UF gets mixed review for its energy sustainability


Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

A new report gives the University of Florida a "C" grade for sustainability, giving the school high marks for green building and low grades for withholding information on investments.

Facts

How UF compares in sustainability

  • University of Florida: C
  • Georgia Institute of Technology: C
  • Pennsylvania State University: C+
  • University of California, Berkeley: B
  • University of California, Los Angeles: C+
  • University of Illinois: C
  • University of Michigan: B+
  • University of Texas: C+
  • University of Virginia: D+
  • University of Washington: B-
  • University of Wisconsin: B
Source: SustainableEndowments InstituteOtheritem2INSIDE REFERA look at how UF stacks up against other leading public universities. See Page 5B

The Cambridge, Mass.-based Sustainable Endowments Institute issued the report Wednesday. The report grades 100 universities on whether campus policies benefit the environment, and whether the schools reveal enough information to show they follow the same principles with investments.

"Part of sustainability is providing an open flow of information," said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the institute.

UF was one of 54 universities to receive a "C" grade, which was based on seven categories. Four schools earned level "A" grades, 22 earned level "B" grades and 20 earned level "D" grades.

Florida received "A" grades in categories on environmental priorities such as reducing carbon emissions and building campus structures that reduce energy and water use. The university received "F" grades for a lack of transparency on its investment holdings and not disclosing whether it actively engages companies in which it invests.

Dedee Delongpré, director of UF's Office of Sustainability, said the report assumes the university is investing in companies that aren't sustainable. While she said she has no reason to believe that's the case, the report gives her reason to explore the matter.

"It's certainly an incentive for us to take a look at it," she said.

UF has an endowment valued at about $1.2 billion. The university has created a separate nonprofit that raises money for the endowment, the UF Foundation, and another that invests the money, the UF Investment Corporation.

The nonprofit organizations are not subject to the same public-records laws as the university.

The investment corporation's chief investment officer, Michael D. Smith, couldn't be reached for comment.

University President Bernie Machen has made sustainability a priority of his administration. He said in a 2005 speech on sustainability that the university "should explore options for socially and environmentally responsible investments."

He said in an e-mail that UF trustees would guide any decisions over the transparency of investments. But he said he hasn't had conversations with trustees about improving transparency or linking investment strategies with sustainability.

Machen praised local sustainability efforts.

"From my perspective it's hard to be in Gainesville and not be impressed with sincere, grass-roots efforts at sustainability," he said.

Delongpré took issue with the university's "C" grade for climate change and energy. The report faulted the university for failing to buy renewable energy credits and not having renewable energy installations on campus.

The university is funding research in renewable energy rather than buying credits, Delongpré said.

"If this is going to be a living laboratory for sustainability, we need to have the opportunity to implement what we can on campus," she said.

She said the report also failed to acknowledge the university's biodiesel demonstration project on campus and efforts to use locally produced foods in dining halls.

The Sustainable Endowments Institute is a special project fund of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Founded in 2005, the group's focus is researching the sustainability of higher education endowments.

Orlowski said the grades only gauge endowment transparency because of an overall lack of openness among universities.

He hopes the report will cause more universities to be more open, allowing the actual investments to be graded.

"In future years we hope to actually look at that," he said.

Jack Stripling contributed to this report. Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 352-338-3176 or crabben@gvillesun.com.

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