Harvard trumps Yale in sustainability

The Crimson may have pulled ahead of the Bulldogs in the quest to be the most sustainable.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainability on college campuses, ranked Harvard above Yale in its College Sustainability Report Card — a dossier released this week that evaluates schools on the basis of nine criteria to determine how environmentally friendly they are.

The survey covers the American colleges with the 300 largest endowments — a total monetary sum of $380 billion dollars in all — and assigns them grades in areas relating to endowment policy, green spending and sustainability efforts. This year, the first year the Endowment Institute has issued its report card, 15 schools, including Harvard, received overall grades of A-, the highest awarded this year.

Yale received a final mark B+, mainly because of the lack of transparency in its endowment spending, on which it scored an F. In six of the nine categories, Yale received A’s, and it received B’s in both the transportation and the climate-change and energy categories.

“Endowment transparency does tend to bring the total down,” Lisa Tuska of the Endowment Institute said. “But Yale is clearly doing great things in other categories.”

Harvard, she said, scored higher in transparency because it releases its shareholder-voting records to the public upon request while Yale does not.

“There is a lot of money that is tied up [in endowments],” Tuska said of Yale’s $22.9 billion fund. “At Yale, you do not see what is being spent.”

But administrators at the Yale Office of Sustainability said they think more than just the endowment side is responsible for the lower score, and that the overall B+ ranking should help spur improvement in other sustainability efforts.

“The ranking demonstrates that we have more work to do,” Office of Sustainability Director Julie Newman said. She said the B’s on the report card are just as important as the single F. They expose problems with transportation and climate change and energy that the University can address in the future, she said.

Students involved in campus environmental endeavors said they find the culture of Yale’s endowment suspect.

“Essentially, the Yale endowment is questionable because it lacks transparency,” Chris Termyn ’10 wrote in an e-mail.

Despite this particular survey’s emphasis on the endowment, over which students have little or no control, this ranking does not necessarily diminish the benefit that student work on sustainability has had, Dana Wu ’10 said.

“[This ranking] reminds us that ‘campus sustainability’ extends beyond recycling, composting, green building, and the like,” he wrote in an e-mail. “It really takes an interdisciplinary approach and working at sustainability from many angles.”

Added Wu: “The lower collective ‘grade’ doesn’t mean that the smaller, more personal everyday decisions we make are to no avail or insignificant.”

The Endowment Institute Report Card is the latest in a series of publications to rank sustainability efforts at universities. According to Newman, the elite schools work very closely together in developing policies that will be more environmentally friendly.

Competition has necessitated a change in schools’ outlook on sustainable issues, and both Harvard and Yale have put considerable resources into developing new green policies.

“The commitment to sustainability is embedded in the culture of this University,” Harvard spokeswoman Lauren Marshall said.

Yale is included in the Princeton Review’s “Green Rating Honor Roll” with nine other schools, including Harvard.

Comments

  • Skeptic

    Does anyone question the validity of downgrading Yale's sustainability on the basis of it's lack of endowment spending transparency?

    Just because they aren't disclosing where they are spending money doesn't mean that they aren't being environmentally conscious…it really only means that the people who came out with this ranking have a harder time getting data on Yale.

  • Anonymous

    First of all, downgrading Yale because of lack of transparency seems pretty silly.

    But regardless, "environmentally conscious investing" is a hoax. The point of investing, companies, etc is to MAXIMIZE PROFIT.

    Why is a company that makes a whole lot of profit and then donates that profit to environmental groups any worse than a company that invests in "environmentally friendly companies"? Who even knows what that arbitrary term means?

    Companies are responsible to their shareholders foremost, not to social good. That is not to say that companies shouldn't invest in environmentally friendly companies (in fact I would hope such companies would rise to the top because they can market ecofriendly policies and increase revenues); I just don't see why companies should be obligated to invest in such companies.