Students, Dining, Recycling Get High Green Grades

BU jumps to a B- in Sustainable Endowment Institute rankings

By Vicky Waltz

The College of General Studies implemented a recycling program last semester for bottles and cans. Work-study students are responsible for emptying the recycling bins; (from left) Adanta Ahanonu (CGS’08, SMG'10), Morgan Mooney (CGS’08, SED'10), Heidi Chase (SPH’08), and Justin Breton (CGS’08). Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

The College of General Studies implemented a recycling program last semester for bottles and cans. Work-study students are responsible for emptying the recycling bins; (from left) Adanta Ahanonu (CGS’08, Questrom’10), Morgan Mooney (CGS’08, SED’10), Heidi Chase (SPH’08), and Justin Breton (CGS’08). Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

BU earned a B-, up from a C last year in an annual report released last week by the Cambridge-based nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute. The study — the country’s only independent evaluation of sustainability in campus operations and endowment investments — annually assesses sustainability levels at more than 300 U.S. and Canadian universities.

The report evaluated the Charles River and Medical Campuses in nine areas: administration, climate change and energy, food and recycling, green building, student involvement (a new category), transportation, endowment transparency, investment priorities, and shareholder engagement. The University earned better marks in five areas and remained the same in three.

“Our improved grade is the result of a long-term focused effort on green campus sustainability initiatives,” says Gary Nicksa, vice president for operations. “I think our efforts will lead us to an even higher grade next year.”

The highest mark given, an A-, went to only 15 schools, among them Harvard, Brown, and Columbia, according to the institute’s website. The average grade was a C+. BU’s score was similar to other area colleges: Boston College and Brandeis University earned a B-, Tufts and Northeastern received a B, and MIT tallied a B+. “We’re in very good company,” Nicksa says.

As a result of the recently established Boston University sustainability committee, the University’s grade in the area of administration increased from a C to a B. Made up of faculty members, staff, and students, the committee works to reduce energy consumption and decrease waste across the campus by concentrating on four areas: recycling and waste management, energy efficiency, sustainable building development and operations, and communications, education, and outreach.

The University also scored high in the area of food and recycling, receiving an A for the second consecutive year. During the past year, the Dining Services Sustainability Program implemented a number of conservation initiatives, such as composting food scraps, recycling cooking oil, baling and recycling cardboard, and converting to green cleaners and detergents. Three-quarters of to-go containers, including napkins and flatware, are now biodegradable, and nearly 20 percent of the annual budget is spent on food from local sources.

“Such practices have become increasingly important over the last several years,” says Webb Lancaster (MET’83), director of operations for auxiliary services. “We really expect to make a difference by adopting such environmentally friendly and socially responsible systems.”

One of the most effective — and the most controversial — moves was eliminating trays from the dining halls. Lancaster says the change will have a big impact on water use. “Annually, the University will save more than one million gallons of water — enough to fill an Olympic-sized pool two and a half times,” he says.

The University received a B in the category of student involvement. The institute praised groups such as the Environmental Student Organization and the BU Energy Club and their efforts to implement an optional student green fee, a proposal that would give students the option of paying a fee to help offset the University’s carbon footprint.

“Students are very engaged in green issues,” Nicksa says. “They’re not only walking the walk, they’re riding it. You need only look at all of the bikes on Commonwealth Avenue to know that we’re experiencing a cultural shift in transportation. We saw it during the energy crisis of the 1970s, and we’re seeing it again today.”

The University’s grades in both climate change and energy and green building improved from a D to a C. Earlier this year, the University replaced five boilers in one of the campus’ main power plants with a modern combustion management system. “We anticipate the new system will cut heating costs up to 30 percent,” Nicksa says. Additionally, the survey recognized the University’s efforts to update older buildings to include motion-sensitive light detectors and thermal double-glazed windows.

The University’s most improved score, however, occurred in the area of endowment transparency, leaping from an F to a C. “Information on endowment holdings is made primarily available to the school community, as well as to the public at the investment office,” the study notes. “The university makes its shareholder voting record available to trustees, senior administrators, and other select members of the school community.” Last year, the information was available only to trustees and senior administrators.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at

This article first appeared in BU Today on October 3, 2008.

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