Sustainable Endowments Institute

Student group collaborates with University on efforts to create greener campus

A nonprofit organization that evaluates sustainability on college campuses gave UT a B+ for the 2011 school year.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute provides a “Sustainability Report Card” for the 300 U.S. and Canadian universities with the largest endowments. The report card has nine sections, including green building efforts and recycling, that evaluate different aspects of sustainability on college campuses.

“Doing well in these kind of surveys is a nice measure of the kind of sustainability work going on on campus,” said Jim Walker, director of sustainability at UT. “I think it’s probably too soon to tell if it’s a result of the Office of Sustainability’s work.”

The organization issued UT a B- last year. Walker said the improvement was a result of better reporting on the initiatives already in place on campus.

The University provided the Institute with more complete information about strategies implemented to improve sustainability, and distribution of endowment funds, which could have increased their score, he said.

The Campus Environmental Center, a UT student-run environmental preservation group, has led initiatives that may have factored into the new grade the University received. The CEC used to control some recycling on campus and hosted the annual Trash to Treasure garage sale. They are also in the early stages of developing a program to reduce carbon emissions.

Since the University took charge of on-campus recycling this summer, the center has focused on creating programs that allow more opportunities for environmental awareness, including providing information about campus sustainability issues at new student orientations.

“Last year, they did take some steps to get more sustainability into new student orientation because ... the ratings system that’s sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in higher education specifically mentions that in their grading system,” said Karen Blaney, adviser for the CEC. “And you can get points for having sustainability integrated in the new student orientation.”

Although the program was not implemented, the center began discussing possible strategies with the coordinators of new student orientation.

“A lot of things have been going on [on campus] for a long time, it’s just that we’re now getting recognition for that,” she said.

The center will begin other programs this semester that may improve the University’s overall sustainability rating. Rachel Aitkens, co-director of the center, said UT is looking at how to make water fountains easier to use to refill water bottles and other measures to reduce plastic waste.

Walker said involving everyone on campus is another way that the Office of Sustainability hopes to improve ratings.

“We’d like to have more interest from the faculty and students on different aspects of the report card. We welcome a broader conversation on different aspects of the card where the University can do better,” he said.