Students taking lead as colleges stress importance of cleaner environment - LancasterOnline: News

Students taking lead as colleges stress importance of cleaner environment

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Posted: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 10:09 am | Updated: 2:00 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

The nation's college campuses - encouraged by students - are quickly being transformed into more environmentally friendly places.

Franklin & Marshall College and Millersville University are at the top of that evolving class in a new nationwide "green" report card.

F&M is listed among the top 100 green colleges in The Princeton Review's second annual Green Ratings of Colleges.

F&M scored a 93 out of 99 in a review of 697 private and public colleges.

"The rating is a nice confirmation of the hard work done by faculty, students and professional staff," said Carol de Wet, assistant dean of students, who has helped guide sustainable efforts at the college.

MU received a 92 rating, also in the upper 10 percent of green schools.

"That's good for us," said Roger Bruszewski, MU's vice president for finance and administration.

In another nationwide sustainability report card - this one examining the 100 colleges with the biggest endowments as well as 32 other schools - F&M recorded a C-plus grade.

The College Sustainability Report Card by the nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute, released Oct. 7, gave F&M top marks for the administration's commitment to promoting sustainability and for investing in climate change-related companies.

Good marks similarly were recorded in food and recycling as well as student activism.

However, the overall mark was brought down by D grades for endowment transparency and shareholder engagement.

Elizabethtown College was not involved in either green report card rating.

The green rankings on F&M and MU were made by The Princeton Review, a private company based in Framingham, Mass. Not related to Princeton University, it is best known for its publications that profile colleges, from academics and politics on campus to party life.

The company initiated a green rating system in 2007 and queried college administrators on such green practices as energy use, recycling, food waste disposal, building energy efficiency, transportation and academic offerings in the environmental realm.

F&M has taken bold steps in recent years to reduce global-warming emissions and to make its campus more green.

Students and faculty have led the charge.

In 2007, F&M president John Fry was among the first group of college presidents to sign the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment.

This summer, the college adopted a new blueprint to guide sustainability, "Beyond Green: Franklin & Marshall's Commitment to Environmental Stewardship - Natural History, Society, and Sustainability."

De Wet credits students for pushing for change and the college administration for taking it to heart.

"The fact that it was taken seriously is a strong signal both to the college and the community that F&M takes this seriously."

On-campus changes in the last few years include: a new, more efficient $1.3 million boiler and chiller that will allow temperatures in buildings to be remotely controlled; a living roof; composting of dining hall food waste; solar panels; porous pavement; geothermal heat in a new building; a pledge for all new or renovated buildings to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design efficiency standards; free bike loans; and a retooling of courses in all disciplines to include sustainability and environmental themes.

The battle plan also includes a pledge to extend sustainability efforts into the community.

The college will soon open the Robert S. Wohlsen Center for the Sustainable Environment. One aim is for the center to become a magnet for environmental and sustainability efforts both on campus and in the community.

MU also has initiated a broad range of actions to make its campus more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

For starters, the college, which runs its own dining service, tries to buy as much of its food as possible from local sources. Milk, hot dogs, bagels and bread, for example, are all made locally, Bruszewski said. Portion controls are among the measures used to reduce waste.

Over the last eight years, the college has retrofitted eight campus buildings with more efficient water, heating and cooling systems. In 2008, Stayer Hall, built at a cost of $12 million, became the first green building on campus.

To encourage students, faculty and staff to use public transportation rather than their own vehicles, the university has a contract with Red Rose Transit Authority so that MU users ride free.

When it comes to landscaping on campus, no pesticides or herbicides are permitted; organic substitutes are used instead. Cleaning chemicals are monitored as well.

"We don't even put salt on our sidewalks anymore," Bruszewski said.

Even sewage gets a treatment before it is flushed into the public sewer system.

Like F&M, the college has a guiding sustainability committee made up of students, faculty and staff.

F&M officials, while celebrating the sterling review in The Princeton Review, feel they were unfairly penalized in the Sustainable Endowments Institute report card for the way the college's $273 million endowment is managed.

The institute encourages colleges, as investors, to discuss with the community and then vote on climate change and other sustainability-related shareholder resolutions. Shareholder responsibility committees are suggested.

But 90 percent of F&M's endowment funds are placed in pooled investment vehicles, such as mutual funds, where the college can't dictate investment policy, said Elizabeth Dunlap, the college's investment officer.

The college has 40 money managers and has an interest in more than 6,700 securities. The college is bound by confidentiality agreements not to disclose holdings, Dunlap said.

"We have an open conversation with the campus community about our policies and actions, and members of the campus community are welcome to bring forward issues and ideas," she said.

"We do have constant dialogue on campus about socially responsible investing."

The college does have a small investment in companies involved in climate change-related technology, including renewable energy. The track records of others are being explored for possible future investment, she said.

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