Students earn U of C a C+ on green report card

Better grades on student involvement, administration boosted the school’s sustainability score from a C last year.

By Willy Hu

The University received a C+ from the “College Sustainability Report Card” without participating in the survey, an examination of 300 universities nationwide conducted by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI).

The grade is the University’s highest in the five years that the report card has been released, tying the grade from 2009. The survey measures 43 indicators across 9 categories to determine a school’s sustainability practices.

Last year, the University received a C.

“The University chose not to participate in the survey this year,” said Ilsa Flanagan, the University of Chicago’s Director of Sustainability. “We have significant concerns regarding the survey’s methodology, its shifting priorities, and the lack of transparency.”

The report docked the University of Chicago on “Climate Change and Energy,” lowering its grade in that category from a C to a D, despite a $2.5–million gift from Jim and Paula Crown to improve sustainable practices on campus. “This is a good example of the questionable results that their survey methodology produces and why we chose to opt out of participating,” Flanagan said.

Other schools that did not participate in the survey include John Hopkins University (C+), Columbia University (B+), New York University (B), and Tufts University (B).

These universities, along with about two dozen other universities, signed a letter directed towards the SEI, agreeing to work with a green rating system that adheres to eight principles, including making the rating process open, using uniform measurements, and allowing colleges to opt out.

The University of Chicago did not sign the letter, but supports the skepticism and wariness of the ratings. “Given that we didn’t complete the survey, I find it remarkable that our grade actually went up,” Flanagan said.

The Office of Sustainability recently completed its own survey of sustainability practices, examining over 500 indicators of sustainability on campus. “Universities have varying definitions of sustainability and areas of focus,” Flanagan said.

“Our priorities at the moment are in high–performance buildings, energy efficiency and conservation, climate planning, and peer education,” she said.

The University of Chicago ties with Northwestern for the lowest grade given by the report to a school in Illinois. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign scored a B while Loyola University of Chicago received an A-. Ten schools received As, including Yale University and the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

The University received the same or better grades in every category except “Climate Change and Energy” and “Transportation,” which went down from an A to a B. Its Student Involvement grade went from to a C to an A; its Administration grade from a C to a B, its Green Building grade from a D to a C, and its Transparency category from an F to a D.

The SEI is located in Cambridge, MA, and is a subsidiary of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.