UH rises in eco ranking
The University garnered a C- in the 2009 College Sustainability Report Card – a grade UH officials say is not an accurate representation of the campus’ sustainability efforts.
"I am surprised at the grade. UH undertakes a comprehensive, aggressive sustainability effort including numerous initiatives, policies and operating principles, some of which the report card lists," Dave Irvin, associate vice president of Plant Operations, said. "One wonders how they develop their grades as similar efforts at other institutions receive much higher marks."
Although the grade is an improvement from last year’s D, UH still ranks in the bottom half of the 300 surveyed schools. Fifteen colleges achieved this year’s highest grade of A-, including Brown University, Columbia University and Dartmouth, while four colleges received an F.
Sustainability is commonly defined as meeting present needs without compromising the needs of future generations. Published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute in Cambridge, Mass., the independent report evaluates the sustainability initiatives of colleges with the largest endowments in the country.
Each institution is graded on criteria ranging from its use of green cleaning products and student involvement to eco-friendly transportation and recycling.
UH received a C in the category of Green Building, despite its efforts to ensure the Calhoun Lofts and Michael J. Cemo Hall are built in accordance with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building rating system. In the same category, Rice University received an A on the basis that the institution’s sustainable facilities policy states that all new buildings must the LEED certified.
As far as sustainable construction initiatives, UH’s guidelines call for projects to take environmental awareness to the furthest extent when considering the designs of new buildings and major renovation projects. Other categories include the administration’s sustainability initiatives, endowment transparency and investment priorities in renewable energy.
Upon gathering their data, study members contacted each college and provided them with the opportunity to correct or add to the data.
Emily Messa, executive director of Business Services, said the report initially gave UH a D and changed it to a C- after UH provided data that wasn’t included in the study. Messa said the need to better document the University’s sustainability efforts led to the creation of the Campus Sustainability Task Force, a staff- and student-run group that will record and possibly expand UH’s sustainability efforts in the future.
"I believe that there are still many efforts on the campus that are not included in the report, because we aren’t aware of all of the initiatives on campus, and that illustrates the importance of having a Campus Sustainability Task Force," Messa said. "I hope that as a task force we can develop a strategic approach to sustainability."
Neighboring Rice University received a B- while The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A’M University both received grades of C+. Among the criteria where UH fared comparatively worse than other Texas universities was in Student Involvement and Administration. Along with Rice and UT, UH was cited for lacking student participation in decision-making, with fewer eco-friendly competitions to involve students. The report cited UH’s lack of action at the administrative leveland lack of formal policy related to campuswide sustainability issues.
While no Universitywide policy exists, Messa said the Sustainability Task Force will establish further policies for each of its initiatives, such as campus recycling.
UH also performed similar to or better than other Texas universities. Baylor University, Texas Christian University and The University of Texas at Dallas each received a C-. Texas Tech University received the lowest grade of any Texas institution, earning a D. Houston received its highest mark, an A, in Endowment Transparency, a category that examines openness to the public regarding endowment holdings. UH was in the top 11 percent of institutions in this category.
Messa said sustainability education had to arrive before a change of policy, a reason why she said the Campus Sustainability Task Force was important.
"I understand the desire to look at individual items on a checklist and ask why doesn’t the University do this or do that, but this is jumping too far into the future," Messa said. "Being part of the solution to the environmental crisis should be more long-term than receiving a better grade on this report card."
Irvin said that the report card will not alter the University’s plans toward sustainability.
"The report will not change what UH and Plant Operations are doing as we are committed to sustainability. Plant Operations bases decisions on internal UH strategic goals and initiatives," Irvin said.
UH officials plan to introduce further sustainability efforts. The University is planning a Campus Sustainability Day in October and plans to participate in Recycle Mania, a nationwide competition that promotes campus recycling, for the first time.
LINKS TO FULL REPORT CARD Univeristy of Houston: http://www.greenreportcard.org/report-card-2009/schools/university-of-houston Rice University: http://www.greenreportcard.org/report-card-2009/schools/rice-university University of Texas at Austin: http://www.greenreportcard.org/report-card-2009/schools/university-of-texas-austin Texas A’M University: http://www.greenreportcard.org/report-card-2009/schools/texas-am-university Texas Tech: http://www.greenreportcard.org/report-card-2009/schools/texas-tech-university