The University’s overall sustainability grade in the College Sustainability Report Card dropped to a B+ this year, down from an A- last year. Although Wesleyan received a higher score than last year in student involvement, the University’s grades decreased in four other categories. According to Director of Environmental Health, Safety, and Sustainability Bill Nelligan, some of the data that the report card used appeared to be out-of-date.
The report card, released on Oct. 27, is an annual initiative by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a nonprofit research and education organization. This year, nearly 300 colleges and universities were evaluated in nine major categories and given an overall score. Grades are based primarily on survey responses from school administrators and students.
Last year, Wesleyan was among 26 colleges that received the highest overall grade awarded—an A-. This year, while seven schools moved up to A ratings, Wesleyan slipped down a notch. Wesleyan’s weakest categories were “Green Building” and “Transportation,” in which the University received C grades, down from B’s last year. Grades in “Administration” and “Climate Change and Energy” also dropped.
Nelligan said that he is not too concerned with the lower overall grade this year.
“I think if they had used all of our current data, we’d be an A- at the very least,” he said. “But I’m happy with a B+.”
One of the main areas in which data appeared to be outdated was in “Green Building,” where the report states that “Wesleyan is currently reviewing a green building policy, which will mandate LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] Silver certification for all new construction, as well as a green maintenance policy.” According to Nelligan, such a policy has in fact already been in place for about a year and a half, and state law requires LEED Silver certification for all new construction.
Nelligan also said that recent efforts to develop more ecologically-responsible landscaping practices have major potential to increase sustainability in this category. Student group Working for Intelligent Landscape Design (WILD Wes) has been spearheading plans to switch to alternative ground cover and plant wildflowers and fruit trees in order to reduce lawn mowing, water usage, and use of pesticides and other chemicals.
Wesleyan was also the only NESCAC school to receive a C in “Transportation.” However, the report does not include that the University now offers bike and Zip Car rental programs for students.
“Some of the data that they used seems to be old data from last year,” Nelligan said. “I put an e-mail in to them to ask them why—when I know I filled out the survey and thought I had been pretty complete—they had used that, and I have not gotten word back from them.”
Four NESCAC schools—Williams, Middlebury, Bowdoin, and Amherst—outscored Wesleyan and received A- overall grades. Trinity College received the lowest grade in the conference with a C-.
“I’m surprised that [Wesleyan’s] grade would go down, because to me it seems like this has been one of the more exciting years in terms of the initiatives that students are bringing up and also the support that these initiatives are getting from the administration,” said Sustainability Intern Miles Bukiet ’11.
In addition to the alternative landscaping projects, students have been involved this year with working to increase local food offerings in dining halls and expanding composting programs.
Although some of Wesleyan’s campus sustainability grades declined, the University was recognized as an Endowment Sustainability Leader, receiving straight A’s in “Endowment Transparency,” “Investment Priorities,” and “Shareholder Engagement.” The categories are a measure of accountability, accessibility, and sustainable investments.
“I think the University is very open to having a discussion about [sustainable investments], and providing access and transparency,” said Corey Guilmette ’13, Co-Chair of the Committee for Investment Responsibility (CIR).
However, Guilmette said that the University’s actual investments are not as sustainable as they should be, and suggested that the formation of the CIR, despite being a major improvement to endowment transparency, was also an attempt to placate students a few years ago who were protesting investments in weapons contractors.
“In the investment strategy, sustainability tends not to really figure into their decision-making,” he said. “It’s more about making whatever they think is the most financially-sound investment.”
The results of the report do carry some importance beyond simply offering an external review of the University’s sustainability efforts, according to Environmental Organizers Network (EON) Co-Coordinator Marj Dodson ’13, since they can factor into prospective students’ decisions about where to apply. Dodson said that she looked at the ratings on the site during her college search.
“I think what’s important is that we distinguish ourselves and show our creative side in terms of how we approach sustainability and environmental activism,” Dodson said. “I think things like WILD Wes and the College of the Environment are good ways to do that.”
Bukiet said that increasing our environmental consciousness could benefit the University.
“Regardless of what our ratings are, there’s just a tiny little push that has to be made somehow, a switch that has to be flipped,” he said. “Then this campus could become a real leader on these issues.”