CMU gets low grade in sustainability study

When the subject is sustainability, Carnegie Mellon does not quite make the dean’s list. The university received a C+ in a study conducted by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which rated universities based on campus sustainability policy and endowment shareholder practices.

The study, released January 24, graded over 100 colleges and universities on 26 main factors from green-building initiatives to endowment investment policies with a letter grade from A to F. Among the schools surveyed, four received an overall grade of A, 22 received Bs, 54 Cs, and 20 Ds.

Carnegie Mellon’s individual report card had three As, a B, a C, and two Fs, clearly indicating points both strong and weak. The As were received in administration, climate change and energy, and green building; the B was given for food and recycling. Meanwhile, a C was given for investment priorities and the Fs for endowment transparency and shareholder engagement. The disparity shows a clear divide between Carnegie Mellon’s endowment policies and campus efforts.

“I don’t really see how we could be given such a low score,” said H&SS first-year JoAnna Hartzmark, “since I feel like our campus has always been so dedicated to green initiatives.”

Although Carnegie Mellon’s overall grade was a C+, its high marks in campus sustainability policy placed it among the few schools to receive an average of an A– or better in that category.

“I think that we should be very proud that Carnegie Mellon is listed as one of the 26 campus sustainability leaders,” said Barb Kviz, head of Carnegie Mellon’s Green Practices Committee. “The categories that we received high marks on reflect how we operate and strive to improve green practices on campus.”

The Green Practices Committee consists of faculty, staff, and students from all areas of study. The committee is divided into subcommittees that meet once a month to discuss current and future environmental initiatives on campus.

In addition, both students and administrators have undertaken a variety of initiatives in order to achieve sustainability on campus.
Sustainable Engineering, a partnership between Carnegie Mellon, the University of Texas at Austin, and Arizona State University, is dedicated to helping faculty members update their courses to account for rapidly changing conditions in the environment and the economy that are transforming the practice of engineering.

Currently, university data shows that there are about 600 students on the Carnegie Mellon campus enrolled in environment-related classes.
Sustainable Earth is a student organization that assists in the creation and development of on-campus initiatives. Currently, it is leading Recyclemania, a campus-wide program to step up recycling efforts. According to a Carnegie Mellon study last year, 40 percent of our garbage could have been recycled, yet was not.

“I feel like I’ve never really noticed all the things we do for the environment,” said CFA first-year Alyssa Fogel. “We are all so busy that sometimes we forget.”

“To get one student to recycle a soda bottle instead of throwing it away is a triumph in itself,” said Emmeline Altschul, president of Sustainable Earth and a senior chemistry major. “The university itself is more sustainable than its students.”

Dining Services has made an effort to include healthier and more organic food on its menus. Additionally, it is trying to integrate more local foods from both suppliers and producers in the vicinity.

For the past several years, green building initiatives have been prominent among the university’s initiatives.

Campus officials have introduced solar panels in campus buildings on Craig Street, and a green roof filled with vegetation on Hamerschlag Hall. The Intelligent Workplace, located on top of Margaret Morrison Carnegie Hall, serves as a laboratory used to research environmental sustainability.

All new buildings on campus are now required to have LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. New House was the first building to be LEED-certified, starting the trend in 2001, and the upcoming Gates Building will face the same requirements.

A LEED certification measures building sustainability in five areas — sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality. The certifications come in four levels — certified, silver, gold, and platinum. Currently, Carnegie Mellon requires a minimum level of silver.

Finding alternative sources of energy has been a consistent undertaking for students and researchers at the university. According to university data, approximately 15 percent of the university’s energy is produced by alternative electrical energy. That figure is expected to rise to 20 percent by the end of this year. Currently, university President Jared Cohon is considering a petition brought to him by campus environmental organizations like Sustainable Earth that would require 51 percent of the university’s energy be produced by alternative sources by next year.

Carnegie Mellon is a founding Green Power Partner and recipient of the Clean Cities Award. The university also received the Green Power Leadership Award in 2001 for securing what was the largest single retail purchase of wind energy in the nation.

However, although Carnegie Mellon remains at the forefront of sustainability efforts on campus, the university’s endowment shareholder practices with respect to the environment lag far behind.

The study showed a clear trend between a school’s endowment policies and its overall ranking on the survey’s list.

The study estimated Carnegie Mellon’s endowment to be $940 million as of the 2005-2006 academic year. The four colleges and universities that received the highest overall grades in the study — Harvard University, Dartmouth University, Stanford University, and Williams College — boast endowments that far exceed Carnegie Mellon’s, ranging from $1.5 billion at Williams to $28.9 billion at Harvard.

Due to their large endowments, these schools have more money to put toward sustainability without skimping in other areas. Right now, Carnegie Mellon simply does not have the funds to compete with these institutions.

“It seems as if alumni simply do not donate here like they do at other schools,” Altschul said. “Maybe the obligation just isn’t there for them.”

The reason for the lack of alumni donations and a smaller endowment overall is unclear. However, despite green intiatives, since Carnegie Mellon’s endowment is so much smaller than other schools, the university may not move up in the sustainability rankings soon.