with endowments of at least roughly $160 million were selected from a 2007 endowment study put out by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

Of the eight Michigan colleges and universities graded, only Hillsdale College recieved a lower overall grade of a D. Fellow Great Lakes Colleges Association members Hope College and Kalamazoo College improved from a D- to a C+ and C- to B from 2009 to 2010, respectively.

Twenty-six schools received a grade of A- or above, the grade necessary to earn an Overall College Sustainability Leaders award from the institute.

Albion also received a C- in 2009, the first year it was evaluated; this year, the college received a C across the board in areas such as transportation, green building and food and recycling. An F and D were received in the areas of shareholder engagement and endowment transparency, respectively.

“There’s one whole big category on endowment management issues, which I can see where you might be interested and you might make a case where they are related to sustainability,” White said. “That fits under the economic sort of sustainability, but that doesn’t go so much towards educational goals, to my way of thinking.”

One of Albion’s primary goals when it comes to sustainability is to educate its students in sustainable living, an area not included in the report card, according to White.

“The number one product is how we impact the minds of the students who come through the college,” White said. “Overall, it would be better for the college community itself to identify its goals and what aspects of sustainability that we can address and work on that.”

Last fall, Albion was the first higher education institute in the state to receive certifications from the Michigan Turfgrass Environmental Stewardship Program (MTESP) and the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP). 

The upcoming year of sustainability accompanies wellness and global diversity in a three-year cycle of theme years. Activities throughout the year include themed days such as Service Saturday with a Kalamazoo river clean up and Green day events, as well as film series and speakers including Grand Rapids mayor Chris Hartwell, who is a nationally recognized leader in governmental sustainability.

“What I liked about the year of sustainability is this isn’t a two or three categories ‘check off the box;’ it’s a depth of understanding that will be repeated,” said Donna Randall, Albion College president. “In terms of where we’re going, I would view this as a benchmark report card. Our report card will improve if we carry through with these initiatives.”

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