February 2, 2007

U of C takes steps toward sustainability amid criticism

[img id="80147" align="alignleft"] The Sustainable Endowments Institute gave the University a grade of D+ in its first College Sustainability Report Card released last week.

The Cambridge, MA–based Institute, which was founded in 2005, evaluated 100 different universities and colleges in administration, climate change and energy consumption, food and recycling, green building, endowment transparency, investment priorities, and shareholder engagement.

Harvard University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College and Williams College all shared the highest grade of A-. Twenty-two schools were given Bs, 54 were given Cs, and 20 were given Ds.

Fourth-year Kate Michonski, the founder and chair of the University of Chicago Sustainability Council, said in an e-mail interview that the Council is going to review the Institute’s findings at their next meeting, but had reservations about the report card.

“The problem with the report is that it is not very detailed. Right now, we are working on drafting a University of Chicago Sustainability Index, which will help us monitor our environmental progress. The Index will serve as a guideline for helping us become more sustainable, as well as function as the first report on the University’s environmental performance. This report will give us a much better idea of our current environmental situation and the steps we need to take to improve,” Michonski said.

The Institute acknowledged the U of C’s Sustainability Council in the report, saying that the group’s creation and recent integration into the administration is a sign that the University is beginning to address global-warming issues. It also cited the University’s purchase of wind power for the dorms and expanded recycling efforts as examples of the University’s positive efforts.

Students have joined the administration in working towards a greener campus. On Wednesday, the Green Campus Initiative (GCI) kicked off the “Battle of the Bulbs,” a competition to see which dorm has the greatest reduction in electrical usage for the month of February. Prizes will go to the dorms with the highest percentage of reduction and the highest participation rate.

According to Michonski, the GCI hopes the energy-saving habits students learn in the competition will stick beyond the month of February, leading to a permanent decline in energy consumption.

“The aim of this competition is to generate awareness of our energy dependence, educate students about the environmental impacts of their energy use, and instill energy-saving habits in those who pledge to participate,” she said.

The GCI has also worked towards the purchase of wind energy for the dorms, making battery and printer-cartridge recycling readily available on campus, and providing compact fluorescent bulbs for dorms with desk lamps, according to Michonski. The group is currently working with the Sustainability Council on campus recycling issues and planning a garden of native plants next to Rockefeller Chapel.