University scores low in sustainability evaluation

TCU scored a D in a 2007 evaluation of its sustainability practices – its ability to meet the needs of the present without impairing future generations.Sustainability in relation to endowment investment was the focus of the College Sustainability Report Card, which assigned letter grades to 100 colleges and universities throughout the United States and Canada possessing higher education’s largest endowments.

Schools featured in the report were graded in seven individual categories: administration, food and recycling, green building, climate change and energy, shareholder engagement, investment priorities and endowment transparency.

“It’s certainly not where I want to be,” Chancellor Victor Boschini said. “So yeah, it gets my attention.”

Beyond getting TCU’S attention, Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowment Institute, said he wants the 120-page report to initiate progress in schools’ sustainability policies.

“What the report aims to do is to provide a single source of information where you can quickly reference what other institutions are doing (in the area of sustainability),” Orlowski said. “We’re hoping that this report will lead to honest and frank discussion about the role of sustainability on campus.”

ADMINISTRATIVE RESPONSE

Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs, said, “How we respond to the environment, we meaning institution, is going to become more and more important in the years to come. I think what (the report) does is it starts to say, ‘Hey, here’s some things we ought to be thinking about.'”

Mills agreed the report serves as an excellent benchmark for universities and said he hoped it would spark conversation among the administration but warned against giving too much authority to its findings.

“I think you have to be a little careful,” Mills said. “One of the problems with the report is they have a very precise way of measuring, so if you don’t fall in with the way they measure, then you won’t do as well.”

Such was the case in the “administration” category of the report, in which TCU received a D for the lack of an advisory council or a formal policy addressing sustainability, an absence that rendered low grades in some of the report’s other areas.

Mills said such a score doesn’t necessarily represent the reality of TCU’s sustainability practices.

“They gave Harvard an A,” Mills said. “Suppose Harvard did everything they’re doing, but didn’t have a formal policy. Would that mean they weren’t doing a good job?”

UNIVERSITY ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Despite average grades, the report did recognize TCU’s accomplishments in several key categories, including green building, food and recycling and climate change and energy.

The report noted that the new university union will qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, and that TCU has “pursued an aggressive energy conservation and retrofit program.”

We’ve done quite a lot in terms of green building, Mills said, referring to TCU’s current construction. “You’ll be able to see it out here as these buildings are completed.”

The Sustainable Endowment Institute also complimented TCU for its recycling efforts, acknowledging the grounds crews compost yard waste and 75 percent of the university’s overall waste is recycled.

NON-DISCLOSURE LOWERS GRADES

However, an area that TCU and the College Sustainability Report Card cannot find common ground is the disclosure of endowment investment holdings.

In the “endowment transparency” category, for which TCU received an F, writers of the report encourage “openness to endowment investments.” It also read that access to endowment information encourages open discussion about clean energy investment.

TCU, like many private institutions, has a strict non-disclosure policy, meaning specifics about the endowment investments are only available to the investment staff and the board of trustees.

Chief Investment Officer Jim Hille sees endowment transparency as “somewhat of a strategic disadvantage.”

“It’s not a function of trying to hide anything,” Hille said. “It’s just wanting to retain a competitive advantage in the types of investments that we’re able to access because we do not disclose.”

Though Orlowski said he understands TCU’s desire to keep endowment information private, he disagreed with Hille, saying three leading private institutions received A’s for their inclination to share investment holdings along with proxy voting records.

Orlowski also offered alternatives to complete transparency, suggesting a method of “delayed disclosure” that TCU could release recently out-of-date information that wouldn’t pose a competitive threat.

Hille said the university will not make public disclosure but said that is not to say that the university is not investing in renewable energy funds. TCU receiving an F in the “shareholder engagement” facet of the report can also be attributed to the university’s policy of non-disclosure.

Due to the scale of the College Sustainability Report Card, Orlowski said “it’s not the be all and end all of sustainability,” but maintained that a few simple steps could be adapted to the TCU community with tremendous benefit.

“In general, anything that leads us toward more sustainable practices, I’m probably in favor of,” Boschini said. “A big part of my job is to make sure that there’s a Texas Christian University 100 years from now, and this will help us do that.