Gate Receives Poor Sustainability Grade

Samantha Shea

In a report published this year by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, Colgate was given a D+ for environmental sustainability in the context of the University’s $557 million endowment.

The University received passing grades in Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Transportation, and Investment Priorities. It failed, however, in the other four categories. Colgate received an F in both Endowment Transparency and Shareholder Engagement.

While few believe that Colgate has achieved perfection in the field of environmental sustainability, many feel that a grade of D+ is undeserved.

“They didn’t have complete information,” Vice-President for Finance and Administration David Hale said. “I don’t think they understand all that we do at Colgate.”

Chair of the Environmental Council Ian Helfant agrees. According to Helfant, Colgate’s grade was disproportionately low.

“Although I also feel that – like most institutions – we have a great deal of room for improvement, studies like this one apply a general set of rubrics across a variety of institutions and can fail to take into account some of the relevant practices at a place like Colgate.”

More specifically, Helfant argues, the grade of C in the category of “Climate Change & Energy” is particularly “perplexing” since the University’s energy comes from hydroelectric power and has, in fact, been reducing the amount of oil used to heat the campus for nearly three decades.

Across campus many environmentally friendly initiatives have taken hold in the past few years.

“In 2007 the Environmental Council helped to revise the 10-year Stewardship Plan for our more than 1,000 acres of open and forested land,” Helfant said. “We also helped to arrange for the creation of the Colgate Sustainability Fund into which the Senior Class gift will flow. If the class achieves 90 percent participation, the Board of Trustees has promised to match the gift.”

Colgate has also begun working with a variety of outside partners to promote campus-wide sustainability.

“On the Buildings and Grounds side, we worked with the State Energy Commission to reduce electric demand on 24 hours notice to help the Commission manage the electrical demands of New York State so they don’t have to build as many power plants,” Hale said.

Colgate’s contribution to environmental sustainability, however, will not end with the school year. The University has big plans for future environmentally

conscious projects.

This summer, for example, Colgate will purchase and install an energy monitoring system for the 14 largest energy-consuming buildings on campus.

“We think then we can have a better handle on how the buildings use energy and where we can find savings,” Hale said. “It’s a sizeable investment.”

The biggest news for Colgate, however, will be the creation of a new Campus Sustainability Coordinator position.

“[Colgate wishes to hire] someone with a masters degree in sustainability or significant work experience in this area so that they can be in place by early next year,” Helfant said. “That in itself represents an enormous step forward for Colgate.”

Hale agrees the addition of such an administrator will mean big things for the school including, perhaps, a higher grade on next year’s Sustainable Endowments Institute report.

“We’ve had trouble in the past with bringing everything together,” Hale said. “The new position will focus Colgate appropriately on sustainability.”

Helfant shared this sentiment.

“Across the campus there are students, faculty, and staff who are deeply committed to these issues and I foresee a really productive five years ahead of us,” he said.